New Study Reveals Patterns of Violence Against Women in Timor-Leste
December 9, 2015
Asia’s newest country, Timor-Leste, boasts one of the highest rates of female parliamentarians in the region and has made a number of important legislative advances in recent years on domestic violence. Despite this, significant barriers remain for women to lead equal, safe, and, healthy lives in a post-independent Timor-Leste. Most disturbing is the high prevalence rate of violence against women.
Today, women in Timor-Leste who experience violence are faced with a system that does not always understand or respond adequately to their complex needs or protect them when they suffer ongoing violence. This can lead to re-victimization of women, even though there are laws and policies in place that should be protecting them.
As part of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign, The Asia Foundation released preliminary findings from a forthcoming study that sheds light on the extent and patterns of violence against women in Timor-Leste. The survey was conducted as part of the Nabilan (which means ‘to shine’ in Tetum) Program, an Australian Government-funded initiative which aims to reduce the proportion of women who experience violence. Implemented through two population-based cross-sectional household surveys, the results show the prevalence and consequences of women’s experiences with, and men’s use of, violence against women, as well as data on child abuse and neglect. The women’s survey was conducted with 1,436 randomly selected women and provides the first nationally-representative prevalence data since the 2009-2010 Demographic and Health Survey was conducted. The men’s perpetration of violence survey was carried out with a total of 839 randomly selected men in two district-representative samples making it the first-ever quantitative research in the country on men’s use of violence against women.
The survey findings confirm that rates of violence against women, in particular violence from an intimate partner, are high. Preliminary findings reveal that 3 in 5 (59%) women aged 15-49 years who had been in an intimate relationship with a man reported having experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by a male partner in their lifetime, and 47 percent reported that they had experienced this violence in the 12 months before the interview. The vast majority (81%) of women who had experienced partner violence said that this violence had happened “many times.”
Women’s experiences of violence from an intimate partner were also found to be associated with serious health issues – women who had experienced violence from a partner were 5 times more likely to have had suicidal thoughts and 2.5 times more likely to be at risk of disability, as compared to women who had never experienced partner violence.
The preliminary findings also highlight the concerning rates of child abuse against both girls and boys in Timor-Leste. Approximately three in four women and men surveyed said that they had experienced physical and/or sexual abuse when they were children. For both women and men, childhood experiences of abuse were associated with depression, suicidal thoughts, and intimate partner violence, while for men additional links were found with their involvement in gangs, fighting with weapons, and past-year drug use. This data on the high rates of child abuse, and the associations of child abuse with other forms of violence and health issues, help us understand how ending violence against children is absolutely crucial to ending violence against women in Timor-Leste.
The rates of non-intimate partner sexual violence are also alarmingly high, with 14 percent of women reporting that they had been raped. To put this into context, the highest levels of non-partner sexual violence recorded in the 2005 World Health Organization Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women were between 10-12 percent in Peru, Samoa, and Tanzania. As in most countries in the world, however, most sexual violence against women in Timor-Leste occurs within marriage or other intimate relationships. More than one in three (34%) women surveyed had ever experienced any rape (either from a male partner or non-partner). Men were also asked about their perpetration of sexual violence. More than half (59%) of men who had perpetrated rape said that they did so for the first time when they were teenagers or younger, pointing to the urgent need to target sexual violence prevention messaging about consensual and respectful sexual relations at pre-teens.
These preliminary findings are just the first step on a long road to understanding and addressing violence against women and children in Timor-Leste. The full research report, to be published in early 2016, will also provide valuable data on the underlying risk factors for men’s use of violence against women, which will allow us to understand the most effective ways forward to stopping violence before it starts in Timor-Leste. The full report will also include findings on where women go for help, the legal consequences that men experience after perpetrating sexual violence against women, and more in-depth analysis about violence against women with disabilities.
This research is already being used to inform the Nabilan Program’s own approaches – and those of the government partners and local organizations that we support – toward reducing the prevalence of violence against women, and better understanding the impact that it has on all aspects of a woman’s life, including her ability to participate freely in public, political and economic life. Our government and civil society partners are looking to use the study findings to identify gaps in service provision and funding, and to guide the upcoming design of the new National Action Plan on Gender-based Violence.
While these findings do not negate the significant gains made in addressing violence against women, they hopefully give us a much clearer idea than any research has in the past, of the way forward to a future without violence in this country.
Xian Warner is prevention coordinator for The Asia Foundation in Timor-Leste. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
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