BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home        August news

"As the people of East Timor prepare to elect the country’s first national assembly since independence CIIR is sending an all-women team of observers to focus on women’s participation. ... Three women candidates are standing as independent candidates in the districts, Olandina Caeiro, Teresa Carvalho, and Maria Domingas Fernandes. The election of one or all of them will not ‘change the situation of women and most marginalised in Timor overnight’, Caeiro told a reporter ... ‘But it would be a step towards dealing with unreasonable discrimination in East Timorese society, which is profoundly conservative and traditional, and in which women occupy a position of subjugation, if we succeed in changing it just a little bit.’ " Catherine Scott, Asia Policy Officer, Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR)
See also:

BD: Peoples' Participation
BD: East Timorese Women's Issues
BD: East Timorese Grassroots Organisations & Networks
BD: East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e

Where are East Timor’s women leaders?

21 8 2001

Where are East Timor’s women leaders? — CIIR election observers to focus on women’s participation

As the people of East Timor prepare to elect the country’s first national assembly since independence CIIR is sending an all-women team of observers to focus on women’s participation. Catherine Scott reports.

Two years ago to the day that the majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia, its people will return to the polls to elect a constituent assembly. On 30 August 2001 the electorate will vote for an 88-member body charged with framing the new constitution. The assembly will have the power either to dissolve itself and call fresh elections, or to turn itself into the new government. Presidential elections are expected to follow.

Throughout the 25-year Indonesian occupation, East Timorese women played a crucial role in the organised resistance. For many their involvement was a life-changing experience that saw them assuming new roles, heading families, and in some cases, taking on greater decision-making capacity and autonomy. With full independence around the corner, women are resisting pressure from a male-dominated society to be sent back to domestic duties and a reproductive role.

CIIR’s observer mission, which will be in East Timor between 6 August and 6 September, will be meeting with women’s organisations, women candidates, political parties, and talking to ordinary women voters about the issues which concern them. The team will make regular reports to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), under whose auspices the eleciton is taking place.

The East Timorese women’s movement had by last year organised itself into a network (REDE) and had successfully brought pressure to bear in the congress of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) ­ the political umbrella body that coordinated the political campaign for self-determination — to pass a resolution safeguarding women’s rights according to international standards. The CNRT both recognised CEDAW, and pledged to use the convention as one of the foundation stones of the new constitution.

However, the CNRT dissolved itself in June this year to make way for the various political parties which are now preparing to fight the election. It will be up to these parties, not all of which belonged to CNRT, to deliver on promises to women.

Securing real change in favour of women is going to be an uphill struggle.  In March REDE lost a battle to get legislation providing for a 30 per cent quota of women candidates on party lists in the August poll. The proposal was defeated in the National Council by an unlikely coalition of male political leaders and young female councillors who had been convinced that quotas were ‘an insult to women’. Since this setback, women’s groups have concentrated on persuading parties to position female candidates high on their submission lists so that they stand a chance of gaining seats in the assembly.

Women’s organisations, with the help of UNIFEM, and UNTAET’s Gender Affairs Unit, have also arranged leadership training for women considering standing as political candidates.

Three women candidates are standing as independent candidates in the districts, Olandina Caeiro, Teresa Carvalho, and Maria Domingas Fernandes.  The election of one or all of the will not ‘change the situation of women and most marginalised in Timor overnight’, Caeiro told a reporter with the Portuguese News Agency, Lusa. ‘But it would be a step towards dealing with unreasonable discrimination in East Timorese society, which is profoundly conservative and traditional, and in which women occupy a position of subjugation, if we succeed in changing it just a little bit.’

‘Talking about changing mentalities is easy’, said Carvalho. ‘Changing them in reality is much more difficult. The elections are an historic opportunity for us to try to change the system from within, rather than constantly struggling as activists to get ourselves listened to.’

The CIIR observer team includes:
Mary Ann Stephenson, director, Fawcett Society, UK
Maria Pakpahan, activist, Indonesia
Irene Slegt, journalist and photographer
Catherine Scott, joint programme manager, East Timor, CIIR

CIIR observer mission to East Timorese elections

Press briefing

21 8 2001


The Catholic Institute for International Relations is sending a delegation of four people to observe East Timor’s first free and independent elections.

The elections are scheduled to take place on 30 August 2001, two years to the day after the people of East Timor voted to end 25 years of Indonesian rule – a vote that led to massive violence as the Indonesian army took revenge.

Further details on the monitoring visit and programme can be obtained from:

Fiona Sinclair, Press and Information Officer, CIIR,
Unit 3 Canonbury Yard, 190A New North Road, London N1 7BJ;
Telephone :  0207 288 8613 (working hours)
07759 631 687  ( out of hours )

For availability on face to face and telephone interviews/and photographs with:

* Mary Ann Stephenson, Director, Fawcett Society
* Catherine Scott, Asia Policy Officer, CIIR
* Maria Pakpahan, Indonesian Activist
* Irene Slegt, journalist and photographer

Please contact Fiona Sinclair on email or call mobile 07759 631687


The Catholic Institute for International Relations, CIIR, is an international charity which works with people of all faiths and none.

Through advocacy and technical skillsharing, we have worked for justice and the eradication of poverty since 1940.

We work in partnership with civil groups and governments in South East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and  the Middle East .

Our approach combines securing just and equitable policies, at national and international level, with strengthening community based organisations which represent the interests of the poor.

Special Features of CIIR

* We are lead and driven by the needs of community and organisations in the regions in which we work
* We combine technical and developmental skillsharing and advocacy across cultural  boundaries
* We are based upon a commitment to working long term with community groups and organisations for poverty alleviation and justice
* We are democratically inspired by national staff responsible for the management of country programmes with London based counterparts

2001 Constituent Assembly election

Preparations for the 2001 Elections are under way. Sixteen East Timorese political parties are preparing to fight for 75 out of 88 available seats on the constituent assembly. The remaining 13 seats will be directly elected by the districts. The elected representatives will form a government and set up a consultation process to frame a constitution.  Presidential elections will follow later. The National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), the umbrella body which until recently united most of the political parties opposed to integration with Indonesia, formally dissolved itself on 9 June. On 8 July, 14 of the registered parties signed a pact of national unity calling for peace and stability, and a climate of mutual respect and confidence. Campaigning began on 16 July.

In addition to the parties that pre-date the Indonesian occupation of 1976 (Fretilin, Timorese Democratic Union, Kota, Trabalhista, Apodeti) new parties have sprung up. Some of these are splinters of old ones. Others are new, although they feature old faces and well-known figures from other parties.

The political environment is fluid, with few written manifestos in evidence so far. Some commentators are concerned that personalities will override real issues. There are also worries that tendencies that coloured the only previous period when East Timor was free to organise politically — 1974-75 — may come back to haunt the elections. Some political violence has already occurred, as groups with dubious funding sources such as the CPD-RDTL which involves many well-known former collaborators with the Indonesians, appear to be bent on fomenting unrest.

In the provinces, in spite of a UN civic education programme, there is widespread ignorance of what is happening. Many people in the villages do not understand the need for an election, arguing that they voted only two years ago. Others panic at the suggestion, as they associate elections which massive violence and trauma.

The NGO Forum called for national consultations on the constitution, so that the people’s views would be incorporated as thoroughly as possible. It is disappointing that the political parties in the National Council (the 36-member appointed body set up by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, UNTAET, as a precursor to an elected parliament) rejected the idea. Instead, constitutional commissions have been set up in each of the 13 districts. The NGO Forum has been actively involved in the UNTAET process of developing these, as well as in the Civic Education Working Group. The NGO forum had its own Civic Education Working group which advocated for the development of a community-based civic education programme. UNTAET conducted a survey of knowledge of democracy as a basis for developing the programme. There is also an NGO group working on voter education.

Women’s participation

Women campaigned for a minimum 30 per cent quota for female candidates in party lists, as agreed by the CNRT Congress and the first East Timorese women’s conference last year. But in March the National Council blocked the proposal. Women have since been developing alternative strategies designed to ensure adequate participation by women in the elections, and have been urging political parties to place female candidates high on their lists so that women can enter the assembly. Three independent women candidates are running for district seats.

Clearly there is much preparation work to do. It is essential that the first East Timorese election be seen to be free, fair and properly organised — guaranteed to the extent possible, by a reasonable contingent of foreign observers.

CIIR’s 2001 election-observer mission

CIIR is planning an all women election-observer team which will make it a priority to investigate issues relating to women’s participation and representation in the political process and in political parties. The team will be accredited by the UNTAET Independent Electoral Commission, which is administering the election in East Timor.

The mission will monitor women’s participation on polling day itself. It will provide information and analysis both to the UNTAET and UN Electoral Affairs authorities, as well as commentary to news media sources both inside and outside the country.

The CIIR team will consist of the following members:

1. Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Fawcett Society (British)

Mary-Ann Stephenson is the Director of the Fawcett Society. Fawcett, named after Millicent Fawcett and the suffragists who helped win the vote for women in the UK, has campaigned for women’s equality in the UK for 130 years. Mary-Ann has worked at the society since 1996, as Campaigns Manager before being appointed Director in May 1999. Previously she worked at Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties) and the international human rights organisation, Article 19.

Mary-Ann has written numerous reports, articles and briefings on women’s equality and is a frequent commentator on equality issues in the national media. Her report on the gender gap Winning Women’s Votes was credited with putting women’s voting patterns and political priorities on the political and media agenda at the 1997 general election. She is the author of The Glass Trapdoor: Women, politics and the media at the 1997 general election.  She is a member of the management board of New Ways to Work, and the steering committee of the Women’s National Commission, the official advisory body to government on the views of women’s organisations.

2. Catherine Scott, Asia Policy Officer, CIIR (British)

Catherine Scott has been responsible for CIIR’s East Timor Programme since 1991. She has visited East Timor regularly since then, and published many articles, booklets and briefings on East Timor. The most recent, East Timor: Transition to Statehood was published by CIIR earlier in the year and examines developments there from the perspective of women. She edits a quarterly newsletter, Timor Link, also published by CIIR. She is co-founder and chair of the Ai-Kameli Trust, an educational charity based that provides East Timorese students with scholarships for undergraduate study based in the UK.

3. Irene Slegt, freelance journalist/photographer based in the UK (Dutch)

Irene Slegt has worked for the Economist, the BBC, Visao, Radio Netherlands International, and many other international publications and media stations. She is also an accomplished photographer. Her photographs have appeared in Der Spiegel, Asia Week, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Guardian and the Independent. She has been based in a number of South East Asian countries, including Hong Kong, Mongolia and Cambodia, and more recently, East Timor itself.

4. Ms Maria Pakpahan (Indonesian)

Maria Pakpahan is an Indonesian activist currently studying the Enlightenment at the University of Edinburgh, before taking up a teaching post in Indonesia this October. She has an academic background in development studies, anthropology and women’s role in environmental management. She has worked with a number of international NGOs, including Terre des Hommes in East Timor, as well as the United Nations World Food Programme. She co-founded in 1995, Tjoet Njak Dien, a women’s NGO based in Yogyakarta, which focused on women workers, labour rights, and women’s economic, social and political rights.

CIIR staff in East Timor will support the monitoring team: Tonette Velasco, Ildefonso Guterres and Ivete D’Oliveira.

The mission’s terms of reference are as follows:

1. To assess whether the campaigning is being carried out in an environment that is conducive to freedom of expression, free from intimidation and threat; and to monitor levels of violence where it is present.

2. To assess to what degree women’s concerns, needs and interests are to be addressed by the political parties, and the degree to which women’s participation has been facilitated.

3. To assess the degree to which political parties have fully set out their programmes.

4. To assess the effectiveness of the civil and voter education programmes in preparing the populace.

5. Observe whether the election can be deemed free and fair

6. Communicate the team’s concerns to the relevant authorities, depending on their nature.

7. Communicate the team’s observations and concerns to the national and international media via CIIR’s London office, and to highlight problems.

8. To point up longer-term issues of concern to East Timorese women, and put forward ideas for addressing these.

CIIR and East Timor

This project is part of CIIR’s five-year programme called Women’s Rights, Human Rights and Democracy in the Transition to Independence and Beyond.  The programme aims to contribute to the establishment of an independent East Timor based on the principles of democracy, inclusiveness, human rights, gender equity, sustainable development and the rule of law. Our particular aim is to empower women’s organisations through building advocacy capacity. We are also involved in sharing reconciliation and peace-making methodologies from other parts of the world where CIIR works.  CIIR’s partners in East Timor include a number of NGOs, the NGO Forum, the East Timorese Women’s Network, human rights and church organisations.

CIIR has had an advocacy programme in East Timor since the 1975 Indonesian invasion. Through Timor Link, our quarterly newsletter on East Timorese affairs launched in 1985, and through our networking with church-based groups and institutions internationally, CIIR kept the question of East Timor on the agendas of the world’s decision-makers throughout the years of the occupation.

In 1999 CIIR sent eight observers in two successive teams to monitor the Popular Consultation agreed to under the 5 May accord between Portugal and Indonesia under Kofi Annan. The teams included members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, a former detective chief superintendent, and former observers of the independence elections in Namibia. They provided valuable analysis of the process to the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) which was organising the ballot, and to the British, Portuguese and other governments who had contributed to the process, or who had influence over the East Timor situation. The visit was supported by a vigorous media campaign, in which CIIR gave radio and TV interviews and wrote to newspapers to publicise our findings. The mission’s work and media campaign were fully recorded in our report, East Timor: From Bullet to Ballot, published in 2000.

Work in East Timor

Since the beginning of 2000, CIIR has been operational on the ground in East Timor, with a small office in Dili. During the past year we have been working to strengthen women’s organisations through advocacy capacity-building. We have internationalised the campaigns of REDE, the women’s network, which recently mounted an unsuccessful campaign to have the notion of quotas for women accepted by the East Timorese National Council.

Catholic Institute for International Relations  Updated Feb 8
"Tackling the causes of poverty and injustice internationally through advocacy and skillsharing."
CIIR works with people of all faiths and none.
Email Catherine Scott:  Homepage:

See also:

BD: Peoples' Participation - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles

BD: East Timorese Women's Issues - A collection of recent information, petitions, articles and news

BD: East Timorese Grassroots Organisations & Networks

BD: East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e - A collection of recent media releases, position-statements, speeches, petitions, reports, and news

BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home         August news
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