Reflection from Alexandra Da Dalt

Hello from Dili, Timor-Leste! The Southeast Asian nation is home to just over 1 million people, and faced decades of conflict during the Indonesian occupation before its Independence in 2002. As in many post-conflict environments, gender is an important factor that impacts and shapes the lives and opportunities available to survivors of violence. Academic publications and NGO reports on women in Timor-Leste largely focus on statistics, but my goal is to investigate and share personal stories and amplify the voices of the women that can provide valuable knowledge on the issues they see as most pressing for their country.

My project seeks to study the narratives and experiences of Timorese women and their perspectives on how conceptions of gender, peace, and agency in Timor-Leste play out their lives. How do women view themselves and their capacity to stay involved in an incredibly dynamic and ever-changing political, economic, and social context? What are the ways in which women feel they are most able to contribute existing knowledge and participate in conversations around gender? What do they believe are the challenges facing Timorese women’s full social, political, and financial inclusion into society, and what would help with these challenges?


Photo of women selling vegetables in the Comoro neighborhood of Dili (photo by Alexandra Da Dalt).

Dili, the capital, serves as a hub for many people from all 13 districts of the country, and I am speaking with urban women of varying ages, socioeconomic class, and ethnic/language groups. I am hoping to determine educational initiatives, services, and programs that women would most like to see, and to identify future directions and raise awareness about the issues they believe are affecting their lives and their country.

I am looking forward to hearing about the work of the rest of the AC4 fellows. Best wishes for the beginning of a new term!

Photo of the families fishing in the sunset at Dili Beach (photo by Alexandra Da Dalt).

Photo of the families fishing in the sunset at Dili Beach (photo by Alexandra Da Dalt).

Author: Alexandra is a master’s student in the Teachers College International Educational Development program, with a concentration in Peace and Human Rights Education. With her AC4 grant, she travelled to Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor).

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  • Meredith Smith says:

    Love your photos, Alexandra! I wonder how you have/are choosing the women you’re talking with, and would love to hear more about your interview process and how you get the narratives you’re studying.

  • Alexandra Da Dalt says:

    Thanks very much for your questions, Meredith! To choose the women I spoke with, I initially had planned to post flyers and distribute information at local women’s NGOs. However, due to low literacy rates among many women and concern about the validity of the consent to be interviewed due to the situation of many women that receive services from these organizations, the strategy was adjusted.

    My translator and I instead approached women in public spaces where women gather, and if the interviewee agreed to participate, we proceeded to conduct the interview in a safe, private space of her choosing. Locations where we spoke to women included markets, after-church social groups, and the local beach.

    The interview process was gender- and conflict- sensitive, and was very open to ensure that the interviewee could narrate her experience and define the critical issues as she defined them. Questions included, “What do you think are the biggest challenges women face in their communities?”, “When thinking about the future, do you have any worries? What are those worries?”, and “What would make your life more peaceful?”. These questions prompted a very interesting variety of answers, though common themes emerged about concerns about women’s rights, the political stability of the country, economic hardship, and the ways in which women interact/support each other through these challenges.

    Looking forward to sharing more findings as the study develops!

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