I love getting to have discussions about gender equality with Timorese people. I’m doing some work with a friend from UNIFEM to prepare a delegation of government workers, and that’s basically what we’re doing.
My favourite part is the fact that we have men in these groups, and they participate whole-heartedly and honestly in the discussions. They talk openly about gender imbalances and discrimination – like men being heads of households, like eldest sons getting to make decisions, like boys’ education being more important than girls’, like tough restrictions on abortion – and measures to redress some inequalities – like maternity leave. I’m under no illusions that these guys all race home to cook the dinner for their wives, of course. If their wife doesn’t do it, a sister or an an aunt or a mother or a daughter will be there at the fire. But still. They discuss it.
I had just two years working in gender equality in government in Australia before I came here, and I have *never* seen groups of men participating honestly, without defensiveness, in these kind of discussions. I can think of exactly three guys who would, and that’s it. Most blokes would chew their own arms off before they admitted something simple like that women do the lion’s share of domestic work in Australia. It’s because it’s not acceptable to say that these days, of course; and because they take it personally. If you pick up a HREOC study that shows that men have a third more leisure time than women or women earn 84c in the dollar to men, blokes tend to get all blustery and think you’re talking about them, personally. ‘I do the washing up! Sometimes!’ they grump. Whereas it’s still very accepted in Timorese society that women have all these burdens and discrimination. Guess that makes it easier not to take it personally – they don’t feel so guilty.
Anyway. Another reason I love my job is that I care about it. Sure I’m a public servant. Government can be maddeningly slow and full of talkfests. But, often enough for me anyway, you can feel like you’re doing something that affects someone, somewhere.