‘I say no to violence against women and girls’: WFP Timor-Leste’s 16-day campaign
For 16 days, staff from the World Food Programme in Timor-Leste campaigned to address the country’s high rate of domestic and gender-based violence. They joined thousands of people across the world in the 16 Days of Activism campaign, and say no to all forms of violence against women and girls.
“End violence against women in Timor-Leste!”, a crowd of around 90 people shout together in Tetum, Timor-Leste’s local language. The group is wearing orange and have arrived at the early morning wellness session ready to dance and celebrate the end of the anti-violence campaign.
More than half of the attendees are members of the public who have either heard about the event through the local community, or have walked past and decided to join in.
This zumba class aims to socialise the messages of the 16 Days campaign to the local community.
“It is important to spread messages and engage our community in various ways,” WFP Communications Associate Denita Baptista said. “Our wellness session with Zumba Dili was fun and people were really engaged with this anti-violence campaign.”
Gender-based violence in Timor-Leste
Violence against women and girls in Timor-Leste is widespread and is one of the biggest challenges that this young nation faces. It crosses the country’s income, culture and class divisions. A total of 59% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 who have been in a relationship have suffered from physical or sexual violence from a male intimate partner, according to the 2016 Nabilan Baseline Study by The Asia Foundation.
Domestic violence against women is often frequent and severe. Three quarters of women who have experienced physical violence have experienced severe, as opposed to moderate, acts of violence. Additionally, 81% of women suffering from domestic violence experience the violence on frequent occasions.
In addition to intimate partner violence, the report found that 14% of all women between 15–49 years old had been raped by a non-partner in their lifetime. This non-partner sexual violence is most likely perpetrated by family members, strangers, and men from the neighbourhood, according to the Nabilan study.
Social acceptance and tolerance of gender-based violence is high in Timor-Leste. According to the Demographic and Health Survey (2009–2010), 86% of women and 81% of men believe that it is justifiable for a husband to hit his wife under certain circumstances. Only 3% of women who sought help after suffering from domestic violence reported it to the police. Two out of three women who suffer from domestic violence do not tell anyone at all.
Speaking out against gender-based violence
Such harrowing statistics have motivated WFP staff, partner organisations and the wider community to speak out and say no to all forms of violence against women and girls. Over the 16 Days campaign, WFP Timor-Leste staff pledged their commitment to ending gender-based violence and raise awareness of the high levels of violence in Timorese society.
“I am ready to end violence against women and girls at home, the workplace, the street and anywhere,” Dili Field Support Officer Inacio dos Santos says in WFP Timor-Leste’s 16 Days Awareness Video.
Rigid societal norms that reinforce uneven power relations and discourage victims of gender-based violence from speaking out and seeking help are common. In the Awareness Video, WFP Staff Assistant Dionizia de Melu says that to end violence against women and girls, we must end gender inequality and discrimination.
Taking action to end violence
To turn this commitment into a living public document, WFP in collaboration with UN Women and the Resident Coordinator’s Office placed an orange banner outlining the pledge from all staff to end gender-based violence for all to sign inside Dili’s UN Compound.
“I pledge to address gender-based violence, as this commitment is enshrined not just in UN’s development efforts, but humanity at large,” it reads. “I pledge to show through my personal actions that the UN in Timor-Leste stands as one with the nation to achieve inclusive development aligned to the 2017 theme for the campaign, ‘Leave No One Behind: End Violence Against Women and Girls’.”
Challenging social norms
On 5th December, WFP Timor-Leste hosted the ‘Men Cooking for Women’ lunch with orange themed foods. To have men cook and serve lunch for women is a symbolic action that challenges the harmful norms that promote an unbalanced share of domestic chores and contribute to gender inequality and discrimination.
In Timor-Leste, patriarchy is predominant with unequal gender power relations and strongly enforced gender roles that may trigger abuse of power and gender-based violence. In additional, violence can be used to reinforce women’s gender roles and lower societal position compared to men.
“It is not wrong if sometimes we as a men cook for our women, and serve them as a queen,” WFP Budget and Programming Assistant Sebastiao Henrique says. “It would be wiser if we interpret the gender equality between men and women as one form of cooperation between men and women in life.”
Leave no one behind
WFP’s goal is to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030 and in Timor-Leste, WFP seeks to achieve improved nutrition towards national targets by 2025. This means that no one that is food insecure is left behind. In Timor-Leste, leaving no one behind means paying particular attention to women and boys and girls, who are more vulnerable to malnutrition partly because of harmful norms deriving from patriarchal cultures that prioritise men in the allocation of food.
WFP supports the Ministry of Health to treat and prevent malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and is shifting its enhanced focus towards prevention of malnutrition in adolescent girls through social and behaviour change communication on nutrition.
Food insecurity can be both a trigger and consequence of gender-based violence. By leaving no one behind, WFP says no to all forms of violence against women and girls in Timor-Leste and the world.