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09 May 2023
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today concluded its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Timor-Leste, with Committee Experts commending the State on advancing equality for women and girls, especially in post-conflict work, and asking about measures to tackle the high rates of domestic violence in the country and women’s participation in political life.
Natasta Stott Despoja, Committee Expert and Taskforce Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, commended the efforts of the State party to advance equality for women and girls nationally, especially in post-conflict work. The adoption of the latest national action plan exemplified progress in this area.
A Committee Expert said over half of East Timorese women aged 15-49 had experienced physical or sexual violence by a male partner. What measures were envisaged in the new national action plan to modify social measures of conduct between men and women? When did the State intend to amend the Penal Code to explicitly criminalise marital rape? What was the timeline for criminalising all forms of gender-based violence in a more systematic way? What concrete measures were being taken to address the reluctance of women to report gender-based violence?
Ms. Stott Despoja said Timor-Leste had some impressive past diplomats. What were the current statistics on women’s diplomatic representation? What was the role of women in defence and security? What specific measures were being taken to raise the number of women in these positions? What was currently being done in relation to women’s political and public life? What ways were issues being countered beyond the quota system?
The delegation said a law was in place against domestic violence which had been in force for 12 years. It was time to consider reviewing the law, to bring it in line with the Penal Code. Crimes involving incest were increasing, and there was a need to include this as a crime within the law. The parliamentary election would be held soon, and it was hoped that the Government would prioritise this. The national action plan on gender-based violence had been revised and approved. It was understood that this would be reviewed and assessed each year, based on the implementation of the pillars of prevention, social service, and addressing the needs of victims.
The delegation said women held 25 per cent of decision-making positions. Timor-Leste was proud because the State had female diplomats deployed across many different countries. A campaign was launched “Women Ready to Lead” to identify and nominate potential women political candidates to participate in seminars, talk shows and radio and television. Political parties were required to have a 30 per cent quota of women participating. Women with disabilities were also given special consideration.
Armando Da Costa, Director-General of the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion of Timor-Leste, introducing the report, said at the moment the Government did not foresee adopting a specific law on gender equality, but instead would systematically mainstream gender equality in key legal acts such as the law against trafficking in persons, among others. Mr. Da Costa said violence against women was one of the main challenges being faced by the country, and the Government was committed to eliminating this. In response to this pervasive issue, the National Women’s Machinery continued the process of revising the second national action plan against gender-based violence 2017–2021, which had been concluded. Through the implementation of the plan, it was reported that community leaders, teachers and students had increased their understanding of gender-based violence, and now better understood how to report and refer cases to the competent institutions.
In concluding remarks, Maria De Lurdes Bessa, Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for the discussion, which highlighted important progress made, as well as the challenges which need to be addressed. Timor-Leste stood ready to amplify women’s voices and promote and defend women’s rights.
Ana Pelaez Narvaez, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had helped the Committee gain a better understanding of the situation of women in Timor-Leste.
The delegation of Timor-Leste consisted of members from the Secretariat of State and Quality Inclusion; the National Centre Chega; the Court of Appeal; the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs; the Ministry of State Administration; the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports; and the Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-fifth session is being held from 8 to 26 May. All documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 10 March at 10.am to consider the combined initial to fifth periodic report of Sao Tome and Principe (CEDAW/C/STP/1-5).
The Committee has before itthe fourth periodic report of Timor-Leste (CEDAW/C/TLS/4).
MARIA DO ROSÁRIO CORREIA, Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion of Timor-Leste and head of delegation, said this year marked 20 years since Timor-Leste had ratified the Convention. The State considered gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls to be paramount to inclusive society development. Timor-Leste was committed to ensuring that women, girls, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups were actively engaged in the development of policies, laws and programmes. The Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion as the National Women’s Machinery was working closely with sectoral line ministries, development partners and civil society to integrate a gender mainstreaming approach across all government policies, laws, programmes and budgets. The delegation looks forward to a constructive dialogue with the Committee.
ARMANDO DA COSTA, Director-General of the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion of Timor-Leste, said at the moment the Government did not foresee adopting a specific law on gender equality, but instead would systematically mainstream gender equality in key legal acts such as the law against trafficking in persons, among others. The mobile court system was an important complementary measure to the existing courts in Timor-Leste; it enhanced access to formal justice for rural communities, including women. These courts permitted the convening of hearings in nine municipalities where fixed courts were not yet established.
The access to justice clinics programme provided free legal information and consultation services. The annual budget of the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion had increased significantly in 2023 to strengthen its role as a government institution that advocated for gender equality and inclusion. Gender working groups were now established in almost all line ministries and actively participated in the national gender working group’s regular meetings.
Mr. Da Costa said violence against women was one of the main challenges being faced by the country, and the Government was committed to eliminating this. Under the first national action plan against gender-based violence, a referral network was established to facilitate complaints related to violence against women. The network supported victims through the reporting, investigation and judicial processes. The Government conducted training on the prevention of gender-based violence, and continued to encourage women and men to report cases related to intimate partner violence.
In response to this pervasive issue, the National Women’s Machinery continued the process of revising the second national action plan against gender-based violence 2017–2021 which had been concluded. This plan had helped address the gender-based violence problems in Timor-Leste, especially in the context of service to survivors. Through the implementation of the plan, it was reported that community leaders, teachers and students had increased their understanding of gender-based violence, and now better understood how to report and refer cases to competent institutions.
The current quota requirement for the parliamentarian elections established in 2011 in Timor-Leste had facilitated the election of 25 women parliamentarians (38 per cent) in 2018, surpassing the 35 per cent minimum quota of women in the Parliament for the third legislature in a row. Under the substitution regime, women’s representation in the national Parliament now stood at 40 per cent. However, women’s participation at the executive level remained limited, between 16 per cent and 21 per cent women in the last three Governments. There were also gaps in women’s representation at local authority levels, with only five per cent of women appointed as head of the village. To address these challenges, a strategic framework was created to engage political parties and institutions to empower and promote women’s participation in politics and decision-making positions. Women’s representation remained low in the area of security and defence.
The gender gap in education had been narrowed, improving or surpassing gender parity in education in almost all regions across the country. The 2017 inclusive education policy highlighted the right of pregnant girls to continue to attend school. Education in this regard not only focused on students but also parents and the public, to transform and challenge negative attitudes, social norms and stereotypes about sending pregnant girls back to school. Significant progress could also be seen in the reduction of maternal and infant mortality rates. Between 2010 and 2016, the maternal mortality ratio had been reduced from 557 per 100,000 live births, to 195 per 100,000 live births. Mr. Da Costa said the delegation of Timor-Leste looked forward to a constructive dialogue with the Committee Experts.
NATASTA STOTT DESPOJA, Committee Expert and Taskforce Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, commended the efforts of the State party to advance equality for women and girls nationally, especially in post-conflict work. The adoption of the latest national action plan exemplified progress in this area. The figure of 40 per cent women in politics was impressive and Ms. Stott Despoja congratulated Timor-Leste on this figure. Was the law specifically related to gender equality completely off the agenda? Could more information be provided regarding the article relating to abortion? Was it considered sufficient that there was no specific gender law? Could the number of complaints on the grounds of gender be provided? What activities were being taken to ensure that women in Timor-Leste were aware of their rights? How was this information disseminated? Would the State party consider contributing further resources to the mobile court system? What safeguards were in place to guarantee that customary practices did not impact women’s access to the judicial system?
The delegation said the number of cases of violence against women and girls was high, especially domestic violence cases. However, many women did not report domestic violence. A new law had been introduced, which stated that whoever witnessed domestic violence was obligated to report it. A referral network had been established which comprised of civil society organizations, and ensured the safety of victims by facilitating their stay at safe houses. This network was spread throughout the country.
The mobile court was established to help women in rural areas and ran twice a week depending on the schedule of proceedings. By next year, it was expected that the courts would be able to cover all the municipalities throughout the country. It was understood that abortion depended on the motive. If the woman’s health condition did not allow for a safe delivery, she was permitted to have an abortion. However, forced abortion was criminalised. The courts dealt with these cases, but there had not been any for the last few years. The Constitution allowed for the value of existing traditional laws. If there was family land, women were also entitled to this. There was no specific law against gender discrimination, however, the Constitution guaranteed the rights of women for equal access to education and participation in political life.
NATASTA STOTT DESPOJA, Committee Expert and Taskforce Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, asked if the delegation could expand on the information regarding the dissemination of the Convention?
The delegation said since the Convention had been ratified, a mechanism of gender working groups had been established through the line ministries. The Committee’s recommendations would then be disseminated to these working groups for implementation.
A Committee Expert stressed that stereotypes affected women’s rights, and the judiciary should not apply inflexible standards on preconceived notions on what constituted domestic violence. The Committee invited the State party to communicate on the status of the follow-up.
Another Committee Expert asked what plans were in place to enable more women to enter the legal system in Timor-Leste?
The delegation said during a particular case, there had been an appeal which went through the court of appeal because the woman did not have a safe shelter. An agreement was put in place where she could stay and work at the safe house and she could continue to look after her son. The delegation said to become judicial actors, there were certain criteria in place. Men and women had equal opportunity to participate in recruitment and after this, in judicial training. In Timor-Leste there were only 35 judges to cover the whole country, and 14 them were women. At the moment, training was taking place at the judicial centre, and there were 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women among the participants, which was positive.
A Committee Expert said the Government had made significant achievements in the last 20 years since independence. Timor-Leste was commended for its efforts to build technical capacity in spite of numerous challenges. The establishment of the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion was a welcome step. What were the plans to strengthen the human and technical resources of the Secretary of State? Was there an update on the status of trainings? What were the results of the analysis of 2020? Had any further analysis been undertaken since then? Had the lessons learned from the first national action plan been documented? What was the specific focus of the second national action plan? How would it assist women victims of conflict-related sexual violence?
NATASTA STOTT DESPOJA, Committee Expert and Taskforce Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, asked if the State party would consider introducing additional quotas, such as 30 per cent of women, to local and municipal elections? Were there any temporary special measures being introduced to accelerate the participation of marginalised women? What were the number of women serving on public boards? Would quotas be introduced to increase this? Would temporary special measures be introduced to increase the number of women in paid employment?
The delegation said there were 70 permanent civil servants working in the Secretary of State for Security and Inclusion. Many women were economically dependent on their spouses, and therefore it was important to allow women to have economic empowerment. Work was being done to help women raise chicken and pigs, and to display their products and sell them. There was also action being taken with women parliamentarians, to help women engage in political life and allow them to be candidates in parliamentary elections. There were barriers affecting women’s participation at the local level, particularly in the villages.
People with disabilities engaged in the 17 political parties which were running for the parliamentarian election. More women were encouraged to run as candidates and engage in politics at both the municipal and national levels. The gender working groups between the line ministries had two meetings every year, where they were required to present annual budgeting. It was compulsory for all line ministries to have gender budgeting.
The delegation said work was being done with parliamentarians and non-governmental organizations to prepare women for political candidacy. One of the barriers faced by women came from the dominant patriarchal system, causing them to lack confidence in themselves, and to not run as candidates. There were more than 10 recommendations made by the Committee to Timor-Leste in 2005, and 90 per cent had been implemented by the Government and integrated into State policy. Around 333 women victims of sexual violence had been receiving payments between 2019 and 2023. More than 87 women victims of sexual violence had received humanitarian aid, and children born of sexual violence were receiving scholarships. Work was also being done to provide these children with birth certificates, without requiring a birth certificate from the church.
A Committee Expert said in Timor-Leste, the husband was considered the head of the family while the mother was associated with fertility and managing the home. Nearly half of married women aged 15-49 were employed between 2017-2018, compared to 91 percent of married men of the same age. Data found that 35 per cent of women aged 20–49 had married in their teens compared to 9 per cent of men. Related to that was the high level of gendered violence against women. Over half of East Timorese women aged 15-49 had experienced physical or sexual violence by a male partner. The harmful practice of polygamy was also present within the State.
Did the Government intend to adopt a more comprehensive strategy against gender stereotyping? What measures were envisaged in the new national action plan to modify social measures of conduct between men and women? What tangible steps had been taken to reduce the number of child marriages in the State? What measures were in place to eliminate polygamy? When did the State intend to amend the Penal Code to explicitly criminalise marital rape? What was the timeline for criminalising all forms of gender-based violence in a more systematic way? What concrete measures were being taken to address the reluctance of women to report on gender-based violence? Would the State party increase the number of shelters available to women?
Another Committee Expert said there were three types of trafficking in persons which seemed to be prevalent in Timor-Leste: outward, inward and internal. Had the National Commission to Combat Trafficking in Persons been formally established? What were the tasks of the Commission? Had a new national action plan been formalised? Had the State party made progress collecting data on trafficking? Were there standard protocols to identify victims? Did training take place on a regular basis in this regard? Was data available on the number of internally trafficked children? Did the State party plan to create shelters for male victims of trafficking?
The delegation said a law was in place against domestic violence which had been in force for 12 years. It was time to consider reviewing the law, to bring it in line with the Penal Code. Crimes involving incest were increasing, and there was a need to include this as a crime within the law. The parliamentary election would be held soon, and it was hoped that the Government would prioritise this. A programme had been created for women’s economic empowerment, to reduce their dependency on their spouses. The national action plan on gender-based violence had been revised and approved. It was understood that this would be reviewed and assessed each year, based on the implementation of the pillars of prevention, social service, and addressing the needs of victims.
An anti-human trafficking committee had been established, and an action plan to combat human trafficking had been drafted. Guidelines on training for authorities had been drafted. This was currently conducted in municipalities. The national action plan was still under review, and it was hoped the succeeding government would immediately focus on its approval. More than 730 cases of human trafficking had been identified.
Regarding marital rape, this was covered by the law against domestic violence and the Penal Code. However, victims were often ashamed to plead this in court. There was a safehouse contracted in the east of the country and it was hoped more would be established in coming years. “Safe spaces” had been established in five hospitals, providing medical examinations for victims of sexual abuse and violence. These were the only entities which provided forensic examination, and special training had been provided to doctors and nurses in this regard. The Ministry of Health had recruited doctors to prepare for medical forensic studies, which would enable the provisions of increased forensic examinations.
Training had been provided in schools to prevent early marriage. In some municipalities, polygamy was considered to be a normal practice, such as in the eastern region of the country. The husband was required to support all his wives. This was a traditional practice. Polygamy had now been criminalised.
A Committee Expert said it was regrettable that the national action plan on human trafficking had not yet been accepted. How did the State party ensure that enough funds were allocated to fight trafficking effectively?
One Committee Expert asked about the measures envisaged for amending the Civil Code and bringing the marriage age to 18 years? Would polygamy be addressed in laws and policies?
A Committee Expert asked what measure had been set up to eliminate the practice of the “bride prize”?
The delegation said that the national action plan for trafficking was too late. The draft was already developed and there had been a Council established for human trafficking. It was hoped that all these efforts would bear fruit in the succeeding government. Some 500,000 dollars had been allocated to provide training to relevant entities to identify human trafficking cases. The delegation noted that it had not been clearly defined that those of 17 years of age already had voting rights. It was still being debated on how to come up with a solution to identify an age limit for participation in political life and when to marry. The Constitution had left this open and it was not defined clearly.
The delegation said a girl could only get married with the permission of her parents. A girl at 17 had the right to vote but was considered to be a child according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was an issue with this definition. In Timor-Leste, a dowry was used to value the woman, and was not a means of selling her. Before a woman wanted to marry, she had to ask permission from her parents, and her husband would have to bring a certain amount of money or goods to value that relationship.
NATASTA STOTT DESPOJA, Committee Expert and Taskforce Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, said Timor-Leste had some impressive past diplomats. What were the current statistics around women’s diplomatic representation? What was the role of women in defence and security? What specific measures were being taken to raise the number of women in these positions? What things were currently being done in relation to women’s political and public life? What ways were issues being countered beyond the quota system? What was being done to meaningfully combat patriarchal attitudes which prohibited women from participating in the political arena?
A Committee Expert commended the State party for its aggressive and proactive birth registration process, including across remote areas. How successful had this mobile registration been? How many people had benefitted? Was the programme sustainable? What were the current statistics of stateless women and children in Timor-Leste? How were their rights ensured?
The delegation said women held 25 per cent of decision-making positions. Timor-Leste was proud because the State had female diplomats deployed across many different countries. A campaign was launched “Women Ready to Lead” to identify and nominate potential women political candidates to participate in seminars, talk shows and radio and television. Political parties were required to have a 30 per cent quota of women participating. Women with disabilities were also given special consideration. The previous government had already established national registration booths at hospitals to enable easy registration post-delivery.
In 2023, training was provided on issues of social equality and gender inclusion in villages. This was passed on to women in rural areas, with the objective of allowing these women access to knowledge to enable them to participate in upcoming elections. Children born in Timor-Leste were entitled to Timor-Leste nationality.
A Committee Expert said the dialogue was very constructive. How were the 30 per cent of female candidates positioned in lists of political parties once the general elections took place?
Another Committee Expert said there were some serious issues in education, despite progress made. The Committee was concerned that the school dropout rate among girls and young women remained high. The lack of sanitary conditions for menstrual hygiene contributed to this. What were the outcomes and effects of the sanitation and hygiene strategy? What measures was the State party taking to increase the literacy rate of women in rural areas? How was the quality of teaching assessed? What efforts was the State party making to ensure quality access to education for women with disabilities? The Committee was surprised by the fact that 71 per cent of children reported having experienced physical violence by a teacher at school within the past 12 months, and that this was an accepted practice. How did the State party encourage students to fight sexual violence? How were they supported? What training was conducted for students on sexual and reproductive health education?
A Committee Expert said the Committee was concerned that women made up the majority of the informal and vulnerable workforce, at around 73 per cent. Only 20 per cent of these women were paid for their labour. What were the measures the State party intended to take to increase the number of women in formal employment? What measures would be taken to reduce female unemployment? How would customary laws which stigmatised against female employment be addressed, especially in rural areas? Did the State party collect data on unpaid care and domestic work? What was the current status of the draft law on domestic workers?
The delegation said all citizens were guaranteed quality education. The Government had a re-entry policy in place for schooling. Whenever girls or young women gave birth, they were able to take an exam and proceed to a higher level of education. In 2022, 15 pregnant students participated in the national exam. Some of these were graduating and had on the job training at the local hospital. The Ministry of Education had allocated a sufficient budget to provide awareness raising for students on the prevention of gender-based violence, sexual harassment and reproductive health subjects. In 2023, training was conducted at the municipality levels for public high schools. Forty students with disabilities participated in final exams in certain districts; unfortunately, these facilities were not available at the national level.
The delegation said the minimum wage had been increased last year. There was also a law on social security, which gave civil servants an opportunity to contribute a certain percentage to their social security. The law on labour had been drafted, but due to the short mandate this could not be discussed at the Council of Ministers. It would be recommended that the upcoming government consider it. Women in the informal sector were at risk, as there were no formal contracts or defined hours of work. In response to this, the Government had established training centres to build the skills of men and women in technical and professional areas. This included plumbing, carpentry and hospitality. This would allow men and women to participate equally in the workforce and the economy.
A Committee Expert asked how women could be made to feel encouraged and protected enough to report sexual harassment?
Another Committee Expert congratulated the delegation on the reduction in maternal and child mortality rates in the State. Could up-to-date figures be provided? What was being done to increase the number of women accommodated in public hospitals? It was concerning that women needed to ask permission from their spouses to receive gynaecological care. What was being done to combat this form of discrimination? How was the State going to ensure that women had access to family planning and contraceptive methods? It was concerning that there was an increase in adolescent pregnancy. What would be done to address this? What was being done to prevent HIV?
One Committee Expert commended the State party for the establishment of the social security system and national strategy. How were vulnerable groups of women being provided for? What was the assessment of the identification system which allowed citizens to access government support? Was the State party facilitating the capacity of women artisans, such as weavers, to enhance their products to international standards? What steps had the State party taken to alleviate the problem of access to credit for women entrepreneurs?
The delegation said the Ministry of Health had implemented a dashboard system to connect with mothers who lived in rural areas. This enabled the reduction of mortality rates. A surveillance system was established to conduct autopsies of the deaths of mothers to determine if the cause of death was due to poor decision making, or a delay in receiving health services. The familial planning policy was launched in August 2022. The Ministry of Health was working to bring services to the most remote areas. Single women who were pregnant often hid their pregnancies from their community which led to a high maternal mortality rate, as their family prohibited them from accessing services.
Medical teams were now available and had the training to give HIV tests to pregnant mothers. If the tests were positive, the mothers would be provided treatment on the spot. There were 16,000 pregnant mothers who had access to health clinics and were entitled to a monthly allowance to provide for nutrition for their unborn child. This would be increased once the child was born and if the child had disabilities, this payment was increased again.
The delegation said there were additional programmes to help those in the labour force who had been impacted by the COVID-19 lockdowns. More than 1,000 food baskets were distributed containing food and hygiene products. Twenty-five per cent of participants in a soft credit programme were women.
NATASTA STOTT DESPOJA, Committee Expert and Taskforce Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, asked if there was any intention to amend the Penal Code in relation to abortion?
A Committee Expert commended the Timor-Leste Government for approving the traditional land law. The Committee noted that despite legislation which allowed women to own land, alternative sources reported that women were denied the right to own land, and rural women continued to face forced eviction. What was the Government doing to empower women to be more independent and participate in the economy? What was being done to increase rural women’s access to productive land? The Government’s efforts around climate change were commended, however, women continued to be disproportionately impacted. What had the Government done to build women’s resilience to climate change? What measures had the Government taken to increase climate change literacy for women?
Another Committee Expert asked what measures were being taken to prevent teen pregnancy? What measures were being taken to eradicate the culture of polygamy? Was there a discussion on penalising incest? How many women had been evicted by the State since the approval of the land law in 2017?
The delegation said the Penal Code would be reviewed and amendments would be made. A Secretary of State had produced a national action plan for the environment, which gave women the opportunity to plant trees. Unless it was a risky health condition, women were not permitted to have abortions. Gender equality was integrated across the projects implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
MARIA DE LURDES BESSA, Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for the discussion, which highlighted important progress made, as well as the challenges which needed to be addressed. The development of a country required the equal development of women and men in all sectors. Timor-Leste stood ready to amplify women’s voices and promote and defend women’s rights.
ANA PELAEZ NARVAEZ, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had helped the Committee gain a better understanding of the situation of women in Timor-Leste.
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