Timor-Leste – June 2022

JDN: Building a movement of young people against gender-based violence in Timor-Leste 

JDN is our newest partner in Timor-Leste. It is a thriving youth-led organisation based in Dili focused on building the rights and leadership of young people. We have recently received reporting from JDN covering the first six months of our work together – and we are excited by the work they are doing to build a generation of young people standing up to sexual harassment and making public spaces and public transport safe and inclusive.  

 JDN has engaged with over 800 young people, parents and microlet drivers in workshops and events educating and raising awareness about what sexual harassment looks like, what UN conventions say about gender-based violence and the Timorese Laws are in place to protect women. They have trained 50 people as campaign leaders through train the trainer workshops.  

As a result of these workshops and broader outreach events, 150 young women have signed up to a declaration to be activists against sexual harassment. And they have formed the first of five dedicated anti sexual harassment activist collectives. You can read the stories of Novita, Srilia and Olimpia below.  

The JDN Sexual Harassment Executive decided to advocate for a Code of Conduct for microlet drivers because young women often experience sexual harassment when they are travelling on microlets. In case studies of 80 young women that JDN collected, young women reported experiences of physical and verbal harassment on public transport. One young woman said: “It makes us feel very uncomfortable and happens every day when we are going to school or university or anywhere else on the microlet”. 

Importantly, recognising the particular vulnerabilities of young women living with disabilities, JDN has reached out to disability advocacy organisations to explore how best to make their campaigns inclusive. Through these collaborations, JDN has provided tailored workshops to 64 young women living with disabilities. JDN writes “We worked with six different disability organisations to engage young people with disabilities in this event to educate them about how to prevent sexual harassment and increase gender equality, using reflection on their own experiences, guest speakers, t-shirt design, story corner, photo frame designs, learning sign language, cooking demonstration. From this 18 young women signed up as sexual harassment activists.” 

JDN see the importance of engaging young men in this work, engaging young men in workshops to support them to recognise and call out gender inequality and discrimination in the community and their homes. They have engaged 40 young men in train the trainer workshops across four ‘sucos’ and invited those men to become gender equality ‘influencers’, responsible for changing their own behaviours, taking on household chores, and engaging with their peers about gender equality.  

As well as working with young people to raise awareness about gender-based violence and challenge gender stereotypes, JDN are running a highly targeted campaign focused on improving safety on microlets (small public buses) through implementing a Code of Conduct. JDN have run a workshop with 18 microlet drivers to raise awareness on what sexual harassment looks like and the role of the Code of Conduct, and they are soon to launch a report based on interviews with 25 microlet drivers. Over 50 microlet buses now display anti sexual harassment stickers designed by JDN activists and over the past six months, five young women have become microlet drivers in this notoriously male industry. In March, JDN activists met with the Timorese government’s Director-General of Transport to present their report on interviews with microlet drivers and advocate for a Code of Conduct. 

Reflecting on the challenges and learnings over the first six months, JDN particularly draws on their work with young men. In their report, they write: “Young male influencers have been challenged by both family and friends in their communities and it has been difficult to address those challenges. Often young men are referred to as ‘gay’ if they participate in household chores. There is a lot of difficulty moving to change in this area as many people see the gender role stereotyping as part of their culture and it is not seen as the discrimination of women. Challenging this requires a lot of perseverance and understanding and recognition that change will be slow. We recognise the importance of finding smaller actions that move towards our goal – for example in safe transport we will continue to work towards a code of conduct but we need to find interim actions (eg. the stickers on the microlets) that continue to keep the issue alive in the public space.”  

It has been an incredibly busy first six months for JDN and we look forward to seeing what the next six months (and beyond!) bring.  

Meet JDN’s sexual harassment activists

Novita Odelia Reis Gonçalves 

What I did since signing the declaration to become a sexual harassment activist was, to find out from the young people I know if they know what sexual harassment is. Therefore, in the institution where I teach 11 students (4 women & 7 men), I give them the topic “what is sexual harassment?” and most of them didn’t know about sexual harassment. So, I try to explain and ask them to have a discussion. Most of the students are men and they acknowledge that they often practice this behaviour called sexual harassment and this is a crime. Furthermore, they said that they would not repeat this and they will change this behaviour. My message to other women is that don’t be afraid to be an activist because women have to be strong to defend the right thing, and the small actions that we do can have big impact to us, our family and our neighbourhood. 

Srilia Tilman Cardoso 

As a sexual harassment activist I talked to a microlet driver about his knowledge of what sexual harassment is. He said he didn’t know, then I explained to him what sexual harassment is and gave the examples of touching womens’ bodies. And he said this behaviour is common and he didn’t feel this was a problem and sometimes he indirectly contributes to this such as when he stops the microlet suddenly so that the passenger’s body could touch each other. I said to him that behaviour could make the passengers feel uncomfortable and not safe. From that discussion I invite him to sit with JDN Sexual Harassment Activist together with other public transport drivers to ask their opinion of sexual harassment in public transportation and the need for a code of conduct for public transport drivers. 

Olimpia Soares Pereira 

I am a sexual harassment activist and a student in one of the journalist courses in Dili. I raised the topic in my class “do young people feel safe when walking alone at night time or when using public transportation because they might get sexually harassed”. I discussed it with my colleagues and teacher. Then I explained to them the knowledge and information about sexual harassment and the laws that protects the rights of women that I learnt at the JDN workshop. During this discussion my teacher and colleagues said that the word “sexual harassment” was new for them. From that discussion, I plan to interview young people, public transport drivers and the police regarding this topic.