In a small community centre down a dusty, bumpy road a group of women in Aileu district crowd together and discuss their plans for the future of their community. They say their lives have been spent at home, doing housework and caring for children, but something is about to change – they are running for election.
In December, 2015 village council elections will be held across Timor-Leste and this is a significant opportunity for women to become leaders within their communities, put issues that affect women on government agendas and support gender equality. Currently, just 2% of local leaders in Timor are women, a number these women in Aileu are determined to change.
“Sometimes when men talk about politics they just say “ignore women, don’t involve them in politics”. Sometimes they don’t care about women’s involvement," said Candida, a candidate in the elections.
If women join a political party it may make men consider them as a new power.
Candida is a member of a Women’s Forum that has been established by Plan’s newest program - Women and Girls Participation in Local Governance together with local women’s NGO Patria. To date 11 Women’s Forums have been created to make women aware of their rights under Timorese law, and to build their public speaking, advocacy and leadership skills to help them to run election campaigns.
Their assessment of women’s role in Timorese society is honest, and a situation they know must change. “Timorese laws say that women have the opportunity to participate in decision making. The law is just a concept. We want the training we receive to not just be a theory but something we can use in practice,” said Candida.
“Men know about gender but do not want to open the door for women. They don’t want to know and don’t want gender policies to be implemented here”.
Plan International, Patria and partner organisations have launched the “I’m Ready” campaign that will support more than 100 women to run in the local government elections. Candida is already planning to make changes in her community if she is successful. “I want to empower women by helping them with agricultural activities – building greenhouses, and creating some sewing groups for women to improve their economic security. I also want to take care of vulnerable people in the community like elderly people”.