25 November 2018 Dili - A woman I have been speaking to recently, who I will name Maria, but that’s not her real name, wants to tell her story of torture and assault so that her suffering can be a lesson for future generations of Timorese.
Maria wants us all to cherish the freedom and responsibilities that have come with independence.
She was only 20 years old when she was captured and tortured by Indonesian military forces, accused of collaborating with the resistance movement. Despite suffering from her experiences of torture, including sexual violence, and the stigma and trauma that have continued beyond her time in captivity, she has overcome these experiences. She is a voice of strength and hope.
Across the country, there are many women who share this story –stories from the past and the present. While the country has gained its independence, many women remain vulnerable to violence and abuse.
The 2016 Demographic and Health Survey found that at least one third of all women have experienced physical violence in their lives.
We also know that some groups of women, such as young girls, women with disabilities, females who head households, elderly women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community often face multiple threats of violence. The context is different, but the use of power over women, most often by men, remains the same.
As we commemorate the International Day to End Violence against Women on 25th November, we have an opportunity to learn from the many women and men who suffered but nevertheless have continued to contribute to the peace enjoyed by the country today. Their stories show us that independence has not translated into freedom for all people from violence.
We can learn from these stories and stop the violence before it begins. We each have the power to listen to the Marias’ around us, and to observe who has power- in our homes, in our places of work and our society. We must have the courage to speak like ‘’Maria’’, to stand up when we see people using their power over others through violence. We must stand in solidarity with those suffering from this abuse of power. We have this power because we are all equal, as documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The United Nations in Timor-Leste is committed to learning and listening to survivors of violence - from older generations to the youth of independence. Together, when we #HearMeToo, we can contribute to a society where all of us are treated with respect, equal in our freedom and celebrated in our diversity.
These stories will be shared on Facebook at #HearMeToo.
Share them with us.
United Nations in Timor-Leste