Bridging the divide in rural Timor-Leste

Francisca repairing a water pipe

A gender education program in Timor-Leste is bridging the rural household labour and leadership divide between men and women.

Water for Women partner WaterAid is working with local partners in the small island nation to support women’s leadership and encourage more even sharing of household work between genders.

Francisca, 46, a mother of seven, runs a small kiosk from her home in Liquica municipality, on the country’s northern coast. She said: “When I haven’t heard about what is gender equality, it was difficult for us and we, the women, didn’t get good opportunity to attend any important meetings that help empowering women for decision making related ability both in the community and in the family.”

But the situation changed when Francisca took part in gender dialogue sessions run by gender equality proponents Grupu Feto Foinsa’e Timor-Leste (GFFTL), through the Water for Women project with WaterAid. The sessions involved community participants reflecting on their own biases and beliefs and how they can change their own lives.

Afterwards, Francisca was chosen as chief of her community’s Water User Group, and changes happened at home, too, with more sharing of the household tasks.

“I started to understand how to share roles and responsibility in a family and in the community between men and women,” she said. “With the content of the given training by GFFTL covering most of the household activities and sharing of roles, I personally have had the opportunity to decide on any internal activities.”

The division between women and men of roles and responsibilities in Timor-Leste is stark. The country ranks 111 out of the 187 in the UN Gender Inequality Index. Culturally, men are seen as the household heads and public representatives, and community leaders.

Community gender dialogue and training are an effort to shift these harmful norms and foster greater equality, more support for women in the home, and in community leadership and decision-making roles.

Today, Francisca is a role model in her community. She has acquired technical skills and taken leadership roles in community water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and is helping other women do the same.

“I am able to attend any community meetings as well as doing other roles that men do like organising the community in the WASH systems,” she said “... I can help organise with my fellow women to do activities such as connecting or fixing water pipes that will help the women easily accessing water.”

Under the project, CARE International has also been supporting WaterAid and local partner Fundasaun Luta ba Futuru (FLBF) to deliver Social Analysis and Action training, which encourages communities to reflect on how they can lead change.

One exercise involves men and women mapping their daily activities. The activity helps men appreciate the unequal gender workload, with women waking earlier, going to bed later, and doing most of the household labour.

Domingos sitting in the gardenDomingos, 59, who took part in the training, said: “It starts at home, and with our children. I try to communicate and encourage my sons to support with household chores.

"Personally, I cook, wash the cloths, look after the children, collect the water and wash the plates. I’m motivated to do these activities to show responsibility and to balance the tasks between women and men.

“I encourage my wife and daughters to participate in community meetings and my wife and I make financial decisions together. The men who don’t help their wives, it’s because they haven’t yet understood about gender issues and equality.”

Water for Women partners with WaterAid in delivering the Beyond Inclusion: Realising Gender Transformational Change and Sustainable WASH Systems in Timor-Leste project, which aims to address the multiple dimensions of inequality in access to services.

Through Water for Women, Australia is investing AUD118.9m to deliver 33 WASH projects and research initiatives that aim to support 2.9 million people in 15 countries across South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific. Water for Women is the Australian government's flagship WASH program and is being delivered as part of Australia's aid program over five years, from 2018 to 2022.


Photos: WaterAid Timor-Leste & CARE International in Timor-Leste


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