As Timor-Leste continues to modernise its security sector, a critical reform will be the inclusion of gender-related mechanisms to promote equality and equity in the police and military. According to 2019 official records, of the 4,969 personnel in Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL), 4,343 are men and 624 women. A similar breakdown can be seen in Forças de Defesa de Timor-Leste (F-FDTL). Of 2,224 personnel,1557 are men and 667 are women.
The lack of women’s participation in the security sector is not just a matter of principle, but a practical concern for PNTL and F-FDTL. Low recruitment of women prevents the security forces from accessing a broader pool of candidates and range of skills that would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of security institutions. Moreover, sidelining gender equality is incompatible with the country’s commitment to democracy and human rights. It is difficult to imagine sustainable peace in a context in which half of the country’s population is excluded from key positions.
The UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 provides an international platform to recognise the participation of women in all levels of decision making. It also protects women and girls from sexual- and gender-based violence, calling for better security responses to the effects of modern conflict. Integrating gender perspectives in all processes, including recruitment for security sector institutions, raises Timor-Leste’s forces to international standards that recognize the role of gender in peace and security.
Moreover, local ownership without gender equality is pointless, because security institutions, processes, and policies will have a difficult time responding to local needs or building trust and confidence with the people. Local ownership is about ensuring that local concerns are at the centre of policy-making and empowering communities to increase long-term stability.
Correcting gender imbalances requires time, and given systematic inequalities in society, may also require providing women with different or additional mentoring to men. There needs to be an emphasis on creating conditions that promote women’s participation, not promoting mere tokenism. An example is supporting the development of women’s leadership and access to critical information.
Gender-sensitive security sector reform (SSR) requires the inclusion of women throughout security sector institutions, including at decision-making levels. Women in security forces can bring institutional and cultural change internally. Studies around the world show that women are more likely than their male colleagues to approach conflict in less excessive force. Their role in leadership positions also tends to reduce the culture of sexual exploitation that is occurrent in many military and police forces.
Furthermore, challenging cultural norms that define hegemonic masculinity as maintaining power over others along the lines of age, class, ethnicity or sexuality should be addressed. Building an inclusive institutional culture where norms and behaviours are not associated with discriminatory views is an important measure to promote the full integration of women and minority groups. It is therefore essential to set out an example across social structures in the hope of challenging existing views.
One of the leading causes of post-conflict violence against women and girls – like domestic violence, is the culture of machismo. According to various studies, the majority of the female population in Timor-Leste prefer to escalate domestic violence to community leaders or family integrants. Hence, increasing the number of women in the PNTL improves responses to a crime involving domestic and sexual violence, which is a high-level security issue in Timor-Leste. Women have different skills and understanding of security issues that can benefit communities in addressing gender-based violence. For example, in Kosovo, women paid an important role in searching for weapons. Female peacekeepers were able to talk to the household women, who often trust women rather than men.
Therefore, Fundasaun Mahein recommends:
– Integrating gender equality into the national legal and policy framework
• Make gender equality an explicit goal in national security policy and security sector policies.
• Gender mainstreaming—assessing the impact of SSR policies and activities on women, men, boys and girls at every stage of the process—is a key strategy. It must be accompanied by steps to ensure that both men and women participate and are represented in SSR processes.
– Integrating gender equality into SSR
• Across all security institutions, establish quotas for women in high-ranking positions, to create visible shifts towards an equal structure. Developing a vigorous gender promotion policy based on the effective participation and empowerment of female personnel in security and defence institutions.
• Gender awareness training in all capacities of the military- focus on gender, stereotypes, and gender bias can influence staff members to clarify appropriate behaviours, and sexual harassment also, how gender relates to their work environment and performance.
– Promoting gender equality in the culture of security institutions
• Integrate gender equality as a core principle on all training, recruitment and provide targeted training to adopt specific roles and responsibilities of personnel.
• Reform internal policies and prioritise specific gender equality in equal opportunities and operations. Also, prevent sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse.
In the rebuilding of a post-conflict nation, there is a rare opportunity to determine the principle of equality and equity in policies, structures and procedures of government. This may take time but is possible with a systematic commitment from senior leaders.
In a society that exists inequality, discrimination, violence, poverty, lack of economic perspectives, lack of education, oppression and other factors, there is always a risk of conflict. This broadens the scope of regular security definition to a more holistic and human approach.