‘I say no to violence against women and girls’: WFP Timor-Leste’s 16-day campaign

Caleb Gorton
Dec 15, 2017 · 5 min read

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.”

WFP and the local community gather at Cristo Rei in Dili to say no to gender-based violence. Photo: WFP/Caleb Gorton

Gender-based violence in Timor-Leste

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

WFP Timor-Leste’s 16 Day Awareness Video

“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.

Dionizia de Melu at Cristo Rei. Photo: WFP/Denita Baptista

Taking action to end violence

“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’.”

WFP staff signing the orange banner. Photo: WFP/Laura Ballester Nieto

Challenging social norms

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.

WFP male staff cooked and served food for female staff. Photo: WFP/Denita Baptista

“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 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.

WFP Timor-Leste staff orange the world. Photo: WFP/Denita Baptista

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.

Read more about WFP’s work in Timor-Leste.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme