A History of FOKUPERS
15 July 1997
FOKUPERS was established as a forum, consisting of 17 people that participated in dialogues about how people can exercise their rights if they are not healthy and strong - without being subjected to the ongoing violence that was prevalent in the nations attempt to survive colonisation, foreign occupation and gain its independence. Particularly of concern were the levels of violence against women, having further and subsequent negative effects on families and communities. It was established under the auspices of HAK.
November to December 1998
FOKUPERS invited the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, to visit and hear from the 50 survivors of violence and trauma. It also published its first book, Menilam Kemarau (Make the Dry Season Lighter). On 25 November 1998, FOKUPERS held a public seminar on Perspectives of Timorese Women, followed by a silent gesture of peace and public exhibition of posters and photos of violence perpetrated against women, inviting the commander of the Indonesian District Military, Korem, along with the other senior Military staff. The first safe house was opened in Dili.
May 1999 to August 1999
FOKUPERS supported independence from Indonesian military occupation, recognising that much of the violence was being perpetrated as a direct result. Some women from FOKUPERS joined CNRT teams to promote the importance of voting in the rural communities. After the vote there was much terror. The members dispersed mainly into the hills of Dare before regrouping between October and November of 1999. The regroup focus was on an emergency program helping the women in those areas most significantly affected; in Ermera and in Suai, Licquica, Maliana (where they established three womens safe houses).
The organisation paused the delivery of the emergency plan to create a four-streamed strategic plan for the longer term to support women in the developing nation. It created four divisions and worked endlessly towards building the knowledge, skills, and capabilities of staff to implement the plan. At the same time it remained focussed on ensuring women had a voice in the structures and policies being developed by the emerging nation.
The coordinator of FOKUPERS, Micato, was nominated by CNRT to to bring together 15 womens organisations that were now in place to form REDE Feto (East Timor’s Womens Network) and chair the subsequent first East Timorese Womens Congress. The Women’s Congress demanded that women should hold 30% of all places in the Transitional Government.
REDE Feto proposed to the UNTAET-established National Council that this quota should apply to the newly proposed Constituent Assembly, whose job it was to form the constitution of the new nation. It was rejected on the argument that it contravened the definition of a free and fair election. After much protest and encouragement for affirmative action, extra broadcast time was provided to parties which had 30% female candidates. FOKUPERS supported three women candidates, including Micato. The Constituent Assembly elections delivered 27% female members.
FOKUPERS and ETWAVE provided follow up support to women who were to make statements to, and participate in, hearings of the Commission for Truth, Reception and Reconciliation, as well as support to children who were victims of incest. FOKUPERS created a database of cases of violence including rape, torture, and domestic violence, publishing a report on these 451 cases as well as the book Buibere that documents detailed cases of 21 womens accounts. OPE recognised FOKUPERS and ETWAVE as the main sources of information on gender based violence in Timor Leste.
The national constitution was formed and Transitional Government was established with a mix of Timorese and International Ministers appointed by the UN, however the second formed after the CA elections was entirely Timorese. Micato was the new Government advisor on the promotion of equality (OPE). In 2002 the Government ratified the Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
FOKUPERS undertook a participatory planning process to involve members and Boards in setting the strategic directions of the organisation with the usual tension between needing to build the capability of the organisation to deliver much needed services for survivors of violence and trauma, as well as do the much needed policy advocacy and empowerment approaches to sustain positive changes for women in the nation. It had been heavily focussed on addressing gender based violence faced by survivors and wanted to pursue advocacy and prevention approaches with other NGOs and stakeholders.
FOKUPERS assisted in the Second Congress of Women to ensure that Article 17 in the DRTL constitution was reviewed against the 2000 Platform for Action and able to be realised with four new goals for the future. The article stated:
Women and men shall have the same rights and duties in all areas of family, political, economic, social, and cultural life.
It also became involved in the pending Suco elections, with Suco Councils reserving 2 of the 5 seats available for women. It also worked with other womens NGOs to provide the first Report to the OPE on progress and identified women with potential to the OPE for their involvement which also presented them with opportunities for training and development. It also did many workshops across government to raise awareness and promote the need for gender equality in the developing nation.
A challenging time where the regional safe houses had to be closed due to donors not being able to provide ongoing funding, and FOKUPERS needing further capability building in relation to accessing aid funding in a multilingual environment and the significant exceptions placed on the organisation to address immediate and increasing needs of women survivors as well as the advocacy and political influence they needed to sustain positive change. The district Uma Feto facilities were closed and the organisation moved to a community development and empowerment model.
FOKUPERS’ database of incidences of violence against women continued to gather alarming statistics of the suffering of women and girls. Political unrest was increasing as the nation struggled to stabilise and FOKUPERs continued to fight for the involvement of women in the decision making to address the unrest and realise a stronger, united nation.
Women experienced further violence during the internal political unrest as conflict increased between members of the military from the East and the West of Timor. Then Pesident Xanana Gusmao threatened to resign as President if then Prime Minister Alkitiri did not resign his post, asserting that he was inflaming the unrest and the Government was not functional. During this time FOKUPERS continued to offer support to the women victims of violence, working with other NGOs to address their immediate needs as well as advocate for systemic change to empower them.
2007 saw the 10 year anniversary of FOKUPERS, when it published the “Hatutan Feto Nia Lian Ne’be’ Hanook”, describing the broader statistics and cases of individual women's situation withviolence and discrimination during the crisis of 2005 - 2006. In the same year it worked hard to support women’s participation in politics in the parliamentary elections.
FOKUPERS strengthened the role of the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality (SEPI) to draft a law against domestic violence, establishing and advocacy network to fight for its drafting to be included as a priority on the agenda of the 4th Constitutional Government seeking the laws adoption by the Council of Ministers and its debate and approval in the plenary of the National Parliament.
After further strengthening the advocacy network, it added to the request for Domestic Violence to be a public crime. FOKUPERS also sought for the State to make an exception for victims of rape and mothers with health issues choosing abortion as a health right not to be re-victimised and made criminals as a result of the existing legislation.
The DRTL Law Against Domestic Violence was enacted after being introduced eight years before by OPE, working closely with FOKUPERS and the mens group AMKV, to lobby for it’s enactment. It was promulgated by then President Jose Ramos Horta on 7 July, who went on in 2011 to show great leadership and support by further visits to the women's shelter on World Women's Day where he listened to the survivors, declaring his support for services to the victims of violence and the full implementation of the law.
An external evaluation informed the creation of FOKUPERS’ vision for 2013-15;
Timorese women will be free from gender based violence which is the root of the patriarchal system and to achieve gender equality and justice.
The Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality (SOPE) publicly declared support to continue to work with FOKUPERS to overcome the struggle to achieve the full liberation of women in Timor Leste. This was coupled with support from the Public Prosecutor General for the nation to fully realise the intention of the new Law Against Domestic Violence asking for a shift in the minds of those decision makers in the justice system to stop blaming the women, the victims, for the violence still being perpetrated. All while continuing to meet the ever present expectations of women to provide support to the victims as well as advocate for positive systemic change.
FOKUPERS was entrusted with the management of the Maria Tapo Women’s Shelter set up by MSS in Maliana - which continues today.
FOKUPERS was registered as a legal entity with the Ministry of Justice and at the same time it further strengthened internal organisational capacity, conducting a review of Administration and Finance operational standards, organisation policies and also supporting staff skills development. It continued discussions about all programs at the community level, to provide an opportunity for women to share their knowledge and information with each other, and to be able to share ideas to be used as the basis for advocacy strategies.
FOKUPERS has worked hard over this period to involve men more in the processes of healing in families, getting them involved in dialogues and learning about the value of gender equity and equality to the family, the community and the nation. It has also worked closely with the church, involving it in helping to provide spiritual support to victims at the shelters, increasing the awareness of the importance of eliminating violence through Church sermons. Bishop Basilio do Nascimento offered to receive abandoned children, and to receive them in the church’s orphanages.
Changes to the Suco Election Law No. 09/2016, which ensures a quota for women, shows significant changes for female participation in Suco Leaders from 2% to 5%. FOKUPERS was involved actively in the I’m 100% Ready committee, contributing to leadership training, advocacy for survivors in 5 municipalities. It had included Viqueque, Manatutu, Manufahi, Aileu and Ainaro, which meant it was and is now working in 10 municipalities in total. Assisting victims to submit complaints and refer cases of GBV to police and local authorities, and to undertake monitoring of the implementation of the Law Against Domestic Violence (LADV) in their area.