Timor Post, 1 July 2002
By Andrew de Sousa and Mericio Juvenal
In June 2002, 20 men from across the country gathered in East Timor's capital city, Dili, to establish the Asociação Mane Contra Violencia (Association of Men Against Violence). In addition to formally creating the Association the men made plans for the first stages of a five-year campaign against gender-based violence to be carried out with women's groups across the country. The meeting had been planned by men who had participated in an international exchange on gender-based violence held in March and April 2002. The exchange, organized by the Dili-based NGO La'o Hamutuk, had brought two trainers from Nicaragua to East Timor to discuss gender with East Timorese women and men.
The participants in the East Timor - Nicaragua exchange explored issues of patriarchy, power and gender through popular education methods, learning from the experiences of Madelyn West of Nicaragua's Puntos de Encontros and Ruben Reyes of the Nicaraguan Association of Men Against Violence. Like Nicaragua, East Timor has long been a victim of colonialism and US government-supported war.
Traditional patriarchal culture is extremely strong in East Timor. Until now, women have had little public voice and discussions of women's rights and power issues around gender have largely been limited to small groups of women. Twenty-five years of an extremely repressive, U.S.-supported Indonesian military occupation, during which a third of the population was killed and violence against women was systematic and thorough, have left a deep scar on the nation. In September 1999, the Indonesian military and their paramilitary groups displaced two-thirds of the population, around 55,000 of who are still being held in neighboring Indonesia, and raped countless East Timorese women in a scorched-earth policy that virtually destroyed the country's entire infrastructure. Hundreds of years of Portuguese colonialism and a conservative Catholic Church have added to a culture of male domination and female subservience.
Today, as East Timor rebuilds and develops itself as a new and independent nation, there is a sharp increase in the number of reports of violence against women. Reports show that in incidences of violence both inside and outside of the home, men are more often the perpetrators and benefactors of the current system of gender injustice. There needs to be a deeper analysis of gender injustice and how to overcome the widespread problem of violence against women. For this to happen, men must be involved in this work.
Based on these principals, men from across the country established the Association of Men Against Violence with the vision of a democratic, just and equal East Timorese society that is free of violence. At the core of this society will be nondiscriminatory gender equality, with equal rights and duties in all aspects of society. The Association's mission is:
A national structure was created to facilitate communication and coordinate activities throughout the country. Plans were made to begin a national campaign against gender-based violence, prioritizing those activities that could begin with immediately with little to no funding. Preliminary discussions of this campaign had already been held between women and men who had participated in the East Timor- Nicaragua exchange. Although many of these activities will be done in coordination with women's groups, the men planned specific activities for the Association for the remainder or the year.
The activities include grassroots publicity, such as rallies and street theatre, to promote awareness about gender-based violence. Based on the model followed during the East Timor - Nicaragua Exchange, the Association will hold workshops with men across the country using popular education methods to examine the roles of power and gender in East Timorese society. The Association will also lobby the government to include gender education in the national school curriculum. A media campaign has already begun with a press conference held on 7 June, which got coverage on national television, radio and in one of the country's two main newspapers.
The small group of men who started the Association know they will not be able to eliminate domestic violence or other gender problems in East Timor overnight. Although they will have the guidance and support of a growing East Timorese women's movement, it will still be a long and difficult struggle. However, they were never completely defeated during centuries of Portugal colonialism and a brutal 24-year Indonesian military occupation, and they are optimistic, energetic and determined. The popular slogan of the independence movement still holds true today, as East Timorese men and women continue to struggle for total liberation - A Luta Continua!
The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
1a Rua Mozambique, Farol, Dili, Timor Lorosa’e
P.O. Box 340, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin, Australia)
Tel: +670-3325013 or +61-723-4330