A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

Weekend: exhaustion, then walking up a hill

Saturday 7th March – Sunday 8th March – 3 months, 19-20 days

Notable events:

Saturday: After setting up all day Friday, running around all week and only getting four hours of sleep a night for days (BLOODY dogs) - being too exhausted to go to the International Women’s Day event.

Sunday: Going on a ‘mission’ with Matt, who had suddenly developed an urge to climb a small hill near our house. I bullied Matt out of bed ‘at the crack of dawn’ (i.e. 9am) because I wanted to go before it was too hot and also in case the ‘5 minute climb’ turned into a four hour trek.

My need to worry fulfilled, I conceded once we got to the top (about ten minutes) that it was absolutely gorgeous. I sat and looked at the green green hills and calm blue ocean and thought that this was why I came to Timor, why I was glad my perfect volunteer assignment just happened to be in Timor, although I knew nothing about the place before I came here.

Matt explored the ruin of – we think? – a church, and scoped out possible hillside running training areas. He later conceded, as we approached home, very thirsty, that my suggestion we should take water had been a good one (I’d yielded grumpily in the end and not gone back for water).

Overall, much better than last weekend, when I was mysteriously sick again.

Posted by timortimes 21:29 Comments (0)

International Women’s Day Exhibition

Friday 6th March – 3 months, 18 days

Friday didn’t do much to dispel my crankiness about actions-not-words. Basically, I spent the whole day creating an International Women’s Day exhibition for my State Secretariat. Sure, it’s fun to take ten giant boards and put posters and pictures up to create a pleasing aesthetic. I love art and studied it for all of high school, so I enjoyed creating something. It was also nice to see three other ministries turn up and do their own colourful boards! After a trying day, I felt proud of my efforts at the end – I thought it looked good – and the people who knew I created it (like Teresa, Herminio and Armando who I work with) thought so too. I even had thankyous, which was a nice bonus (I never expect to get thanked for anything, although I appreciate it when it happens; life is nicer that way).

However I wasn’t happy that it was me doing it – at the last minute, too. I am meant to be here to support staff in this office – not to do the work because they don’t have enough staff. This is not mere grumpiness (because remember, I enjoyed the final product I made) but my concern that This Is Not Good Development Practice. Good development practice is when I come in and teach my planning or arranging or gender analysis or research skills to staff. Even if I am supporting them they take the lead on – like I’ve been doing with CEDAW. If a Timorese member of staff is working on something, and I can help them think about it, plan it, or offer my skills as a native English speaker, then great. But just doing something without being able to really consult them – it doesn’t sit well with me. Armando was there all day Friday, and I discussed how to arrange things with him. But I’m afraid it wasn’t much of a discussion. Sorry, Armando.

I mean, these things happen. And sure I’m a malae but I am part of the State Secretariat, so it’s still their exhibition. (Brought about by once-more invisible women’s work, but it’s still their exhibition.) There were reasons why I ended up in charge of the exhibition. Mainly it was because there were so many events going on in the fortnight and days prior to International Women’s Day – the Peace Conference, elections workshops in the districts, National Priority meetings, and other International Women’s Day events. The Timorese person originally in charge forgot to tell me that she had a four day workshop in the districts last week. (Yeah, oops.) This is why it fell to me to create some extra posters, decide the composition, corral other ministries’ contributions, etc. A few staff carried items over, some helped me put things up at various times throughout the day. I wasn’t completely without help or input. If I hadn't done it, there wouldn't have been an exhibition.

I just shouldn’t have been in charge, that’s all.

Posted by timortimes 21:20 Comments (0)

Happy birthday Meg!

Friday 6th March 2009 – 3 months, 18 days

To Meg: the sweet, the darling, always thinking of others; a person who has nary a malicious thought yet somehow is an extremely good critical thinker. I wish I were more like you! Happy birthday, doll.

Posted by timortimes 20:36 Comments (0)

Action not words – Women’s Peace Conference

Thursday 5th March – 3 months, 17 days

On Thursday, in between frantic worrying and planning about the International Women’s Day exhibition to be magicked up by Friday arvo (just wait, we’ll get to that), I managed to attend a session of the Women’s Peace Conference at the Ministeriu de Negocias Estrangeros (the Ministry of Negotiating with Strangers, or, more ordinarily, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). I was keen for this particular session as it was to be a Bishop from Norway and the (female) Deputy Health Minister discussing the effect of culture on women, specifically from such practices as barlake (bride price) and reproductive health.

The Bish started off well by noting that as they were already very short on time, he would cut out his introduction and get straight to the point of his speech. I appreciated this very much. I got a bit cranky when he started talking about women having a ‘special understanding of emotionwork’ and being the gatekeepers of emotion, etc, though. I thought he was going off on a ‘women are delicate and are biologically designed to be special special nurturers’ tangent. However I forgave him when he went on to talk about women being overwhelmingly the victims of human rights violations, and how we have a duty to listen to women in this situation (theme of the conference was women’s experiences as peacemakers during and after conflict, remember). So that’s why he was going on about emotions, huh.

The second speaker, the Deputy Health Minister, concentrated on women’s reproductive health and their rights. Unfortunately I only picked up a general idea from the Powerpoint presentation (which was in English), but judging by the crowd’s reaction it was very controversial. (Lucky they didn’t get onto bride price, however disappointed I was that it wasn’t mentioned during the session in the end.)

The truth is, that for someone like me, who is used to discussing and studying these issues, I didn’t hear anything new. I could have written the Powerpoint presentation on health, birth control etc, although health is in no way a specialty of mine (which probably also says something about what a good little public servant I am, oh dear).

The event was also marred a little (for me – probably high entertainment for everyone else) when a psycho dude was the first to grab the microphone during ‘question and answer’ time, went off about how women are taking over, blah blah, and he was *almost* ejected from the room by security, but not quite. The event was a kind of women’s space; sure men were welcome but how much bad behavior should you put up with? None, I reckon.

However the conference was not for me, or for people like me. Although I was disappointed that the ratio of women to men was much higher than is usual for Dili (normally we get quite a few men, but not at this 400-strong event), it was wonderful to see that most of the women in the room were Timorese or from neighbouring Pacific countries. There was a noticeable amount of white malae (foreigner) women, but overwhelmingly the women were brown. This conference was for them. And talking about using contraception in Timor, which is 90% Catholic – talking about spacing your family and perhaps having 5 kids instead of 8 or 10 – talking more generally, in public, that women need to have a public voice – this was very controversial and generated a huge buzz of voices in the room.

In the moment, I was cranky and a little sick of events which I feel are meaningless prattle. I am becoming less and less of a fan of events where it’s ok to say yes, women’s voices need to be heard, events where we ‘celebrate’ women like International Women’s Day... but it’s not ok for government and Parliament to follow up this with actions or cold hard cash. I am impatient with words and want some action. I want trained midwives, I want homebirth not to be made illegal (this is an Australian rant), I want my State Secretariat to get the same amount of funding as others, I want people to take gender seriously when I show up to a meeting, I want men to take on caring work in the home, I want people to treat women as serious contenders for education and jobs. I have no doubt that many women before me have had this feeling.

However, upon reflection (and after having got some sleep), I can see that of course this event was more than just words for hundreds of people. I was told that the next day at the event, abortion was discussed. This is not something that people talk about openly here! They have criminalized it and put in place hospital policies that try to prevent abortions at all costs. Yet it came up. This is not just a discussion; this is women feeling safe enough to get together and talk about issues for all of society. They will go home energized and talk about what they heard and saw in Dili and let me tell you, there are some driven people in this country and they aren’t all foreigners. They have women’s NGOs galore here, it’s the only way to get their voices heard most of the time. The ideas shared here are going to result in new ways and programs. Someone might even go home and leave next time her husband beats her; or they might say ‘Hey, let’s wait a little longer before we have that 7th kid’.

I can only hope.

Posted by timortimes 20:29 Comments (0)

National Priorities – Timor’s getting this one right

Wednesday 4th March – 3 months, 16 days

Wednesday I attended a meeting at the Ministry of Education on the National Priorities. The Government of Timor-Leste has agreed on 9 ‘National Priorities’ for 2009, which is a way of prioritizing sectors for attention – other sectors are also major ministries, like Agriculture and Justice.

What this means for my counterpart and I is that we have to attend every meeting to make sure that people are taking gender issues into account. I ask (or I prod Herminio to ask) - Are women and men benefiting equally from your programs? Is sex-disaggregated data going to be collected? Has anyone done a gender analysis on the suite of activities you’re planning? And so on.

Meetings are grueling (I hate meetings, they should be banned or revolutionized) but I do love the atmosphere in Timor that our organization (the state secretariat for the promotion of equality) is in demand to provide our input on gender issues on everything from agriculture to elections. This includes the high-level stuff – like the National Priorities. It’s fantastic, and Australia could take a leaf out of Timor’s book on this practice…

Posted by timortimes 20:24 Comments (0)

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