Challenges and Possibilities: Women and International Organisations in Timor-Leste

A Weekend of Reflection, Dialogue and Collaboration: 9-11 September 2005, RMIT University, Melbourne

The year of 2005 marked the third year of formal independence for Timor-Leste and the sixth since the Indonesian withdrawal in 1999. Long-term reconstruction and development programs operated variously in Timor-Leste, many focusing on issues affecting women. In this context, the 'Challenges and Possibilities: International Organisations and Women in Timor-Leste' forum aimed to draw upon the experiences and ideas of participants, including East Timorese women and representatives of international organizations, in order to explore three key issues:

1. The practices and assumptions of international organizations working with East Timorese women;

2. How East Timorese women have responded; and

3. How the international presence has impacted on women in Timor-Leste.

'Challenges and Possibilities' represented a unique opportunity for East Timorese members of civil society, representatives of international organisations, and interested Australians to collectively explore a critical, yet often sidelined, issue. The primary aim of the event was to create a forum for reflective dialogue, collaboration and critical self and peer review so as to make an open assessment regarding the impact of international organisations on the lives of women in East Timor. The approach to the weekend's events emphasised participation, open dialogue and collaboration in a safe, engaged environment. This was achieved through a combination of seminars, professionally facilitated workshops and less formal opportunities for social exchange.

For three days some 150 people came to Melbourne from around Australia and from East Timor to discuss these issues together; to share, to debate and to listen to one another's experience. This report is an attempt to reflect some of the ideas shared at the forum. It is put together by volunteers, and we hope that it is seen as a document that can be further built upon in the future. Similarly, we hope that the forum is seen as one opportunity for discussion, and that open discourse between different individuals and organizations will continue on this theme in various ways and in various locations in the future.

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