Tamara Sloper Harding – 24-11-2010
This week, Thursday 25 November was White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On 17 December 1999, the United Nations
General Assembly designated 25 November as a day to raise public awareness of the problem all over the world.
Governments, international organizations and NGOs were invited to organize activities highlighting this theme.
Women face significant discrimination in the household, the workplace and the community. Dominated by the traditional patriarchal society they still suffer violence. – Violence that very often occurs inside their own homes. Many women in Timor-Leste consider this a normal part of family life. Tradition and customary law favour men over women. Men own property, men inherit and men make all the important decisions. As a much higher percentage of women are illiterate, they become subordinated and economically dependent on men.
Kirsty Sword Gusmao, the Australian wife of the Prime Minister of Timor Leste Xanana Gusmao says “The major challenges that women face today relate to economic independence — or dependence — and the impact of that in terms of the options that are available in resolving issues such as violence in the home. Women are very financially dependent on men and they therefore often do not have the option of pursuing legal channels, and this shuts off access to other things, like education. That is particularly the case of rural women.”
The women’s movement is young and the future for the women of Timor Leste is bright – they have many champions for their cause. It has been recognized that the future growth of the country lies with the development and empowerment of its women.
Recently a mother at Maria Regina School lent me Greg Mortensen’s book, “Three Cups of Tea”. Greg is an American who has made it his life’s work to promote peace by building schools for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tales of his travels had an odd similarity to our recent adventures in Timor Leste. The challenges of culture, infrastructure (lack of) and communication resonated with me. However, it was a couple of his quotes that really rang true. He quoted an old African proverb saying;
“Educate a boy, and you educate and individual. Educate a girl, and you educate a community.”
He then continued;
“Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities, but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”