UNDP is targeting the National Parliament in Timor-Leste in a renewed bid to ensure that Asia's newest state is grounded on gender equality and inclusive growth.
The centrepiece of the new project is the Centro de Estudos de Genero (CEG) or Gender Resource Centre. The CEG is a three-year US$ 700,000 initiative of the Women Parliamentarians' Caucus, or the Grupo das Mulheres Parlamentares de Timor-Leste (GMPTL), a women's lobby within the National Parliament. It is supported by UNDP's Parliament Project and UNIFEM through its Integrated Programme for women in Politics and in Decision Making (IPWPDM), a five-year undertaking designed to aid and enhance women's participation in politics and decision making.
According to Maria Paixao Da Costa, the Vice-President of Parliament and the President of the lobby group, the CEG is “seen as institutionalizing commitment to struggle for gender equality and women's empowerment in the country.” Integrating a gender perspective into the work of the National Parliament through capacity development, research, training and networking activities with other organizations is the core objective of the CEG, established through the sponsorship of Norway, Sweden and Australia.
The CEG was launched on 7 October 2008 in a high level ceremony attended by senior Government officials led by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, representatives of the United Nations, the civil society, academicians, women groups as well as community leaders from the Conselho de Suco (village councils).
Its launch marked a culmination of a series of activities on the theme of gender and women empowerment. These included the celebration of International Rural Women's Day as well as a plenary session in Parliament on the topic, Claim the Right to development as a Woman's Right: Knowledge Partnership for Empowering Rural Women. The speakers paid glowing tribute to women, especially those hailing from countryside, acknowledging their sacrifice during the freedom struggle and their contribution to food production and security in the country.
In addition, on the eve of the Day, the UNDP/ILO project on Women in Self Employment (WISE), organized a successful Trade Fair held at Mercado Lama, the main market centre in the country's capital, Dili. Inaugurated by the President of the Parliament, the event involved 120 women from various parts of the country and drew an estimated 25,000 participants. Through social mobilization and development of synergies with other initiatives of UNDP/ILO like the Skills Training for Gainful Employment (STAGE), the WISE project aims at tapping women potential as agents of social change, and in the sphere of entrepreneurship.
Meanwhile Fernado La Sama, the President of the National Parliament, used the launch of the CEG to affirm “Parliament's commitment towards the attainment of gender equality and women's empowerment in this country.” He added that it was “everybody's responsibility” to advance this cause.
In his remarks, Atul Khare, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor Leste (UNMIT) underlined the centrality of gender equality and women's empowerment to the mandate of the United Nations, saying it is “in pursuit of these principles, that many conventions and other instruments have been established under the umbrella of the UN and its specialized agencies.”
The SRSG described the launch of the CEG as “an excellent example of a very tangible result from the strong partnership between the National Parliament, the government, the UN, NGOs, donors and other stakeholders involved in the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment.”
Echoing sentiments which were expressed by several MPs, Osorio Florindo, a Member of Parliament from the Fretilin Party said the Centre will serve an important function since it will collect data on legislation about gender issues in the country. “It will improve the capacity of MPs' understanding on gender issues and enlighten the public about gender in Timor-Leste,” said Osorio, who is also the President of Committee E on Poverty Reduction, Rural and Regional Development and Gender Equality in Parliament.
In the political arena experts say that compared to other countries in the region, Timor-Leste has made significant strides. For example, there are three women heading key ministries in the IV Constitutional Government of Timor-Leste and in the National Parliament, women comprise nearly 30 percent of the lawmakers. But this is largely as a result of legislative intervention. According to the Electoral Law enacted on 18th December 2006, political parties are obliged to include at least one woman per group of four candidates, as well as their substitution by a same sex candidate in the event of vacancy. Parliament has also ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
However, achieving full gender equality will not be easy. During the launch of the CEG,the parliamentary leader of Women's Caucus,Maria Paixao Da Costa said that large numbers of women especially those in the rural areas live under extreme poverty, with very limited access to basic services such as education, health care services, clean water and sanitation. “Their access to land, credit and market, information, technology and training opportunities is limited.” She urged Parliament to adopt the Domestic Violence Law to curb the vice of domestic violence, which she said, is very rampant in the country.
According to the 2006 National Human Development Report of Timor-Leste, women and girls face significant discrimination in the household, the work place and the community. In addition, fertility and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world and gender based violence is prevalent, particularly in the household, states the National Human Development Report.
“Achieving gender equality in Timor-Leste has to be part of a holistic effort that focuses not only on involving more women in politics, but also practical actions aimed at improving the lot of women in the country, especially the rural poor,” notes Idelta Maria Rodrigues, the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality.
With its work well cut out, the CEG unveiled an immediate platform of action, starting with the sending of four women and men parliamentarians to participate in the 3rd Global Congress of Women in Politics (Gender and Climate Change) in the Philippines. Other planned activities include a workshop on Gender-Responsive Budgeting for members of Parliament, as part of a series of capacity building measures.