Kiwi Connection with East Timor

Kiwis are no strangers to East Timor (Timor-Leste). You’ll find them contributing to all sorts of initiatives including to develop community, law and order, business and infrastructure to name just a few. Wellingtonian Tracey Wemyss shares some insights into the situation for women in Timor-Leste, and the work one innovative Timorese organisation is doing to support victims of violence. Tracey is in Dili working with non-governmental organisation Empreza Di’ak, and New Zealand Volunteer Service Aboard.

Violence against women is reported as common-place in Timor-Leste, particularly in domestic relationships. There is a saying in the Tetum local language – “bikan ho kanuru baku malu”, (when eating) “a dish and a spoon will hit each other”.

The 2010 national Health and Demographic Survey indicates 38% of young Timorese women reported as suffering some form of physical abuse since the age of 15, with 74% of married women reported as suffering from domestic violence. Despite these high rates of abuse, only one in five women reach out for help with the majority (82%) referring to family members. Only 5% contact the police or social service organizations, notably shelters.

That is why the Law Against Domestic Violence enacted in 2010, eight years after its first draft, was considered a turning point in the fight against domestic violence in Timor-Leste. Victims should have access to emergency medical, shelter, psycho-social and legal support services, and the law provides for victims to receive money from perpetrators and emergency government funds as necessary.

However, implementing the law and changing people’s perceptions remains a challenge, as many Timorese see domestic violence as an acceptable part of life. Poverty, the economic dependence of women, and the local tradition of paying a “bride price” for a wife are thought to contribute to the problem, with the bride price often being assumed as ownership. Traditionally, domestic violence cases are resolved by the perpetrator’s family paying the victim’s family a fine in money, animals or cloth, though the victim rarely benefits from this exchange.

In October 2011 Timorese NGO Empreza Di’ak launched the Futuru Di’ak (Good Future) programme, Timor-Leste’s first project supporting the economic empowerment of victims of domestic violence. Through market research, local product testing, and following nationwide consultation with women and shelters, Futuru Di’ak identified suitable business opportunities sustained by local demand, and supported women to build a brighter future for themselves and their children.

“Women were leaving the safety of the shelters empty-handed, often out-cast in their communities, with no savings or skills to make a living” says Ariana Simões de Almeida, Empreza Di’ak co-founder and programme manager. “We worked with women whilst at the shelter, to develop skills and support them to establish and sustain small-businesses or to find employment – including in baking, clothing and dried fish production”. “Women supported during the pilot are now earning an average of US$150 a month, with potential for a 50% to 70% increase over the next year” says Ariana.

“A significant success when you consider that some 40% of the population are reported as living on less than US$0.88 a day” says New Zealander Tracey Wemyss. “It is a privilege to be working here at a time when many of the essential services we take for granted at home are being developed. Timor-Leste is in our back yard, and the determination these women and the organisations working to support them have for creating a better future, in spite of everything, inspires me daily” says Tracey.

Empreza Di’ak would love to hear from interested professionals, organisations and networks to exchange ideas, information and training opportunities. Support is also welcome on


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