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ALOLA FUND-RAISING COCKTAIL RECEPTION 13 May, 2014 "Inspiring Change in Women’s Health, Well-being and Education in Timor Leste – Five Lessons Learned” Kirsty Sword Gusmão

Alola Australia media release: http://www.alola.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/The-Heart-of-AlolaCocktail-Evening.pdf I acknowledge and thank the team of friends from Alola Australia who have worked so hard to organize this evening’s gathering and the special presence here of my co-presenters, Ms Alzira Reis, CEO of Alola, and Ms Kate Ashmore. This is a very special visit to Australia this time, representing as it does the last public speaking tour I will undertake as wife of the Prime Minister of TimorLeste. I am sure you have heard of my husband’s plans to stand down from public office later this year, and whilst Xanana’s resignation is a source of anxiety to some, and understandably so, naturally I am pleased for him at a personal level. 1


This year also marks twenty years since my first rather risky face-to-face visit with Xanana at Jakarta’s Cipinang prison in December 1994. It is quite overwhelming to look back at that time and reflect on the momentous changes that have occurred in my life and in that of my new homeland since that time. In the short time we have together this evening, I can’t hope to share all of them with you but I will do my best to hone in on some highlights. And of course I will focus on FUNDASAUN ALOLA as one of my proudest and most cherished achievements. Rebuilding a country from the ashes of destruction and violence is a pretty turbulent process. For me, Xanana and the other leaders of the country there have been some pretty sharp learning curves and quite a bit more madness than method at times. There have been some constants, too, however; a few guiding principles or lessons for life, spanning the time I first became an activist for Timor-Leste through to my years as the country’s first First Lady and on to the present day. I wanted to frame my comments on “Inspiring change in women’s health, well-being and Education in Timor-Leste” within some of these lessons learned or rules of thumb. 1) Embrace risk We live in a very risk-averse world. I’m sure that term didn’t even exist when I was in high-school! If ordinary East Timorese men and women had eschewed the risk involved in voting for national independence in 1999, they would still be living in servitude and under the heavy weight of oppression today. When I wrote my book, “A Woman of Independence”, one of my motivations was to encourage young people in Australia and elsewhere to be conscious of how important it is to take risks, particularly where your conscience and sense of social responsibility are concerned. The risks I took in supporting the East Timorese resistance movement have been somewhat overplayed in the interests of good media stories in the past, but nevertheless I did willingly put myself in danger at times. However, the risks were calculated, never reckless, never blind, and were always taken with a view to advancing a just cause in which I believed fervently. Which brings me to lesson No 2:

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2) Let passion guide you All significant human achievement rises up from the fire of personal passion. My husband could not possibly have led a ragtag guerrilla army of a few hundred men to victory over the military might of Indonesia’s armed forces without a passionate belief in the inevitability of success. I established the Alola Foundation in 2001 because of a passionate belief that I could make a difference in my new homeland by ensuring that women have a place and a voice in its reconstruction. I credit the fact that Fundasaun Alola is today one of the most successful NGOs in Timor-Leste to the persistent passion of its leaders, including Mana Azzi, and our project managers, and to the fire in the belly of friends and supporters from Alola Australia. Over the past 20 years I have been overwhelmed by the passion, vitality and determination of the friends of TimorLeste who have worked tirelessly to support our rebuilding efforts (GIVE EXAMPLES OF THOSE PRESENT). 3) Preach what you practice – let your life experiences guide you in helping others There is nothing like personal experience to lend power and credibility to one’s advocacy. I learned this lesson in 2002 when, as a new mother breastfeeding my second child, Kay Olok, I was asked by UNICEF to speak at the launch at Dili National Hospital of their baby-friendly hospital initiative. On that occasion, I did more than just speak out in favour of the support of exclusive breastfeeding at the level of health institutions. I also announced my plans to establish the first National Breastfeeding Association of Timor-Leste under the umbrella of the Maternal and Child Health Program of the Alola Foundation. When we launched the Association in 2003, I had my infant son at the breast throughout the ceremony and on many other public occasions to press home the point that “breast is best”. I count as one of the most satisfying achievements of Alola, the fact that rates of exclusive breast-feeding have risen from around 30% in 2005 to around 65% in 2013. Figures for early initiation of breast-feeding after birth have also risen by some ten percentage points to 98% over just the past 4-5 years. A recent survey conducted by UNICEF on food and nutrition provides us with a sobering reminder of the challenges associated with educating families about good nutrition and healthy diets. The survey showed that Timor-Leste the highest percentage of children under five who are moderately or severely stunted in the world, matched only by Burundi. Stunting has a massive impact on both physical and mental development, which mostly cannot be reversed

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after a child reaches the age of two. It is a very sad thing indeed when a country’s children cannot reach their potential due to poor nutrition. Fast forward ten years from 2003 and the establishment of the National Breastfeeding Association to my breast cancer diagnosis last year. Similarly, I have drawn on my personal experiences of diagnosis, treatment and recovery to raise awareness of women’s cancers in Timor-Leste. I established a women’s cancer support group called HALIKU along with a handful of other survivors of breast cancer in March this year, and we are working to let women across the country know about the basic facts and the importance of early diagnosis. Just last week we conducted a two day training of some 30 volunteers, mainly women, who will assist us to inform communities across Timor-Leste of the risk factors associated with women’s cancers and the importance of early detection. I will come back to this question a little later on, and share some vital statistics. Allow me just to say that if women and their families and our Ministry of Health are paying attention to what I say today it is because they know I am speaking from a platform of direct personal experience rather than on the strength of a merely academic or theoretical interest in the issues. 4) Make yourself redundant! A fundamental principal of all development work is the notion of skills transfer which eventually renders the aid giver or mentor obsolete. It may sound simple and obvious, but it’s not an easy goal to achieve for countries and individuals at either end of the relationship. I feel that in general terms, Timor-Leste, has taken enormous strides forward in terms of professional skills development, selfconfidence and experience of the world. Sure, there is still much to be done, but I feel that with the withdrawal of the UN and just over a decade’s experience of self-government, social and economic life have found their level and it is the right one for Timor-Leste at this particular juncture. All of us who have worked hard to contribute to national development in one sphere or another know the frustration of dealing with systems and structures that don’t operate with the level of efficiency and professionalism we are accustomed to – and we all have answers for how Timor-Leste could do it better! Whilst acknowledging that the guiding hand of friendly governments and organisations continues to be vital in the years ahead, I do believe that there is a need to define some new rules of engagement at this point in time, rules that that put Timorese in the driving seat and we “malae” or foreigners where we belong in the back. I take it as a huge measure of success that, apart from presiding at board meetings and ceremonial events, Alola has very little use for me nowadays. Our strategic plan also sets 4


forth the goal to gradually reduce our financial and technical inputs to local groups, particularly in the Maternal and Child Health field, in order to encourage them to become self-sufficient whilst continuing the vital health promotion work. Programa Nasional Dezenvolvimentu Suku (PNDS), or National Program for Village Development, is a new, nation-wide community development program of the Government of Timor-Leste. Launched in June 2012 and valued at $300 million over eight years from 2014, it will contribute to rural development by funding the ‘missing link’ to services – basic village infrastructure – and provide jobs and training. The Government is providing each village with an annual grant of around US$50,000 to plan, construct and manage their own small scale infrastructure projects. This links in an important way back to the question of women’s health and well-being since it is often poor infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, which prevent women and their families from getting to a health centre when they are in labour or critically ill. 5) Give the job to a woman God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers (Rudyard Kipling) – given that we have just celebrated Mother’s Day, I couldn’t resist throwing this one in! Of course it is universally true that investing in women and girls’ education has vast ripple effects in terms of the health and prosperity of a society. In Timor-Leste I believe that women are the great untapped resource of the nation. By necessity I am talking in generalisations here, but ask any employer of an East Timorese woman and you will doubtless find my analysis confirmed. As students and as workers, Timorese women are assiduous and disciplined, reliable, humble, honest and excellent team players. Of Alola’s 90 staff, over two thirds are women. Women are reasonably well represented across all sectors of the Timorese civil service, parliament and other areas of social and political life, but I truly believe that more affirmative action, and policies and practices that more actively promote women’s leadership in all spheres of public and private life are the wisest investment our leaders can make. Sadly family violence continues to be a blight on our society and the 2010 domestic violence legislation seems only to have gone some of the way towards altering behaviours. The 2009/2010 National Demographic and Health Survey revealed that 38% of East Timorese women have experienced or are experiencing physicial, sexual or emotional violence from a husband or male partner. A friend of mine from Lospalos who runs a shelter for women and girls 5


abused by their partners or family members recently reported to me that the home presently houses a larger number of women and their family members than ever before. And a shelter in Dili is currently providing a safe haven to some 68 young girls who have been raped by members of their own family. Some as young as 13 are pregnant. No doubt greater understanding of domestic violence as a public crime has resulted in higher levels of reporting and has emboldened women to speak out and take action. Alola’s Advocacy Program works in tandem with the women’s network and relevant government agencies to raise awareness of the wide-reaching harm caused by violence in the home and to improve services to victims. Just last Friday I delivered the keynote address at the launch of a new 20 million dollar program financed by the Australian Government aimed at boosting efforts to prevent violence against women through behaviour change and training and support to service providers. Alola and the Secretariat of State for Professional Training and Employment also recently concluded an important study on women workers in the private sector. Some of its findings are quite shocking, including the information that 61% of respondents were not granted any maternity leave whatsoever, in spite of the Labour Code stipulating a mandatory 3 month leave period. So as you can see, we still have our work cut out for us in terms of boosting women’s well-being, health and status within Timor-Leste society. As Goodwill Ambassador for Education, I am reminded on a daily basis of the urgent need to improve the quality of education in order to better address these problems. Some schools, particularly in rural áreas, have half or less than the number of classrooms they need to accommodate students. In some places this translates into shift-teaching, with the result that on average chilren are getting only 3 to 4 hours of schooling per day. Almost all schools lack libraries. Timor-Leste itself doesn’t have a national library. These facts in tandem with teachers’ poor understanding of modern, child-centred teaching methodologies pose a serious challenge to our education authorities. I am extremely proud of the work that Alola’s education program is doing to skill up pre-school and primary level teachers through training workshops focusing upon literacy acquisition strategies and the production of learning aids from locally available materials. In addition, Alola has been an important partner of government in the sometimes controversial work of promoting a greater role for Timor-Leste’s some 30 local languages in the early learning years. I would like to return briefly to the question of cancer awareness since the matter is very much front of mind for me in my daily work in Timor-Leste today. 6


The global burden of breast cancer remains immense in 2014, with over 1.6 million new cases being diagnosed annually. This burden has been increasing at a rate of 3.1% per year, and while the majority of new cases are diagnosed among women in developed countries, the 450,000 deaths per year from the disease are now equally divided between the developing and developed world In Scotland and a number of other developed countries, including Australia, the death rate from breast cancer is now at its lowest level in over 100 years. This positive situation has been brought about by contributions from a variety of sources including the development and availability of effective treatments, increased awareness among women, the national Breast Screening program, and free access for all women to high-quality diagnostic and treatment facilities. While this is very positive, not all women worldwide have been able to benefit from these advances and the contrast between the situation in rich and poor countries is staggering. Sadly, in Timor-Leste we continue to see enormous numbers of preventable deaths due to the combination of a lack of awareness and a lack of resources. The Cuban Medical Brigade in Timor-Leste recently estimated that there are 2,000 new cases of cancer each year, and yet records at our Dili National Hospital and district referral hospitals for 2012 showed only approximately 700 patients and a 20% mortality rate. In Timor-Leste, the shame and stigma associated with a cancer diagnosis result in low levels of utilization of health services and late presentation of cancers. This problem is compounded by the lack of appropriate facilities for diagnosis and treatment within Timor-Leste itself. In March, I established a women’s cancer support group called HALIKU with a view to raising awareness of the importance of early detection and of the symptoms and treatment options for women’s cancers. Alola is a vital partner in this work and I am proud to be working in close partnership once again with the Maternal and Child Health team to design and implement health promotion strategies. There is still so much to be done in order for all East Timorese to live without the heavy weight of need and dependence. A long overdue acknowledgement of Timor-Leste’s sovereign rights in relation to maritime boundaries would contribute in a very significant way to reducing the gap of wealth, privilege and quality of life separating our two great countries. I will leave you with that thought, and thank you sincerely once again for being with me and Mana Azzi this evening.

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Alola fundraiser cocktail 13 may  
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