In the Aileu municipality of Timor-Leste, a mountainous area less than 50 km from the capital, community and family pressures play an important role in girls’ lives and often restrain their decisive agency. For Felicmina, getting married was the only acceptable option in the eyes of the community. “In my community you cannot be with a man if you are not married,” she says.
I didn’t know anything about sex before [getting married].
SRHR: A restricted access
Not only are romantic relationships between young people restricted in most rural areas like Aileu, but information and services on sexual and reproductive health stay largely inaccessible to unmarried young people, making it hard for girls and young women to know their own bodies or how to prevent pregnancy. “The first time I had sex was with my husband. I didn’t know anything about sex before, but since my husband asked me to do it, I agreed, even though I was very scared,” she adds.
Getting her first child meant abandoning all future prospects for Felicmina, like it does for many other girls in Timor-Leste. Once married, young women are expected to start having children immediately and frequently – which often endangers their health – and to care for their home and family.
Without having the opportunity to decide what to do with their life and body, young mothers often end-up with little skills and a future decided by people surrounding them. This makes those girls more vulnerable to poverty, violence and isolation.
Young mothers empowered through farming
Plan International Timor-Leste has been working in this area to empower young mothers through the “Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development” programme. When the project started 4 years ago, Felicmina was identified as a vulnerable young woman due to the fact that she was pregnant and already a mother. She is now part of a farming group, who thanks to their harvest are able to sell vegetables to the local supermarket and get a regular income.
My children’s education is now the priority.
“Since I joined the young mothers’ farming group I feel better, I learn a lot and get more income,” says Felicmina. “I earn 30 to 40$ per harvest and I use the money to send my children to school and buy them school material and uniforms. My children’s education is now the priority,” she adds.
Plan International Timor-Leste's Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development programme is funded by the European Union and the Australian government and supported by Plan International Australia.