The Constitution of East Timor provides equality between men and women in opportunities, rights and duties in the political, economic, social, cultural areas and in family life. Furthermore, it recognizes that the direct and active participation by men and women in the political field is both a requirement and a fundamental instrument in the democratic system.
Women are able to participate in political parties and in the National Parliament through the gender quota system legislated by the 2006 Law on the Elections of the National Parliament (as amended in 2011), wherein in the electoral lists 1 out of every group of 3 candidates must be a woman. The list is considered invalid if the quota provisions is not fulfilled. Since the 2012 elections, 25 out of 65 seats in the National Parliament are occupied by women, accounting to 38% of the total seats.
Despite this, issues with regards to the participation of women in politics continue to arise in Timor-Leste; including the true significance of the women’s political participation. It has been argued that their participation is merely an attempt on the part of political parties to satisfy the quota requirements, evidenced by the lack of leadership roles and decision-making position for women. Moreover, women also lose the confidence to get further get themselves involved due to the lack of consideration for women’s views. They are further challenged by the lack of education opportunities (which could be traced back in history), language barrier, family responsibility and the gap between the capital, Dili from the other parts of the country.
The women are, therefore, calling for the need for greater professionalization among candidates and current members so that women are not only heard, but more importantly, listened to. Political parties are also called to commit to programs that would help develop and nurture future women leaders. The current quota system is an important instrument for women’s access and participation but should not be the only one—“a means to an end but not an end itself.”
International and local organizations also play important roles in supporting women’s participation in Timor-Leste’s politics. Among those are UN Women and its partner, Alola Foundation, a local NGO. Alola Foundation provided training for women who are interested in running for a position. Women are educated about the legal framework of the country and the vital role women may play in it. Campaign techniques are also taught which could aid them in gathering supporters. According to its participants, they are able to develop more confidence in taking a stand in the political arena.
A new law ratified in July 2016 requires that there is at least one female candidate in every village or hamlet chief election. As a result, the number of female candidates has increased dramatically for the October 2016 local government elections.
Democracy blossoms as Timor-Leste opens doors for more women in politics. (2012, July 24). Retrieved from UN Women (Asia Pacific): http://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2012/7/democracy-blossoms-as-timor-leste-opens-doors-for-more-women-in-politics
East Timor (The Democratic Republic of East Timor). (n.d.). Retrieved from Quota Project: http://www.quotaproject.org/uid/countryview.cfm?CountryCode=TL
Marx, S. (2012, March 7). Can Timor-Leste’s Gender Quota System Ensure Women’s Participation in Politics? Retrieved from The Asia Foundation: http://asiafoundation.org/in-asia/2012/03/07/can-timor-lestes-gender-quota-system-ensure-womens-participation-in-politics/
Soares, L. “With a new law in Timor-Lest, number of women in politics skyrockets (2016, October 25), http://news.trust.org/item/20161021070212-w96ap
Equality between Women and Men (Article 17). The Constitution of the Democratic Republic ofEast Timor
Objectives of the State (Article 6 clause (j)). The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of East Timor
Participation by Citizens in Political Life (Article 63). The Constitution of the DemocraticRepublic of East Timor