BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor home

"Women were specifically targeted in many ways [after the ballot] -- they were separated from husbands and sons, harassed and often raped. ... Village women work all day long, caring for children, cooking, cleaning, washing, farming and carrying water. ... In their quest for economic empowerment, East Timorese women are fighting more than their country's current poverty -- under customary law, women cannot inherit or own property." Jen Laakso 
Op-ed

Capital Times (Madison, WI.)
December 7, 2000, Thursday


VILLAGE WOMEN OF EAST TIMOR STILL HAVE GREAT HOPE

Jen Laakso

''Now we have nothing. Before we had [things], but now we're starting from zero.'' Amid the rubble of deserted homes and schools, friends in Ainaro, East Timor, told me account after account of militia atrocities which are simply beyond my imagination.

Ainaro is approximately 110 miles southwest of Dili, the capital of East Timor, in the mountainous interior of the southeast Asian island. In Ainaro, charred buildings and flattened homes testify to the scorched-earth campaign waged last year by the militias under the direction of the Indonesian military. The violence followed the historic United Nations referendum in which the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence. More than 95 percent of buildings in Ainaro were destroyed, and today many remain so.

Nearly everyone in Ainaro was forced from their homes following the referendum. Many fled to the mountains while others were coerced into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor. Those who fled took no more than the clothes on their backs, blankets, tarps and cooking pots. In Ainaro, militia members looted and burned, leaving nothing behind.

Women were specifically targeted in many ways -- they were separated from husbands and sons, harassed and often raped. In the refugee camps -- which are mostly populated by women and children -- living conditions are terrible, with food shortages, poor sanitation and rampant disease.

Today the people of Ainaro are working hard to rebuild even though they have few resources. Village women work all day long, caring for children, cooking, cleaning, washing, farming and carrying water. Rice and leaves are a daily staple and what I ate every day. My Timorese mother often went to the market in hope of finding meat, but she was usually disappointed. There is very little food in Ainaro, in stark contrast to Dili.

Yet, despite these hardships, the people of Ainaro have great hope. Women are organizing against domestic violence and working to support their families with traditional weavings, or ''tais.'' I visited Ainaro to help establish a sister relationship between Ainaro and Madison, and a fair trade exchange of tais is one project Ainaro women are excited about.

In their quest for economic empowerment, East Timorese women are fighting more than their country's current poverty -- under customary law, women cannot inherit or own property. This is just one example of gender discrimination that a Madison-Ainaro sister relationship will help our East Timorese sisters fight. The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that this year is being observed in Dane County for the first time. For more information, call WCCN at 257-7230, or visit www.execpc.com/~wccn for a complete calendar of 16 Days events.


EDITOR-NOTE:
Jen Laakso is a member of the East Timor Action Network-Madison, which is part of the 16 Days coalition. She recently returned from three months in East  Timor, where she worked with women's and community groups. She will speak about her experiences at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Pres House, 731 State St.

BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor home
Website: http://www.pcug.org.au/~wildwood Email: wildwood@pcug.org.au