Community Dialogue Meetings in Cova Lima and Viqueque: communities expressed concern about gender equality, conflict and socio-economic marginalisation

Photo : Fundasaun Mahein

The Community Dialogue Meetings (CDMs) which Fundasaun Mahein (FM) organises in municipalities are an important mechanism for gathering information about the current challenges which marginalised communities face around the country. FM uses the information collected through these activities to inform our analysis and recommendations related to security and development policies. The CDM format also aims to provide marginalised communities with a space to express their concerns about key issues which affect their lives, in dialogue with security officials and government representatives. Finally, these events also enable FM to share information with communities about relevant policies and issues.

In late 2022, FM organised CDMs in Cova Lima and Viqueque, which were held on 14 October and 17 November 2022, respectively. These meetings aimed to promote discussion about several important issues, including promoting peace, martial arts activity, the implications of the new Law on Organisation of Criminal Investigation, and strengthening women’s voices to participate in municipal development.

In Suai, FM organised the discussion to be held at the office of Fokupers, the prominent women’s rights organisation. For the discussion, FM was joined by Fokupers’ Director, the head of the local Victims’ Protection Unit (VPU) of the National Police, and twelve representatives of women’s community organisations based in Suai. The main topic of discussion for the day was “Women’s Participation in Decision Making at the Suco, Municipal and National Levels.”

During these events, FM adopts a collaborative approach to stimulate dialogue between participants. This involves FM speaking less and encouraging participants – in this case women’s representatives – to express their views on the topic. The women were extremely active in their participation, taking initiative and discussing issues candidly. Most participants expressed dissatisfaction with their experiences of participation in decision making at various governmental levels. They stated that community leaders and local government authorities often do not consider, prioritise or respond to their concerns. Nonetheless, they said that they would continue to raise their voices in an attempt to pressure authorities to listen to their concerns and take actions to respond to their needs.

In video interviews with FM, participants explained that although they had participated in numerous trainings aimed at empowering women, there was little change in the status of women in terms of accessing decision making positions. They explained that even though women participated in meetings with local authorities, authorities do not give any weight to women’s concerns. They also noted that personal and party interests tend to dominate decision making, and that men receive most benefits from government projects such as construction works. Finally, they expressed hope that community attitudes can change so that they can accept women as leaders.

In Viqueque, FM brought together local authorities, the President of the local Council for Regulation of Martial Arts, the local police chief, youth representatives and members of three martial and ritual arts groups. Although FM attempted to directly involve more women, the female participants (5) were greatly outnumbered by their male counterparts (20). As a result, their participation in the discussion was sub-optimal, as men tended to dominate the discussion. However, some young women did express their views and concerns.

The main topic of discussion was the involvement of martial and ritual arts groups in violence and conflict. While participants acknowledged that some members were occasionally involved in violence, group members lamented the fact that society often blames martial and ritual arts groups as a whole, even though most conflicts are driven by personal disputes between individual members. Youth representatives also reported that they are involved in various peacebuilding and conflict resolution activities which facilitate dialogue and enhance security in the area, including dealing with conflicts which occur between martial arts members. For their part, local authorities and the police reported that there had been no significant incidences of conflict between martial arts groups between 2018 and 2022.

Participants emphasised that the greatest challenge faced by youth and women in their area is socio-economic marginalisation and lack of facilities and services due to the distance from the capital city and lack of government programs in the area. Moreover, female participants expressed the same complaint heard from the women in Suai – that local authorities tend not to prioritise or respond to their concerns. As a result, many have lost confidence in the government, and feel marginalised from decision making and municipal development. They have also lost hope that they can become leaders or decision makers in the future due to the dominance of men in decision making positions.

During both events, FM presented information about the new Law on Organisation of Criminal Investigation. FM shared our view that the new Law creates several implications for criminal investigation processes, as it hands responsibility to the Scientific and Criminal Investigation Police (PSIC) to conduct investigations into criminal complaints, including gender-based violence, which was previously the competency of the National Police (PNTL). However, the new Law has created some confusion about the responsibilities for processing complaints and conducting criminal investigations, especially in rural areas where PSIC has minimal presence.

Participants in Suai and Viqueque provided several responses to FM’s information. First, most participants had not heard about the new Law, indicating that the Government has failed to communicate the legal change to communities in rural areas. In Suai, the VPU head noted that she has twenty years of experience working on gender-based violence cases, including receiving various trainings on how to deal with such cases. Therefore, she questioned why this responsibility has been handed over to PSIC, who lack specific training and experience in this area, as well as any presence outside the capital city.

Furthermore, many participants – including several women who have experienced gender-based violence themselves – expressed doubt about the ability of PSIC to respond to complaints about gender-based violence quickly or effectively. In addition, due to the sensitive nature of these cases, it is important that officers have specific training and that female officers are available to assist victims if needed. However, PSIC lacks both training and female officers, raising serious questions about the capacity of PSIC to deal with these sensitive cases adequately.

In conclusion, based on our experiences and community responses during these activities, FM believes that the CDM model provides a valuable space for marginalised communities to express their views, learn about important issues and participate in dialogue with state officials and decision makers. The events in Suai and Viqueque produced several important findings, including women’s concern about their marginalisation from decision making at the municipal level, lack of knowledge about the ramifications of the new criminal investigation Law, and young people’s concern about socio-economic marginalisation and the lack of government development programs to assist remote communities. Participants in the events were grateful to FM for facilitating the sharing of information and concerns, and hoped that FM could organise similar events in the future. For our part, FM will continue to organise these discussions, as we believe they are extremely useful for facilitating dialogue, learning and mutual understanding between the government and marginalised communities.

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