Spotlight Zero Programme to Achieve Gender Equality in Timor Leste

July 04, 2020

New Delhi: The European Union (EU) has partnered with the United Nations (UN) and pledged USD 1 million for Project Spotlight in Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste or East Timor is a Southeast Asian nation occupying half the island of Timor. Project Spotlight is a multi-year project between the EU and UN and works in incremental steps to achieve gender equality by 2030 with an approximate budget of USD 550 million. Timor-Leste is one of the youngest countries in the Asia-Pacific region and in terms of human development index stands at 0.626 in 2018.

The Prime Minister, Rui Maria de Araújo, made the official farewell to the members of the NUS-TL on July 24th
The Prime Minister, Rui Maria de Araújo, made the official farewell to the members of the NUS-TL. 5

Unlike the liberal peace building measures undertaken by the UN in East Timor, Project Spotlight is an inclusive bottom-up effort to not only improve government services but also eradicate societal prejudices and psychological obstructions which inhibit growth of women and strengthen Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 pillar of growth in East Timor, SDG 4 regarding quality education and SDG 10 for reduced inequalities in society. To begin with, Project Spotlight undertook work in three priority municipalities of Bobonaro, Ermera and Viqueque. The project aims at social reformation of women’s position by eliminating existing prejudices and promoting positive social norms. It also wants to work at the governmental and institutional level to strengthen law enforcement mechanisms and accessibility of justice to survivors.

The government has taken landmark decisions to ensure sustainable growth in gender equality including the Declaration of Maubise signed on International Women’s Day (8 March) 2015 to provide legal, economic and human rights access to more than 70 percent of the rural female population of East Timor. Apart from providing a boost to women by providing skill training in the rural sector and easy access to credit, the Declaration also has a 30 percent quota reservation which enables women to train in management, marketing, trade and advertising. Even in the field of women’s political participation, Timor-Leste could prove to be a brilliant example for many young countries and show the path to achieve a more structurally equal society in terms of gender.  The Village (Suco) Law which was enacted in July 2016, made the participation of at least one woman per Suco compulsory to stand for elections for the post of the Suco Chief. In November 2016, 21 women were elected, representing 4.5 percent of all Suco chiefs. Currently, the figure is at 38 percent which is the highest in Asia-Pacific. In 2017, the government enacted a second National Action Plan on Gender-based Violence (GBV), which like the Project Spotlight programme aims at eradicating gender-based violence through a multi-faceted effort with four major pillars—prevention, improvement of justice accessibility, provision of increased services to survivors in order to ensure their assimilation into society and, a programme for monitoring and evaluating the progress made.1

The 2018 female HDI value for Timor-Leste is 0.589 against 0.655 for males, resulting in a Gender Development Index of value of 0.899. The GDI takes into account life expectancy, expected years of education and GNI per capita. In terms of SDG 3 comprising of Life expectancy at birth, the women have a better score at 71.4 years against male population that stands at 67.3 years. In terms of SDG 4.3 which includes expected years of schooling, Timorese women are at 12.0 years while Timorese men are at 12.8 years. With regard to SDG 8, 5 which compares the GNI per capita, Timor stands at 5,389 per capita for women and 9,618 for men. This huge gap is largely due to the lack of women’s initiatives in the economic field due to traditionally normalised gender roles within the household that are seen as more “acceptable.” 2

Even though Timor-Leste is in category five in terms of GDI and ranks 132 out of 166 countries, its relative growth as compared to its contemporaries has to be applauded. Unlike Solomon Islands which gained independence in 1978 and ranks 152 in the category of ‘low GDI,’ Timor-Leste, which became independent in 2002, is at a better position with respect to women’s empowerment.3

However, in the Asia-Pacific region, Timor-Leste has much work to be done. Despite all the progress, there is still a lot of scope to achieve SDG 5 regarding gender equality. Project Spotlight estimates that around 38 percent to 59 percent of women still experience violence in their lifetime.4 Data collection measures will have to be strengthened, particularly in rural areas, where half the cases of GBV and gender inequalities go unnoticed and unreported.

(Tamanna Dahiya is an intern with OneWorld Foundation India)


1 “Timor-Leste Steps It up: Affirms Ending Gender Discrimination an Ongoing Priority in Commitment to the SDGs and Beijing Platform for Action (Updated).” UN Women, (Accessed June 20, 2020)

2 2018, Human Development Report 2019 Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century Briefing Note for Countries on the 2019 Human Development Report. (Accessed June 20, 2020)

3 “Human Development Reports.” | Human Development Reports, 2017

, (Accessed June 20, 2020)

4 “Spotlight Initiative Launches in Timor-Leste.” Spotlight Initiative, 5 Mar. 2020, (Accessed June 20, 2020) (Accessed June 20, 2020)