The release of Law on Domestic Violence in Timor Leste has changed the position of women and children in the eyes of law. They, who previously locked away domestic abuse cases, are now starting to consider the case as more than just a domestic matter and privacy. Another law on gender mainstreaming is also in the pipeline. However, positive changes in the land of the rising sun are no overnight work. It is indeed a long process with struggles from the women inside and outside of the parliament.
It had been more than three days, the scorches that burn some parts of Ruy’s (pseudo name) body, were left untreated. Instead of medical attention, this six years old child was hidden by her family in Ermera District, 30 km away from Dili, the capital of Timor Leste. The victim of domestic violence was finally taken to Fatin Hakmatek, a safe house at Dili National Hospital after one of the neighbors made a police report. Crying in pain, she was also diagnosed with malnutrition and stunting.
“She looked like a three-year-old. There were scars on her arms and legs,” thus, the piece of her story found in the report “A day in Fatin Hakmatek, Multi-Tasking and Still Breathing”, in August 2010.
The international organization advocating for victims and survivors of domestic violence, Fatin Hakmatek, mentioned that domestic violence experienced by Ruy was not just physical violence, but a patriarchal power relation among family members. Ruy was not the only child suffered from domestic abuse in Timor Leste. From various types of domestic violence handled by Fatin Hakmatek, women and children made the highest number for victims and survivors.
A report titled, “Unseen, Unsafe” released by Save The Children, World Vision, Plan International, and Child Fund in 2017 recorded 612,539 cases of child abuse in Timor Leste. This number is equal to 87.4 percent out of 700,845 children in the country. Meanwhile, UN Women documented 59 percent of women suffered from physical and sexual abuse in 2015.
In that regard, the women empowerment group with 38 members of women organizations in Timor Leste assessed the roots of the problems on violence since this country was detached from Indonesia. The first effort was carried out in 2001 when the first Women’s Congress was held in Dili agreed on the formation of the Ministry of Women. After that, they wanted a more significant portion of representation in the parliament, up to 30 percent, followed by ratification of Law Against Domestic Violence.
Years of hard work had finally paid off in 2010. The Timor Leste National Parliament ratified the Law Against Domestic Violence. Not only it provides legal support for victims and survivors of abuses, but this law also regulates on time limit for effective and efficient case handling for domestic abuses. The police force has not more than just five days to come up with the case file.
“Domestic abuse does not become a complaint offense, but included in the general criminal conduct,” the Chief of A Commission on Legislation, Carmelita Moniz, mentioned to jaring.id and Radio Rakambia on Tuesday, September 24th, 2019.
Judicial System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), a civil society organization (CSO) observing the legal proceedings in Timor Leste recorded an increase of trialed gender-based violence cases, up to 65 percent. On the other hand, other criminal cases only made up 35 percent in 2017.
The hike on reported abuse cases, according to Carmelita, had successfully changed the position of victims and survivors in the eyes of law. People of Timor Leste are no longer treating abuse cases as a private matter. Cases that are harming women and children are starting to surface, and no longer deemed as a disgrace that needs to be covered.
“We have a local understanding here, the sound of a spoon hitting the fork should not be heard by the neighbors,” she mentioned.
Apart from releasing the Law Against Domestic Violence that had successfully changed the culture of the people of Timor, the female members of parliament of Timor Leste had also successfully scored the Law on Parliamentarian Electoral in 2012. This law had given the opportunity for women to acquire seats in the parliament because each political party is obliged to endorse one female candidate out of the three candidates. That way, the number of female members of parliament soared up to 39 percent, from 27 percent previously.
Nevertheless, the high female representation does not necessarily mean there were sudden positive changes in the economic, education, and health sectors for women. Referring to the Global Gender Gap Index, the index that measures gender inequality within a country, Timor Leste ranked 124 from 149 countries with the ration of 0.638. This number is not far from Indonesia who ranked 85 with a ratio of 0.691. This also shows that the inequality gap in Timor Leste is still very significant.
In Southeast Asia, the Philippines had managed to narrow the inequality gap between men and women, especially in the political and educational empowerment aspects. This neighboring country ranked the 8th in the world with a 0.799 score.
The leader of Caucus Feto Politika Timor Leste, a CSO pushing for gender equality in the political field, Teresinha Maria Noronha Cardoso, mentioned that women’s capacity in the parliament is still weak, especially in budgeting discussion. And there are still so many agendas on pro-women policies to be discussed and fight for such as the Bill on Children’s Protection, Bill on Gender Equality, and Bill on Election of House of Representatives’ Members. Previously, according to Teresinha, parties still relied on capacity building programs provided by CSOs.
“We have enrolled most of them (female members of parliament) in the parliamentarian exchange program to other countries. But it has not shown any results yet.” Teresinha said with a concerned voice.
Not Just Numbers
Capacity issue related to budgeting, according to Teresinha, is not the sole challenge that limits the freedom of movement for women in the Timor Leste parliament. They often work under the short-term political pressure of the party. This had caused women to move away from gender-based political agenda.
“Our political situation is also uncertain. It is difficult to focus on women’s issues because our national problems are still challenging,” Teresinha said.
Maria’s statement is referring to the current political situation in Timor Leste. At the beginning of 2017, the President of Timor Leste, Fransisco Guterres, or Lu Olo, dismissed the parliament using his veto right. This one-sided power abuse had caused the national program in Timor Leste went stagnant. The reelection of parliament in 2018 also did not become a panacea for the political dead-end because now the members of parliament are retaliating against the Government by boycotting several national programs.
The political condition for women in Timor Leste, compared to Indonesia, according to the Secretary of Women Parliamentarian Caucus, Hetifah Sjaifuddin, is not that far different. The women of Timor Leste are empowered enough to fight for their gender equality, something that the Indonesian female members of parliament still do not possess.
“From Commission I to XI. Don’t think that the women’s issues are only sitting in the Commission VIII. All commissions must pay attention to whether or not there are discriminatory regulations against women or any policies that benefit only certain gender groups,” said this Golkar politician on September 2nd, 2019 to jaring.id in West Jakarta.
That is why Hetifah hopes parties are willing to endorse women to fill in the structure within the parliament. Not only as regular members, but as policy influencing members such as Chief of Commission, Chief of Budgetting Body, or Chief of Legislation Body. Hetifah is the only woman who holds the strategic position as the Deputy of Chief Commission XI for the period of 2014 – 2019. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives period of 2019 – 2024, Puan Maharani from PDI-P managed to be appointed as the first female Head of Representatives.
“I think we must work harder because only 20 percent of the total number of members are women. We need more women to be louder,” she said.
The Director of Cakra Wikara Indonesia (CWI), an organization of gender-based social and political researchers, Anna Margret, echoed the same opinion. Not only the patriarchal tradition made women are placed in a different original position, but the internal political dynamic within the party also plays a significant role in obstructing women’s empowerment. Anna agreed that a more significant portion for women in the parliament needs to be promoted in order to achieve the ideal number. It could be through political affirmation.
This is important for women to keep them in the competition with men whenever it comes to strategic issues. She did not want legislation products discussed within the House of Representatives to become gender bias and disadvantaging women.
“Women’s experience in ensuring the creation of women-friendly budgeting and program development is crucial,” Anna said.
But she also reminded that the number of women in parliament is not the only indicator to push for the pro-women policymaking. Capacity related to gender-based political identity is an important matter for women in the House of Representatives.
“In feminist studies, nothing is ever mentioned about how a larger number of women is better. The determinant factor is political identity carried by women,” she said. (Debora Blandina Sinambela)