Thursday Day 8 in Dili – At the Parliament
The ratio of women in politics is surprisingly high here in Timor Leste, though in some ways it may be easier to strive for a goal of gender equality in politics if you are starting from scratch. There is a big focus here to try and encourage women to run for office at various levels and today we met with the Vice-President of the National Parliament to see how that was coming along. Maria Paixao da Costa was actually elevated to the acting Prime Minister and the acting President of the National Parliament today as the others were sequestered at a planning retreat high up in the mountains and effectively cut off from the city. Maria was very gracious to us by spending close to 2 hours in our company. There was much dialogue around her boardroom table where candid questions were asked and experiences were shared from both sides. We even had her sign one of our Fall action cards as one head of Parliament to another. The local press caught wind of meeting and came to film it. We were all surprised to see us on the nightly news on TVTL and suddenly people recognized us as those people from Canada.
With a target of 30% of seats in Parliament slated for women there must be something working as they are currently sitting at 27%. The down side to this stat is the cabinet equivalent here is almost all male with the Vice President being one of the exceptions. I’m sure with more people like Maria Paixao da Costa involved this too will be one of the changes for the better coming in the near future. It turns out quite a few of the Parliamentary Ministers and even more of the general members of Parliament are folks who have a long history with Development and Peace. The is course is quite the success of the organization as it’s a living example of how far the skills can take you that are gained from the “capacity building” development of the people that work with Development and Peace.
From seeing how the Parliament works we next found out more about the municipal level or what they call here the “village council”. The Women’s Caucus is a partner Development and Peace has supported here since 2003 promoting women to participate in leadership within their community. We met with the leadership teams of adjoining villages inside the meeting house of the Kuluhon Village. This was one of the first areas targeted in a National Pilot Project to have community elections. Next year the entire country will have these community style elections for the first time. Each council being made up with 9 members, 3 of which are to be filled by women. Much is being done now to encourage women to step forward and give them the skills needed for public speaking and the like as women have traditionally not carried out such public roles. Having elections is one thing but the task ahead is going to be filled with many challenges. They have no tax base and a very small budget from the national government. Their local problems are great and dealing with the effects of 70% unemployment within their community will be a constant issue.
Dick and Dorothy