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Girls lead the way forward for equality

Plan International, together with local partners. organised Timor-Leste's first ever Girls’ Conference in Aileu. 250 girls and women got together to discuss their future and rights. One of the participants, 17-year-old Odelia took time to tell us about her ambitions.

Odelia dressed in a traditional Timorese ‘tais’
Odelia dressed in a traditional Timorese ‘tais’

Odelia told us she was at the conference to learn more about women’s participation and equal rights; values she already passionately believes in. She said that girls in her community are not seen as important. That’s why she wants to make sure they get more attention and sees the conference as an important step towards this goal.

Girls voting for what they care about
Girls voting for what they care about

During the conference girls and women workshopped an ambitious three year action plan voting for what they thought were the priorities to focus on.

Odelia lead a ‘press conference’ on the day where she announced the results. From this a declaration was created setting out six priorities covering; access to higher education and health, the right to be heard, equal opportunities, the right to learn, to lead and decide, and to stop discrimination and violence.

Odelia leads the press conference setting out the girls’ declaration
Odelia leads the press conference setting out the girls’ declaration

Later this year Odelia will be one of ten girls presenting this action plan to national politicians to ensure that the voices of girls, and what’s important to them, is heard directly by key decision makers.

Developing future leaders

Odelia first became involved with Plan International three years ago via one of the Child Rights Clubs in Aileu. At the club she learnt about her rights and how to protect herself from abuse. Encouraged by Plan in 2014 she also joined the local Women and Girls Forum, where she had training in leadership, public speaking and advocacy.

The experience has helped her grow in confidence and now she has ambitions to become a diplomat. In fact she has her eye on becoming Timor-Leste’s Ambassador to Australia!

If she was President of Timor-Leste Odelia says she would make gender equality her priority.

I’d call all the women of Timor-Leste together and show that they can do anything. But my first priority would be to focus on stopping violence against women.

Girls like Odelia are important in Timor-Leste where women are used to being marginalised and ignored by a society steeped in patriarchy. Where community law creation is known as ‘lisan’, or ‘a man’s business’, and there are worryingly high levels of domestic violence.

Odelia’s ambitions, which ten years ago might have seemed impossible, are being realised with the help of Plan International and local partners.

At the conference Odelia heard from inspiring women who are already making a difference. Filomena Soares is the first female village chief in the Municipality of Aileu and along with other women she is working to change the laws to give women and girls a voice in the political life of Timor-Leste. A recent success was seeing that domestic violence was recognised as a public crime.

Filomena Soares, Village Leader of Fahisoi supporting girls to be the next generation of leaders
Filomena Soares, Village Leader of Fahisoi supporting girls to be the next generation of leaders

We asked Odelia who inspired her most and she told us it’s her mum; because she took good care of her when she was small, listens to her problems and encourages her in her ambitions.

The girl’s conference was a great success, allowing 250 girls time to be inspired, think about the reality of their situation and put together a manifesto for changing the future of Timor-Leste for the benefit of women and girls, and boys and men.