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The Role of Women in Peace & Security

The Role of Women in
Peace & Security

Note: On Monday, Oct 23, the U.N. Security Council heard from women from several countries on the issues of women, war and peacemaking in a special closed session. Today, October 24, the Security Council will hear from governments in an open debate on these issues. For Monday's hearing, a coalition of NGO groups had proposed a list of places to be heard from, including East Timor. After "consultations" the Security Council decided not to hear any representatives of East Timorese women. Below is a copy of their statement.

Statement by Rede: Feto Timor Lorosae
a network of East Timorese women and women's organization

On the occasion of the United Nations Security Council special session on The Role of Women in Maintaining International Peace and Security Dili, October 23, 2000

To the honourable members of the Security Council

First of all our expressions of solidarity to our sisters who are partaking in this very special occasion. It saddens us deeply not to be beside you today. We have been advised that East Timorese women do not have a voice in today's session and indeed have been effectively silenced because the honourable members of the Security Council were not able to reach the required consensus as to East Timor's participation.

We understood that East Timor has always been a sensitive issue. The former Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Alatas stated correctly that East Timor was the pebble in Indonesia's shoe and indeed it appears the international community's as well. The Indonesian occupation of East Timor tried to silence our people with violent oppression. It concerns us deeply that in the first year of UN administration of our country mandated by the Security Council itself a similar situation has arisen whereby our voices will once again be silenced. Nonetheless we have decided to make this statement in the hope that it will also contribute to this discussion.

The issues to be discussed by NGOs, UN Agencies and country representatives will discover that there are many similarities in the struggle for peace and security with the situation of the women of East Timor. In East Timor, experience has shown that an oppressive colonial mentality has led to women being considered by men as someone who is weak. Women have suffered a double consequence in this armed conflict. Since the invasion by Indonesia, the women of East Timor have always been conscious and determined as women and as mothers of Timorese citizens. During the long conflict, which has transcended strategic processes, women have suffered innumerable sacrifices.

From the invasion of 1975, Timorese women have contributed to all aspects of the resistance in the mountains: Timorese women were at once mothers, responsible for basic household duties and taking care of children. We assisted FALINTIL (the armed resistance of East Timor) in the preparation of food and other natural resources for combat rations, in the making of backpacks from palm-leaves for carrying munitions and for washing the clothes of FALINTIL as well as being fighters ourselves.

Women functioned as a security watch in the free zones, taking combat rations in the free zones to be transported to the operational zones as well as taking munitions out of the operational zones into the free zones. Women also developed literacy campaigns and cultural interchanges in the free zones.

In Clandestine Operations women acted as the link between the resistance inside and the Diaspora, we searched for means to obtain munitions from our husband or brothers to increase the munitions of FALINTIL; we wove tais and made sandals to sell them to Indonesian soldiers as a form of exchange for fatigues or shoes for FALINTIL, we prepared the combat rations to take to the armed resistance and during periods when there was no water, we looked for means to provide water to FALINTIL, and thus encountered dangerous situations.

During the military sweeps under Indonesia, we hid members of the FALINTIL in our house and in difficult situations, took messages or urgent letters inside our clothing or hair to aid the leadership or FALINTIL. We contributed a monthly allowance and when captured by the Indonesian military, we resisted and thus suffered twice as much, either by being raped or by giving our life.

Widowed Women

We believe that at least 45% of Timorese women are widowed as a result of having husbands killed or disappeared during the armed struggle. Often men and youth in a whole village was killed as in Kraras in Viqueque in the East which is now known as the village of widows. Widows must now support their children, once again fulfilling the double function, the one of father and mother.

Indonesia, conscious of its downfall, tried to displace the population, removing or deporting people in 1979, 1980 and 1981. These families, comprised primarily of women, were moved to either the island of Atauro or the island of Jako where they would not survive. As you know this tactic was once again used in September last year which resulted in the largest displacement of East Timor's population internally and across the border into West Timor where many of our fellow East Timorese are still being held against their will.

Single Mothers

We know that colonialism leaves vestiges where it passes; the same thing has happened in East Timor where many children have been left without a father. Children have often been born as a result of rape but the mothers have raised the children to oppose the Indonesian administration and become part of the resistance.

Political Context and the road towards peace

A new phase was entered by the Resistance as a result of the May 5 agreement of 1999 brokered by the UN between the governments of Portugal and Indonesia which paved the way for the ballot The vote against autonomy with Indonesia resulted in the separation of East Timor from Indonesia.

The Timorese women actively participated in the pre-referendum campaigns, reclaiming our right as human beings, a right for which many were assassinated. After the arrival of UNAMET in East Timor, women's organizations in several regions developed various

means to support the referendum campaign. We understood the great risk but our will to be free was overwhelming. Above all we wanted to vote for the future of our children in a free, peaceful East Timor free from violence and oppression.

Various peace building attempts preceded the 5 May agreement. The UN organized Intra-Timorese Dialogues was the first concrete step for Timorese participation. We were disappointed that the first round of talks included only one Timorese woman and the final round several years later had increased the participation of Timorese women to only three out of 45 participants. Although we also participated and suffered in the struggle our participation in peace making has been limited. But we have embraced and welcomed the small opportunities given and have every effort not to be forgotten or overlooked.

UNTAET

Today we have entered a new stage, the final stage until full independence for East Timor under United Nations Administration. However, it has become apparent that even with the UN's presence in East Timor, the women of East Timor still have a double battle to fight. We must combat our own society's views of the role of women, the traditional ties that bind while at the same time continuously advocating to the UNTAET and the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA) for policies and hiring practices that include women.

For example, the initial National Consultative Council set up by UNTAET had only 3 East Timorese women on a Council of 12. The newly created National Council has 13 East Timorese women (out of a total of 36 positions); this is an encouraging development, but there is still much to be achieved towards full equality.

The civil service being developed by the UN employs less than 20% women despite of a policy adopted by UNTAET of a 30% affirmative action policy for women. Nonetheless women comprise more than 50% of the total population in East Timor right now. Until we reach equal participation on the political, economic and social front, our fight is not finished.

To conclude we would hope and indeed urge the Security Council to take measures towards redressing these very serious concerns. We are most grateful for the UN presence in our country, but feel very strongly that operations like the United Nations Transition Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) post conflict can be more successful and contribute more effectively through careful planning and it truly must be done in partnership with existing local structures and institutions. In the case of gender equity and women's rights mechanisms must be developed consciously and mandated to meet requirements in CEDAW and the UN's own gender mainstreaming policies.

We thank you for your consideration of our statement highlighting issues of women of East Timor, and of women in conflict and post-conflict situations in general and trust that the Security Council will adopt the necessary measures to ensure gender justice.

*This statement was prepared by the Rede: Feto Timor Lorosae and Ms Albina Freitas also chosen to attend the session

Contact: Catherine Scott, Asia Policy Officer, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London; Tel: +44-20 7354 0883, cathy@ciir.org


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