In Timor-Leste, women are key players in reshaping the future of the second youngest country in the world. Dulce Junior, 36, is one such woman. “Mana” (Sister) Dulce, as her friends and colleagues call her, is one of the country's many prominent women activists who are working to put women's needs at the center of how the Government approaches development and poverty reduction.
“Women living in villages need to understand that their opinion in project planning and implementation is crucial,” said Mana Dulce, a Timor-Leste national and head of the Local Development Programme at the Ministry of State Administration. “Only these women will be able to express their needs and help build more effective policies and programmes.”
The Local Development Programme is a response to the need to rebuild Timor-Leste's infrastructure and to strengthen its civil administration. The Programme is a partnership between the Government, UNDP and the UN Capital Development Fund aimed at building new models of public administration. The goal is to better reach out to people living in rural and remote areas.
The Programme promotes different models for decentralized and transparent local governance, responsive to citizens' needs. Dulce leads a team of Ministry staff that set-up pilot institutions, such as local assemblies, to increase the participation of community members in local decision-making processes. By providing grants and training, the goal is to help them adapt to change, stay resilient and effective in crisis situations and improve the lives of the people they serve.
One key priority is to ensure the participation of women in decision-making process, through the provision of trainings tailored for women taking their needs into account. For the past four years, women's participation in local assemblies has been considerably high. Women have attended between 80 and 83 per cent of all local assembly meetings held in the country. But the level of participation of women has been lower than the participation of men. Some women participants mention that lack of public transport, lack of time due to household responsibilities and pregnancy are factors that influence their attendance.
Dulce and her team travel long hours through different routes to visit all the districts of Timor-Leste. As well as encouraging women's participation, her main tasks are to coordinate the Local Development Programme's activities, providing technical assistance to district and sub-district assemblies on budgeting, procurement and contract management. These skills and new systems will help the assemblies decide on the use of funds provided by the National Government to finance activities and small-scale infrastructure projects – including rehabilitation of schools and hospitals, construction of rural roads, small bridges, community markets, irrigation facilities for agriculture, as well as construction and maintenance of water and sanitation systems.
When asked about the main difficulty faced by women in rural areas, Mana Dulce stresses the continuous need for water irrigation and pre-natal care for women who still give birth at home.
“Eleven years ago, when I gave birth to my first son, I was afraid of going to a clinic to have my baby. But today it is important that women learn the importance of seeking medical assistance during pregnancy and during birth,” said Dulce. “If more women seek appropriate medical support we will see maternal mortality rates reduce.”
The Local Development Programme has been helping local assemblies organize themselves to better answer the needs of the population. For the last five years, it has implemented nearly 400 projects in key public service areas such as health, water and sanitation, education and transportation in eight out of the 13 districts of the country, reaching 51 per cent of the Timorese population.