On the night of the Holy Thursday, silent.
The hymns resonated.
Echoing from the cathedral of Baucau city
Sung by people who believe.
I sat alone, silent.
Listening, reading and asking.
After finished the supper with his disciples, what did Jesus do after that?
Whether He will also sit alone in silence like myself and listening to the hymn?
In the latest week, Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste is having a tense of the pre-election syndrome as on Monday, March 20, the presidential election will be held throughout the territory and citizens with eligible status as voters will participate in the election in each residential sucos/villages at the municipalities. According to data from STAE (The Technical Secretariat of Electoral Administration) Timor-Leste, for 2017, there is total of 747, 583 voters and out of this total, 746,252 are national voters while 1,332 voters are abroad from Australia and Portugal. Obviously, this long weekend will be full of people moving to the districts and district public transportation mode like buses will be busy for sure.
Since my first participation as the voter in 2006, I have experienced the same situation occurred during every Election Day. People consisted of men and women from young to older age, will stand in a long queue for some minute even hours under the hot sun rays for their turn just to get inside to the vertical-square-shaped election box. As to vote is the civil right of every citizen in a democratic country, it is inside that election box that people will vote and determine the fate of the candidate leaders who competing for the position of the president. With a puncture or pen marked on the candidate’s picture, these voters will decide with their whole consciousness on the candidate they choose to rule the country. As Timor-Leste is a republic democratic country, hence the election is to align with the concept of democracy that leaders are chosen by the people to rule the people for the good of the people.
Since the CNE (National Commission of Election) Timor-Leste officially announced 8 candidates of the president, the euphoria of the campaign becomes quite intense featuring the major parties and the enthusiastic supporters held convoy along the streets while the banners featuring the promotional messages for the candidates are displayed all around the city of Dili. Some of these 8 candidates sponsored by political parties whereas others came as independent candidates. While these candidates are busy on their campaign and self-promotion on various means of media, there have been many rumors, predictions and assumptions spread from mouth to mouth that the candidate A may win absolutely over the other candidates or there may be a second round of election if the first round winner has insufficient votes less than 50%. Here, the hot discussion about the quality of each candidate keeps going on in the social media, online and hardcopy newspapers and in the daily interaction among the people all around the country.
Despite all these, there are also some people raise their concerns on how eligible these candidates are for their electability and what vision and mission they have to create a better change for Timor-Leste after elected. Until this day, many Timorese still has the concern on the Long-life Pension law, which seen as an over-benefitting entitlement, corruption keeps increasing explicitly while sectors of the economy, education, health, justice and agriculture still need huge improvement. Meanwhile, generally most of the campaigns are full of hypnotizing cliché promises and with the candidates tried to expose their charm as impressive as possible.
However, there is one of the most intrigued splashed rumors said this upcoming election already has the winner and the election is just a superficial formality. This is, however, sounds annoying because if there is already a winner without people have to vote, and that everything has been plotted, then there is no point for people to drag their feet going to the vote center and vote. Nonetheless, hope that this rumor is just an inconsequential thought and this third Timor-Leste presidential election could successfully run well in peace and stability in the territory.
Until this week, friction occurred between the supporters of party A and Party B on the main road of Dili although did not cause huge damage. This is a pity part of the pre-election syndrome as the supporters are not politically mature enough to respect the political difference of other people. These, however, emphasize the importance of understanding and applying the content of civic education in order to respect each other.
While everywhere people start to have a concern about what will happen after the election, as a citizen, my only hope is that, the election could run well competently and fairly and that people as the voters are fully conscious and aware of the choice they made for the future president of Timor-Leste.
That morning, I came to work as usual and realized that it was March 8th, the date celebrated as the international women’s day. When I entered the office, one of my office colleague, a public health doctorate from Srilanka, was coming after me and then I greeted her saying “Happy International Women’s day, doctor’.
She gave me a brief laugh and then she replied me “thank you so much, but for me, every day is women’s day’. She said so with a sweet smile carved on her face, a figure that already entered the age of sixty yet she remains energetic as a fifteen years old teenager.
After that, we parted to do our daily office duty, but I kept thinking about her last soft sarcastic words ‘For me, every day is women’s day.’ That simple phrase has hit my perception towards the celebration of international women’s day, which celebrated worldwide in various ways.
Historically, the celebration of international women’s day begun in 1909, when the United Nations observed the first National Women’s day on February 28th in America. That time, the Socialist Party in America decided to celebrate the day in order to honor the women garment workers strike in 1908 for their act of protest against the working conditions provided to them.
Later, in 1910, a meeting of International Socialists in Copenhagen established the International Women’s day to honor the women rights movement and to build the support for women’s suffrage. The proposal gained unanimous approval from nearly 100 women members from 17 countries at the conference but the fixed date was therefore not determined.
In 1911, as the result of initiative in Copenhagen, the international women’s day was marked for the first time on March 19th in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, which celebrated with a rally participated by almost one million people of men and women. The rally insisted for the right to vote, hold public office position, right to work, to have vocational training and to end the discrimination at the workplace.
However, in 1913-1914, the international women’s day also becomes a means to protest against the First World War and other wars, while in 1917, in protest against the war, the women in Russian held a protest and conduct a strike for the Bread and Peace act thus made the Russian Czar, who soon approve the women’s rights to vote. In 1975, the United Nations started celebrating the International Women’s Day on March 8 which later followed by various agencies and cooperation body continues supporting the celebration with various objectives and goals.
Back to the day, the celebration of International Women’s Day throughout Timor-Leste is generally identical with ceremonial acts lead by the government institutions, civil societies, and the international cooperating bodies. The ceremonial act would be filled with official discourse, which later ended with various festivity means. Meanwhile, the TV news, newspaper, and social media or the internet displayed the beautiful messages and quotes about women as well as in the social media timelines, TV screens and on the billboards and banners all around the city.
On Friday 9 March, there was an interesting event held at Timor-Plaza called #HeforShe, which organized the cooking competition participated by men representatives from agencies and government institution. The competition demonstrated cooking the meal as an advocacy to the Timorese men that cooking task is indeed not only the women’s domestic task but also can be men’s task since men can also cook. The concept for this event indeed has become an anti-thesis to the patriarchal system in Timor-Leste, which emphasizes that cooking is only women’s task. In participating this event, I had a conversation with an activist male friend from Indonesia. He described that normally during the event of international women’s day, the women movement in some countries would organize a strike on that day or held a march to insist the rights they felt the government has not provided them yet.
Comparing to the events in Timor-Leste that mostly celebrated in ceremonial ways, a question then rose in my mind. Do the women felt the true meaning of this celebration? On the other hand, perhaps the celebration is only an event with cliché significance while in Timor-Leste the issues on women continue to increase. These includes issues such as the domestic violence issues, sexual harassment, and abuse both psychological and physical, lack of security for women when going out at night from school, offices or homes and lack of access to education and information for women to develop their capacity and so on. However, the campaign to eradicate and improve these issues may continue going on but if we meet these women directly or read the news from the newspaper, we would continue to hear the laments on these issues.
From these issues, the involvement of men (and as well as the women) as perpetrators is high thus there should be a question to the men on how do they feel the importance of the international women day? Generally, when we walk along the street, we will continue to find out how the boys like to disturb girls, abuse and tease them when these girls walk along the street, instead of talking to these girls with respect. Some girls have to drop out from school due to early pregnancy because of lack of information on sexual education that still becomes a taboo material or because of unsafe sex practice. The women, who become victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence in the family or society, have not obtained the proper treatment. Some women have to stop working when there is no enough support to take care of the children, whereas some other women, also have to trade off their time to work and leave their children at home in order to support the husband or family to earn money to meet the family’s economical needs since nowadays in Dili, life become more expensive and prices of commodities continue to rise.
These problems may seem superficial while the more deep issues may still lie underneath and are undiscovered yet. The slogan ‘Strong Women Strong Nation’ may need to be reviewed and reflected deeply whether the Timorese women so far has been that strong. How can the government, society and the individuals contribute to empower and strengthen the women?
Thinking about my Indonesian activist friend’s story, I realized that on March 8 I supposed to take a whole day leave and staying at home but instead I continue went to work at the office. I was thinking that on that day, supposedly the Timorese women who work at the office should be allowed to leave for the whole day. However, in the context of Timor-Leste, I have a sense that even if the government does allow the women employees to take leave, these women will still continue to work at home doing the household chores and run other family and social responsibilities tasks. Since Timorese women hereby have a crucial role in the family and society, regardless of their engagement at office work, at the end of the day, they would never be separated from their role and will continue to undertake the domestic responsibilities, which are higher compared to men. Consequently, perhaps as according to my Srilankan colleague has said maybe it is true, ‘Every day is women day!’
Finally, yet importantly, I would like to extend my congratulation for all the women fellows all around the world and I hope that you continue to be strong!