Vilma Horca is a development worker supporting Progressio partner Rede Feto in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Here Vilma shares with us how Timorese women celebrated International Women's Day and used it to highlight the need for more to be done to tackle domestic violence.

Timorese love to dance, so what better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than a mass dance performance at the Palacio do Governo – that, and trainings and conferences on gender equality held in various parts of Timor-Leste on 8 March, 2013. The dance was organized by the national women’s network or Rede Feto, a long-time Progressio partner based in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.  

Everyone must play their part 

The mass dance performance, which adopted the One Billion Rising global campaign to end violence against women (VAW), gathered close to 300 advocates from the government, civil society and international community - as you can see in the video below, made by Rede Feto:

The First Lady of Timor-Leste, Isabel Ferreira who graced the event, commended the invaluable role that Timorese women play in nation-building and their unwavering fight to end violence. Also in attendance was Vice Prime Minister Fernando Lasama de Araujo who emphasized the importance of engaging men in the effort to combat domestic violence.

The event also served as a vehicle for the launching of UN Women’s ‘One Woman’ song led by UN Women Country Representative, Ms Janet Wong. The song ‘calls for change and celebrates acts of courage and determination by ordinary women.’ Leaflets appealing for the government, civil society and each individual to do their share to end VAW were distributed. The leaflets also encourage victim-survivors to speak up and report abuse to the referral network that readily provides medical, legal and psycho-social services.

Women singing

A pervasive problem

The issue of violence against women in Timor-Leste is a pervasive problem that continues to exist despite various policies and interventions on the ground. In the Demographic and Health Survey 2009-2010 result, approximately one-third of Timorese women (38%) have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. One percent of women experienced physical violence often, while 28 percent experienced physical violence more than once within the 12 months prior to the survey period.

According to the Executive Director of Rede Feto, Yasinta Lujina, “There is a need to strengthen our efforts in fighting violence against women. Rede Feto and its members will continue its advocacy work on gender equality. We will especially focus this year on the socialization of the law prohibiting Domestic Violence to the remote areas of the country where incidences of domestic violence are highest. We also call on the government to strictly implement this law which was the result of the strong advocacy work of Rede Feto.”

Isabel Ferreira and Rede Feto board members

Finding creative ways to address the problems

Progressio DW Vilma Horca who serves as an advisor to Rede Feto remarked, “The problem of domestic violence is well-entrenched in the highly patriarchal system of this fragile nation. In January this year, a woman was killed by her husband, her remains put in a sack, and placed under a bridge by the river. In my visit to Pradet, one of Rede Feto member-organizations, I heard cases of women hacked by their husbands and of daughters molested - all truly horrifying. 

"The enormity of the problem signals that nothing must be left unturned in addressing the problem; that we have to find creative ways on how we put the message across. In the three months that I have been here I have observed Timorese love for music and dance so this event was really a crowd-drawer for it builds on the culture of the people. I was also very pleased that the media flocked to cover the event which multiplied several times over the number of people made aware of the campaign. The higher the number of people reached the better.”

Right to life

Indeed, a lot more needs to be done in Timor-Leste in ensuring that women enjoy their right to a life free from violence. Progressio continues to do its share towards this end through advocacy and capacity-building of local partners like Rede Feto.

Vilma Horca is a development worker supporting Rede Feto in Dili, Timor-Leste. Photo 1: shows women campaiging against domestic violence, photo 2: shows women singing the one women song and photo 3: shows the First Lady of Timor-Leste, Isabel Ferreira and the board of Rede Feto © Progressio / Vilma Horca