World YWCA Council 2015 – Timorese women tackling empowerment in Thailand

13 October 2015

Prudencia and Mira from YWCA Timor-Leste.

Prudencia and Mira from YWCA Timor-Leste.

A delegation of YWCA Canberra members, Board Directors and staff are currently at the 28th World YWCA Council in Bangkok, Thailand, as part of the YWCA Australia delegation. They will be participating in knowledge sharing, collaborating, and setting the strategic directions for the movement for the next four years. We’ll be sharing their reflections and experiences through our blog. Today, we hear from Heidi Zajac, Board Director, and Gordana Morphett, who interviewed Prudencia and Mira (Zulmira) from YWCA Timor-Leste.

It is Day 2 of the 28th World Council 2015, and we are two YWCA Canberra women meeting two YWCA Timor Leste women. We all know one another already from Australian visits to Timor. This time our meeting is in Thailand as we come to meet with women from almost every corner of the globe in the spirit of “bold and transformative leadership”.

Mira, 37 years, and Prudencia, 26 years, are two Timorese young women on a mission. They both live, work and care for family in the capital of Dili. They are also women who hold an unshakable commitment to women’s rights and gender equity. In 2011, the YWCA Timor Leste was established. Today, Mira is the newly elected President of the organisation, and Prudencia the single staff member, paid part-time, but active full-time.

Mira  is dynamic. We are speaking to her after the lunch crowd has emptied from the hotel restaurant. Mira speaks carefully but at length to answer our questions in detail about the strengths and challenges for the women of Timor Leste. The four of us pour over the conversation, and before we know it, women are lining up in the restaurant once again, for afternoon tea!

Prudencia  speaks quickly in Tetun – the lingua franca of Timor Leste. She has been in her role now for a few years now. Mira states that an increase in funding to YWCA Timor Leste is essential if Prudencia is to be paid for her full-time commitment to the activities and programs, networks and young women she coordinates and nurtures.

Curiosity got the better of Prudencia, and she joined the YWCA. She explains “I didn’t know what the YWCA was about, but I grew interested because I was always hearing about meetings this organisation was having… when I discovered they didn’t even have an office, I became really curious!” As a leader now to other women, although reluctant with the term, Prudencia accepts that she holds a great responsibility to encourage young women, and support them, to create positive futures for all women in Timor Leste.

After some discussion of leadership, governance, and Mira’s studies in Melbourne, Prudencia and Mira explain the challenges that young Timorese women confront. Gender perceptions appear to be the root of so many specific issues experienced by women, especially domestic violence and economic opportunities outside the home.

Disappointment flashes across Mira’s face as she speaks about ongoing problems for women – she had expected to see better circumstances for the next generation of women, but it isn’t so. Instead, young women continue to lack confidence in their skills and abilities and feel uncertain about their futures.

There is still work to happen before YWCA Timor Leste is affiliated with World YWCA. And when it is, YWCA-TL will be one of the newest organisations in the YWCA movement, and one of the newest local organisations in the small nation of Timor Leste. But none of this, nor the vast challenges that Timorese women live with, deters Mira or Prudencia. They know strength lies in numbers, in networks of women, of relationships, and as Prudencia puts beautifully; “empowerment comes from supporting, and being supported by, other women”.

The strengths of Timorese young women are a match for any challenges that will come their way. Highly motivated and dedicated women and the spirit of volunteerism are fuelling the YWCA Timor Leste. Mira tells us that the role of YWCA is to enable women to identify their skills and abilities. Doing this, she says, will enable women to build confidence and also support other women.

Mira moves easily between speaking about her vision for Timor Leste to listing the practical steps that must be taken in order to make progress. Professional development to support women identifying their skills is a priority and attracting specific skills sets to the Board another.

Perhaps Mira appreciates the spirit of volunteerism she sees in other women because she is also a passionate volunteer in her role as President of YWCA Timor Leste.

To find out more about the YWCA of Timor Leste, email Mira at zulmirafonseca1@gmail.com. You can follow the journey on the YWCA Timor Leste Facebook page.

 

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