Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Attitudes and Perceptions of Young Men towards Gender Equality and Violence in Timor-Leste

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Attitudes and Perceptions of Young Men towards Gender Equality and Violence in Timor-Leste

Article excerpt


Globally around a third of all women have experienced either physical or sexual violence overwhelmingly perpetrated by their husbands, boyfriends or intimate partners (WHO 2013). Research into gender-based violence (GBV) globally has concluded that violence in intimate relationships is closely linked to more general societal conflict, violence and injustice (Merry 2009:2).The varied rates around the world demonstrate that such violence is not inevitable and that improvements are possible to the many economic and socio-cultural environments that foster a culture of violence against women. Challenging and changing these cultural and social norms is one of the many ways these situations can be changed. In 2012 the Government of Timor-Leste adopted the Timor-Leste National Action Plan (NAP) on Gender-based Violence (20122014) and supports the fight against this pervasive problem (RDTL 2012). This paper reports on some research undertaken as part of the strategy of this NAP (Niner, Wigglesworth, Boavida dos Santos, Tilman, & Arunachalam 2013).

The research presented in this article focusses on the attitudes and perceptions of young men towards gender roles, relationships and violence in Timor-Leste. It was the first research of its kind to be undertaken in Timor-Leste, using the Gender-Equitable Men (GEM) Scale to survey almost 500 young men between the ages of 15 and 24 years. Survey data was complemented by interviews and focus discussion groups with the wider population. The research was commissioned by international NGO Paz y Desarrollo (PyD). (6) The research provides insights into how young East Timorese men think about the roles of men and women in contemporary society, both as an ideal and more pragmatically in their own intimate relationships, and how they think they should manage these relations. The discussion offered here demonstrates that attitudes and perceptions change over time and how this is affected by the environment the young men grow up in. We discuss how the attitudes presented here may be associated with gender-based violence.

The territory of East Timor was affected in particular ways by global influences of modernity as they were refracted through the prism of Portuguese colonialism (c1700-1974), Indonesian military occupation (1975-1999) and UN Administration (1999-2002). Only at independence in 2002 did the Timorese become citizens of their own nation. This history has resulted in a strong sense of identity and expectations around governance, concurrent with rapid social change. Strong attachments to customary practices have found different levels of accommodation with recently introduced international standards of democratic principles, human rights and gender equity.

Timor-Leste is a post-conflict country and the population has faced widespread and long-term trauma and violence primarily during the Indonesian occupation but also in the intervening post-conflict period. The rapidly growing population has a significantly high proportion of youth with 55 per cent of the total population 19 years old or under (NDS 2010:12). Such a 'youth bulge' in a population typically places pressure on society, particularly when educated youth face limited work opportunities (Curtain 2006) and this may be a factor in some of the findings.

The Post-Conflict Environment of Timor-Leste

While influenced by broader global and national trends gender roles and relations are primarily re-produced and negotiated within families and local communities. Customary practices are significant to varying degrees in determining gendered roles and relationships in the broad domains of private and public life in rural, urban and semi-urban communities in Timor. While women may hold important and powerful roles within families and communities, they are often limited to the private sphere or the domestic realm, which reduces their economic and educational opportunities and political engagement (Niner 2012). …

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