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Frédéric Durand
Christine Cabasset-Semedo

Part 4. Tracks for the construction of the future

Human safety, security and resilience: Making narrative spaces for dissent in Timor-Leste

Jacqueline Aquino Siapno

Texte intégral

  • 254 Jacqueline Aquino Siapno, May 2008, “Re-defining Security: Articulating the Female in the PNTL and (...)

“Hau bele heteten iha diskriminasaun. Tamba sa? Desde 2001 to’o agora, ami nunka hare feto ida atu sai divisa (iha Lautem). Nunka hare feto ida atu tuir treino. Kursus mane deit… mane hili deit mane sira atu tuir kursus. Tuir kursus barak liu mane. Se bele karik, ami feto moos dilibatkan… fo oportunidade ba ami feto sira atu bele hakaat ba oin. Atu koalia deit ba oin moos la bele, so mane deit.” (Entrevista ho Feto PNTL, Lautem.)254
(Translation: “I can say that there is discrimination. Why? Because since 2001 up to now, we have never seen a female being promoted (in Lautem). Never seen a female being sent for training. Training courses seem to be just for males… males choose other males to undergo more training. Those who get to have more training are predominantly male. If possible, we women should also be included… to give us an opportunity to step forward. Even speaking in public is not allowed, only men are allowed.” (Interview with female PNTL Officer, Lautem.)

  • 255 Timothy Mitchell makes a powerful analysis of this in his chapter on “Nobody Listens to a Poor Man” (...)

1In Timor-Leste, the process of building a new nation in Southeast Asia in the 21st Century has unfortunately, as has happened in other Third World countries coming out of colonialism, often excluded the narratives and lived experiences of villagers in the rural districts and especially of poor women (including female ex-Falintil veterans), the elderly, children, and peasant farmers. Nobody listens to a poor man, a poor woman, or a poor child255. In his book, “Seeing Like a State”, James Scott argues that certain kinds of seeing (e.g. state simplifications of complex phenomena) are necessary in order for the state to be able to organize and govern. In the case of the first quote above, for example, the official rhetoric of the state is that “there is no discrimination” (against women in the PNTL or FFDTL, or against the Petisionarios-FFDTL who left the armed forces in 2006.) At the level of political rhetoric/ideals, there is strong state support for equality, but in everyday reality and practice, classic patriarchy in the home, in village councils and national institutions which continue to be predominantly male and male-dominated provides little democratic space for women, except for a few elite women (e.g. at present there are 5 women in the Council of Ministers and 19 women MPs out of 65 MPs in Parliament). The crucial issue however is not “adding more women and stir” (at the elite level), but valuing, respecting, and recognizing the work the village peasant women, mothers, and girls as farmers, primary child and elderly-caregivers, community educators, household managers, peacemakers, who constitute the backbone of the nation-building process, but who in the current division of labour are tasks that are extremely undervalued, unpaid, and considered “inferior”. It will be very tragic indeed, but also a rather predictable pattern, which has already happened in other post-colonial societies, if political party machines only “use’ poor people to get power, instead of the other way around: poor people “using” political parties to improve their life conditions.

  • 256 I am saying this also from a personal perspective of someone who lives in an “official state reside (...)
  • 257 Op. Cit. Jacqueline A. Siapno, May 2008.

2Not only is there a way of “seeing like a state”, there is also a style of “representing the state” through various mechanisms,256 among them the increasing prominence given to militaristic parades during November 28 (declaration of Independence) and May 20 (restoration of Independence) each year. One of the representations of the new nationstate is that it is “mentally healthy”, inspite of the fact that numerous psycho-social reports, and even the current work-in-progress internal “State of the Nation” report acknowledges that many people continue to suffer from trauma (see for example the work of Pradet), post-traumatic stress disorder, and other health problems as a result of the crisis of 2006, and up to now have not had psychological counselling, or medical treatment for PNTL women, and ex-Falintil women for that matter, who continue to have bullet wounds in their bodies257. Another sensitive issue on which several sectors of the state seem to be “in denial” is corruption, the permeability of the state, and the porousness of borders (during our research on PNTL and FFDTL in the borders, we uncovered evidence, for example that TNI illegal businesses which existed during the Indonesian occupation, such as smuggling continue to this day). This paper attempts to look at some of the ways of seeing and narrating “like a state” and the counter-hegemonic narrative spaces from seeing like an ordinary person in the villages who are often unable to speak, or speak only with a great deal of trepidation, against state power.

  • 258 Antonio Gramsci, 1971, “State and Civil Society,” and “The Formation of Intellectuals”.
  • 259 Louis Althusser, 1984, Essays on Ideology.

3In his analysis about “hegemony”, Gramsci argues that rather than viewing “civil society” as a limit upon or a counter-balance against state power, “the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private’” – including civic associations and religious institutions – helps to maintain the power of the bourgeois state by facilitating rule through the mobilization of consent, or, in his terminology, hegemony, perhaps most commonly defined from his writings as “the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group258. Gramsci’s work sketches the continuous movement of an expanding capitalist class as it seeks, in a gradual fashion and with varying degrees of success, to absorb allied and even antagonistic groups into a dominant bloc of social forces through a range of methods and mechanisms. Louis Althusser further elaborated the role of a plurality of private and public institutions – or “ideological state apparatuses” – in the mobilization and reproduction of consent. The process of mobilizing and reproducing consent, Althusser argued, involves the “interpellation” of the “individual as a [free] subject… in order that he shall [freely] accept his subjection”259.

  • 260 The School of Democratic Economics (SDE) is a cross-border learning-network in Southeast Asia, foun (...)
  • 261 See for example, Jacqueline A. Siapno, 2002, “The Problem of Power in History and Historiography: W (...)

4During the process of setting-up the “School of Democratic Economics” (SDE)260 in Timor-Leste, so as to introduce a new kind of governance and new methods of learning, the founder of SDE Hendro Sangkoyo, would often interrogate conventional methods of mapping: “Timor-Leste is a part of Maubara village. Not Maubara village is a part of Timor-Leste.” It can be argued that nation-building has been run primarily by a group of “old boys’networks” and their “bureaucratic capital”, and that development administration has become increasingly centralized in Dili. The rhetorical structure of most public meetings is such that the hierarchical arrangement in society – from the highest ranking in descending order -- is also socially represented in the opening greetings: “Hau nia respeita ba Senyor Presidente, Presidente Parlamento, Primeiro Ministro…” from the most important person to the least important in descending order – a social representation of who is deemed “worthy” of taking up public space (predominantly men), who can speak, who can criticize. There is a paradox between the ideals of democratization which is often lauded and the everyday reality of the continuing resilience of a traditional culture of hierarchy and “phenomena ema boot” (literally, “big people”, are allowed to speak first) and also “ema matenek” (literally, “the intelligent ones”, but it can also mean “those who think they know it all”), in descending order of importance in the state bureaucracy. This is not unusual to Timor-Leste – it was also the regime of order in the Malay world, in Aceh, in traditional hikayat, where everyone from the sultan to the slave knew their place, where to sit, which color can be worn by whom, and in what level of language one can address the “rulers”261. This article is an attempt at articulating another “narrative space” – listening to the common sense analysis, embodied experiences, and perspectives of “ema kiik” (literally, “little people”)-young and old women in rural villages, disempowered youth and students, and discriminated policewomen and military women – mostly articulated in whispered confidences, speaking with a great deal of trepidation, repressed speech, hidden transcripts, and unfulfilled speech acts.

  • 262 For in-depth analysis of the negotiations between Timor-Leste and Australia, see reports by NGOs su (...)

5The gap between the new methods of learning and the old ways of learning and governing are most evident, for example, in “Security Sector Reform” (SSR). The question of “human safety” and “national security” (which often prioritizes militarized security rather than food security) is often hijacked by so-called “alto nivel” (high level) government officials and their “expert advisors” (often excluding, if not marginalizing safety at the household and village levels). The budget for Defense for example (US $53.850 million) is larger than the budget for Education (US $51.359 million), in the July 2008 budget ratification. In a recent meeting on the “State of the Defence Sector”, the Secretary of State for Defence, Julio Tomas Pinto, spoke of the importance of making as wide a consultation as possible (“halo consultasaun ba ema barak”) in formulating a National Security Policy (Politika Seguransa Nasional). In practice however, even key leaders in civil society organizations, for example Jose Luis Oliveira in Assosiasaun Hak, expressed strong concern that they do not even have any access to, have not seen nor read, nor have any idea about what Forsa 2020 is about (the Defence Plan 2020) produced by the Ministry of Defence. One of the predominant ideas about “security”, outlined in the Forsa 2020, but also in current state and even civil society discussions, is that Timor-Leste needs hightech equipment and military, naval, coastguard resources to guard its most “valuable” resource in the sea: oil. But can you really guard the oil with armed forces? Even if Timor-Leste invested all its money to buy more military equipment, it could still not compete with Australia and Indonesia – whose military might is far superior. Would it not be better to focus on negotiations with Australia? In withdrawing from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and unilaterally issuing licences, Australia has shown greedy contempt for international law.262 A similar situation exists with regards to “weak” negotiations vis-à-vis Indonesia, in terms of “Truth and Reconciliation”: when Acehnese who wanted to learn from the TRC experience of East Timor, asked a PNTL officer, Agent Inacio Leto Mali Soares, why the Timor-Leste government does not have the political will to push for the Indonesian Generals to go to prison for their crimes against humanity, he responded: “Because almost 100% of the goods that make up our basic needs are imported from Indonesia.” Hendro Sangkoyo notes that this kind of “common sense wisdom if not genius,” as in the example above, often takes two years for other so-called “scientific experts” to research, but for ordinary people struggling to survive – this sharp economic insight comes from socially-embedded, embodied everyday experience.

1-New methods of local and international collaboration not based on domination?

  • 263 Joseph Stiglitz, 2002, “Broken Promises”.

6Economic development and the formulation of a “National Development Plan” is also often assigned to a small group of “ema matenek elite,” with a propensity to depend on the World Bank, IMF, UNDP and other advisors. Yet writing about the IMF and WB, Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist in the WB and Adviser to former President Clinton writes: “the IMF casts itself as the monopoly supplier of “sound” advice…” but “such organizations are opaque rather than transparent, and not only does far too little information radiate from inside to the outside world, perhaps even less information from outside is able to penetrate the organization. The opaqueness also means that it is hard for information from the bottom of the organization to percolate to the top263.

  • 264 See "National Priorities: Working Together to Build the Foundations for Peace and Stability and Imp (...)

7In the current government, inspite of the political will of Alianca Maioria Parlamentaria (AMP) to promote the nationalist idea of “Ita Timor oan moos bele” (“We Timorese can also do this,” the words of the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, often cited by the Minister of Economy and Development, and the Commission on Research and Development responsible for designing the “Relatorio do Estado da Nasaun” upon which the “Plano Desenvolvimento Nasional” (National Development Plan) will be based), in practice, it is not only a question of “changing of guards” or personnel, but a more fundamental problem of a continuum of similar paradigms. It is instructive to return to and reflect upon Frantz Fanon’s diagnosis in “The Wretched of the Earth”: colonial rulers leave, but they are replaced by the national elite who may be indigenous, but because they are products of anti-democratic colonial systems and of colonial mentality, will continue to think and behave like their previous colonizers, unless a process of de-colonization of the mind is initiated. While the AMP government’s identification of “2008 National Priorities”264 (written for them with assistance from the WB) looks ideal on paper, it remains to be seen how the gap between state power idealism and its implementation in the rural districts, especially amongst groups that are often left-out, will unfold. There is also always this lurking spectre of how much sense of “national ownership” the Timorese government and other stakeholders have over these “ideal” plans designed together with international agencies and advisers.

8Ironically, key leaders in the government often talk about “primeira vez Timor oan halo” (the first time that Timorese are making this) – i.e. the current State of the Nation Report and National Development Plan – focusing primarily on “race” and on people, but not on problematic systems and structures. In an informal conversation I had with a highranking UN official, he (Finn Riske Nielsen, UN Deputy SRSG) noted: “It seems that members of Parliament and the government hardly know anything about the Petroleum Fund.” In December 2008, through the School of Democratic Economics, I organized a Seminar on the Petroleum Fund in the Universidade Nacional Timor-Leste, where a member of the PF Advisory Board Council, Francisco Vasconcelos and Researcher from Luta Hamutuk, Tomas Freitas, gave presentations. During that discussion, we were able to identify the gaps in terms of students, civil society, Parliament’s, and government’s knowledge about the Petroleum Fund.

  • 265 Op. Cit. Jacqueline A. Siapno, May 2008.

9Another example of the gap between state ideals and everyday reality is on “border control” and the importance of the role of the security institutions (i.e. police and military) in stopping illegal border activities. In everyday practice, however, smuggling and other illegal activities, including the continuum of TNI illegal businesses continue to be rife, with the involvement of PNTL forces.265 For poor women in Oecussi, smuggling is the only way to survive, as the prices of imported goods continue to rise. The borders as a productive, not just a statedisciplining site, for all kinds of trade and exchange activities, but also of violence, continues to be a complex phenomenon which is under-studied in Timor-Leste. As one example, the current Unit Commander of Unidade Patrolha Fronteira (Border Patrol Unit) dismissed 33 female PNTL in UPF, apparently for no reason, other than that “they are female and unsuitable for the tasks involved in the UPF, and that the conditions and infrastructure does not allow females to work on the borders.” We conducted interviews with female PNTL ex-UPF, now posted in Maliana, who were very angry about their arbitrary dismissal. Apparently, the Commander did not even send them a formal letter of dismissal nor an explanation for why they were being removed from UPF. High-level males who are in charge of policy and administration continued the refrain of justification that the infrastructural conditions in the borders are not suitable for women (i.e. lack of toilets for women, separate rooms for women). However, the women PNTL argued that it is not a question of them asking to be provided with female toilets, it is a problem of their male Commander suddenly dismissing them without notice and explanation (the previous two male Commanders before him were supportive of women). Furthermore, they argued that they want to work in challenging conditions, and had undergone the rigorous physical training for UPF, in the expectation that they would be working under difficult conditions. For one Commander to decide by himself that they (33 PNTL women) are “a vulnerable group” and should be taken-out of UPF was “unacceptable” to them.

10More interesting, however, is that what seemed like a “gender issue” primarily, turns out to be a “corruption” problem: when we crosschecked with a high-level official about this “border problem”, he informed us that the border is “ripe” with all kinds of possibilities for making money, smuggling, human trafficking of young Timorese girls to TNI officials, and other illegal activities (with the involvement of high-ranking Police officers, including in Immigration). We asked him: “Is it possible that the women were taken out in order to enable these activities to continue? Were the women also involved in these money-making illegal activities, or were they kept out?” One of the problems we identified is that specific policemen who were already police under the Indonesian occupation, seem to have continued “normalized corruption” to this day. It would indeed be very difficult to “reform” them, unless someone could come up with a reform system that could de-colonize their minds, mentality, attitudes, and behaviors, and provide them with higher salaries so that they would be more sustainable and not be “vulnerable to corruption”.

11In the process of conducting research to set up the School of Democratic Economics in rural villages, Hendro Sangkoyo asked the question: “What is the most pressing, crucial, stressful issue that keeps you awake at night, that makes husbands and wives in this village fight? What are the new forms of domination that makes your community want to resist?” We received a wide range of answers – from the recent increase in rice prices (from US $13 to US $25, with the government providing a subsidy that has brought it down in some districts to US $17); increase in fuel prices; the lack of access to clean water; reports of political violence experienced by villagers during the recent Operasaun Conjunta (conducted by PNTL and FFDTL in search of the “rebels”); to female teachers in rural schools wondering if local/indigenous mother tongues (e.g. Kemak, in Atabae) can represent knowledge/s (as opposed to the pervasive colonial mentality that only Portuguese, Indonesian, English and other foreign languages can express “higher knowledge”). Can indigenous mother tongues/local languages represent knowledge and what are the impacts of this in many different fronts? If local languages (and there are approximately 32) are given the narrative space to express and produce new knowledge, one impact is that ordinary people in the rural districts can grab the governance (economic, political, linguistic, socio-ecological) into their own hands. The idea for creating cross-border collaborative learning spaces is to engender new methods of learning (as the hierarchical, anti-democratic, and colonial methods have not only been ineffective, but damaging). In effect, most of the work that teachers now have to do within East Timor (whether in formal or informal schools, at the primary to tertiary levels) is to first “de-colonize the mind” (as Ngugi wa Thiongo would phrase it.)

  • 266 See for example the UN Commission on Investigation Report on the 2006 crisis.

12Hendro Sangkoyo argues that when he presented the SDE framework to intellectual and political elite audiences in the urban cities of Southeast Asia, they often complained that it was “too complicated”, “too sophisticated” and difficult. However, whenever he presented it to audiences in the rural villages, women in particular often grasped the food-water-energy nexus at the local-national-regional and global levels immediately: because they are often responsible for everyday survival for their families. I am making a parallel argument about “political economy” with that of “security”: ordinary mothers of small children are often preoccupied about safety in the household level and security in the neighborhood and community level, if not the national level. And yet, for some reason, in the recent history of Timor-Leste, “security” has been hijacked by “international security experts/advisers”, a small group of predominantly male elite who often make decisions behind closed doors, without conducting a broader process of “consulta” (which has a different meaning in the Latin American context, closer to “referendum”, but different from the English “consultation”). One of the serious questions to be asked about nation-building is this: what happens when there is an increasing political (not just geographical) distance (whether real or imagined) between the women, young girls, elderly women in the villages who are in reality, in charge of everyday survival – from human safety to food security, resistance against domination, and resilience – to the small group of men in Dili in charge of key national institutions to whom almost all key decision-making in this country are centralized? What happens when young female students and female PNTL and FFDTL from the rural districts fall silent, give in to domination, marginalization, and discrimination, because they feel they have no agency to resist, their voices are not listened to, and they begin to believe that they have no capacity to effect any change in their local communities, transformation in the national leadership, or push for reform in institutions? For example, one “regime of truth” that continues to be pervasive and almost un-questioned is that the F-FDTL (military) is the “symbol of affirmation of independence, symbol of pride” (“simbolo de afirmasaun da independencia, simbolo de orgulho” – Brig. Gen. Taur Matan Ruak’s words). Any critical questioning of some military personnel, for example, who “act above the law”, especially during the 2006 crisis266 and the recent Operasaun Conjunta to “capture” the rebels, in terms of violations of human rights, is considered almost unacceptable. The rhetoric of “this is a liberation army of the people”, prevails – a rhetoric which enacts its own symbolic violence in its capacity to sustain a “regime of truth” that makes it impossible for its victims to raise questions.

13At a meeting in the rural district of Atabae to celebrate the 6th Commemoration of the Restoration of Independence on May 20, 2008, villagers asked questions, posed criticisms to, and gave recommendations to the President of Parliament, Members of Parliament, and Secretaries of State. Out of a total of 15 questions/recommendations from villagers, only 2 were from women, and only after I had whispered to the district organizer: “Is this an all-male dialogue?” – at which point he stood up and asked the moderator if there were questions from the women. The final question was from a young woman, a primary school teacher, who gave a poignant and powerful explanation about her dilemma in reference to the current language policy. Her question was: “We are being told that the educational curriculum should be taught in Tetun and Portuguese. But what about our local mother tongue (lingua materna) – Kemak – can’t we express and represent knowledge in Kemak too? The problem is that some of the villagers do not understand Tetun well, let alone Portuguese. So what do we do?” This problem is pervasive in the districts and in Dili, and not only in the village schools, but in the university. In a focusedgroup-discussion we conducted with Lecturers in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, UNTL, Hendro Sangkoyo and I identified several crucial problems, among them: 1/a highly extractive research industry that values “external experts” and inferiorizes local intellectual and social capital, treating Timorese primarily as “research assistants”; 2/a continuing dependence on Bahasa Indonesia as the language for writing thesis and research papers and simultaneously, a politics of citation that is highly dependent on Indonesian-language references (almost to the total exclusion of other languages). Perhaps this comes from a severe lack of confidence, even insecurity, if not a colonial mentality of inferiority that has no confidence in Oral History, Timorese languages and local mother tongues as a “gold mine” for the production of new knowledge. This is not unique to Timor-Leste. It also occurred in Vietnam and the Philippines after independence, with many nationalists framing our previous education under the colonial regimes as a “miseducation” (in the Philippine context, see for example the writings of Renato Constantino, Jose Rizal). When Lecturers in UNTL think of “theory” and “theorizing” they primarily refer to and cite Indonesian writers/thinkers translating the works of other European or American intellectuals to Bahasa Indonesia. When we offered other possibilities on what “theory” means, what “theorizing” is about, i.e. that villager’s common sense ideas about the economy or about security are as relevant, if not more so, than the so-called “scientific expert from New York”, and that “Oral History” and local languages are primary sources for representing knowledge, they were amazed. They are used to anthropologists and linguists objectifying folk culture and valuing local knowledge in the village, but not in taking control and determining what kind of solid research agenda to pursue for the long term, and which research questions are relevant to the Timorese context.

14In effect, we felt that the first thing we had to do was deconstruct, unpack, if not destroy the structure of colonial mentality first, i.e. decolonize the mind, before we could even proceed to other arenas. Teaching young girls and women in Timor-Leste is especially challenging: they hardly attend meetings in the villages (they are often delegated to do the cooking and serving tea and coffee) and/or hardly speak in the meetings. Yet when they are given the opportunity to speak, it is often the case that they give the sharpest analysis of economic and/or security problems in the village level or the national level, as they struggle to balance breast-feeding in public meetings while at the same time articulating the shape of violence in their communities. Listening to their narratives and learning how to read silences gives us a very different idea of the shape of violence and domination in Timor-Leste.

2-New Methods of learning about Human Safety, Security and Resilience: From “High-Level” to “Common Sense”

15On the road while conducting research (through interviews, focused-group discussions, compilation of documents) on SDE, dance and resilience, and women in the PNTL and F-FDTL, I reflected on extreme opposites: what would “national security” and “security sector reform” look like if it was not just formulated by an exclusive group of “alto nivel” (high level) security bureaucrats, advisers, and “experts”, but was more inclusive, consultative, participatory and included, for example, mothers who are concerned for the safety and security of their children? How would women and mothers write a “national security policy” or a “police reform policy” – while simultaneously watching over their children, making sure they do not get into an accident, providing “food security” (which is often prioritized at the bottom, while “militarized security” is on top) for everyone in the household, working to stop violence in their neighborhoods? Would a mother trust a “rule of experts” and “advisers” at the “alto nivel”, who intentionally exclude her and the rest of the population from any “high level” meetings about security? If a road-map for a “national security policy” were made, without consulting women in the PNTL and F-FDTL, mothers, children, ex-Falintil women, and other groups in civil society, can that “national security policy” be truly called “representative” of people’s assessments of their own sources of security and insecurity? Why is it that ordinary people who have so much to offer are continually being marginalized, and instead we keep going back to the same politicians, bureaucrats, and mainstream thinkers?

16Continuing with this sociological imagination on “extreme opposite”, one might reflect on what would happen if the statistics from PNTL and F-FDTL were inverted? What if there were 2613 female PNTL and only 581 male PNTL? What if there were 645 female F-FDTL and only 61 male F-FDTL? No doubt that the policies would be very different. For example, maternity leave would probably be 12 months or more (and with pay), rather than 3 months (as currently exists in PNTL) or 6 months (in F-FDTL). There would most definitely be a childcare center in the institutions to support the work of the “Female Commanders and Generals”. According to the official statistics from the PNTL Human Resources, there are 581 policewomen in the PNTL. 2613 male policemen totalling: 3194. The large majority of women are in the lowest ranks (which means a very small minority are involved in keydecision making, if any.) The highest rank a female has achieved in the PNTL is Inspector. There is only one female Inspector (Inspector Umbelina in the PNTL Headquarters), compared to 22 male Inspectors (only in the PNTL HQ in Dili). There are a few female Sub-Inspectors, but the large majority of women are Agents and Recruit Agents. The minimum qualification for recruitment is completing SMA (High School Degree). The large majority of them have stayed in the same initial position after recruitment (i.e. have not been promoted at all) for as long as 7 years. According to the official statistics from the F-FDTL Human Resources, there are currently (after the 2006 crisis) 61 women F-FDTL, in the midst of 645 men in the F-FDTL. The majority of them are in the rank of “soldado/soldiers”. The highest rank achieved by females is Second Sargent (there are about 7 women in this rank).

  • 267 I say “predominantly males” and “male-dominated” because there are very few women actually involved (...)
  • 268 See for example: Dylan Hendrickson of the Conflict, Security and Development Group at King’s Colleg (...)

17As one critically reflects on the problem that everybody and their uncle involved in formulating the “national security policy”, “security sector reform” and “peacekeeping” are predominantly male (from the government leaders, their security “experts and advisers”, to the PNTL, F-FDTL, UN Police, International “Stabilization” Forces (ISF), church leaders, and gang leaders), one begins to wonder: has it always been this way? A parallel argument can be made for “economic development”. Is there or was there no alternate history of women’s participation in the politics of safety and security, and resilience in the process of nationbuilding? When people talk about “safety” (keselamatan), do they include in their paradigm, village women who are often responsible for the food security and physical survival of their families in an everyday basis? When they discuss “security”, are women ex-combatants (e.g. Falintil veterans) who played such an important role during the struggle for independence, and made huge life sacrifices including giving up their own possibilities for education, romance, individual growth, included or excluded? Are the “feto balun” (the widows) of the PNTL and F-FDTL who were killed in May 2006 and their children, and their perspectives on “safety and security” included? Are the wife and children of Salsinha, and the widow of Alfredo included? What about the analyses of women F-FDTL and PNTL who joined the Operasaun Konjunta? In times of crisis, are those who are feminised portrayed and/or are constituted as needing to be benevolently protected by militarized masculinities? Are the dominant males and predominantly male peacekeeping forces really providing security or are they just putting on a spectacle of “performing security”?267 The government, UN, INGOs, and NGOs continually hold seminars, briefings, and the British government (through DFID) has provided support for police reform, while the US government has sent advisors to the military. Portugal and Australia are also heavily involved in “security sector reform”. What is interesting about many of the discussions and reports is that they are mostly gender-blind, and almost always exclude women, except for a few token “media representatives” to represent “gender balance”268.


  • 269 See also Jacqueline Siapno, 2006, “The Bitter Taste of Victory”.
  • 270 Correspondence, Professor Sondra Hale, Dept. of Anthropology and Women’s Studies, UCLA, November 20 (...)
  • 271 For an illuminating analysis of Alexandra Kollontay and Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of Lenin, see Jam (...)

18The story of “brave warriors, betrayed revolutions” in a “new battlefield” is not a new story. In fact, most revolutions in the modern world have been sadly disappointing in their erosion of egalitarian ideals and practices after the struggles for independence. We have yet to learn thoughtfully across conflicts. We see the same depressing, repetitive, but instructive narratives unfolding in several armed movements in the Third World, especially in South and Southeast Asia, such as in “post-conflict” Aceh (with GAM “claiming” sole representation)269, the LTTE (Sri Lanka), the Maoist Communist Party (Nepal)… where women within the party and women’s groups outside are questioning the legitimacy of these male-dominated armed groups claiming to be the “sole representative” of the struggles for social justice in their societies. Sondra Hale, an anthropologist and radical feminist who has worked for a long time in Eritrea and Sudan, teaches us270 about the highly instructive example of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (ETLF) in Eritrea: having been so radical and idealistic, were completely captivated during the revolution by the writings and ideas of Alexandra Kollontay and Rosa Luxemburg271, but once the war was over and Eritrea became independent, ideals became eroded.

19The story is not just that of the ETLF and Eritrea. It is instructive because other independence struggles after war seem to be going down this path such as the case of Aceh (under GAM leadership) and possibly East Timor. I cite the comparative discussions above to historically contextualize the formation of women within police forces and militaries, and at the same time to understand the formation of “masculinities” as production/s and construction/s of particular societies.

  • 272 For a fascinating analysis of gangs and so-called “martial arts groups” in East Timor, see for exam (...)
  • 273 See for example, J.S. Furnivall, 1956 Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma an (...)

20What we need in perpetual conflict environments like East Timor is not more Australian or Portuguese, UN and ISF, PNTL or FFDTL armed forces patrolling in the streets and supermarkets, but learning from and listening to increasingly marginalized youth in the rural areas, gang leaders, elderly women and men who hold significant village historical memories on ecological and cosmological systems272. Alternative approaches to stronger diplomacy – not being dominated again by the two neighboring countries (Australia and Indonesia), having a quite confidence about sovereignty, rather than displaying machismo in military parades every May 20 and November 28, would be a much healthier reflection on designing a nation-state, rather than repeating the same mistakes in other countries such as Burma273, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam whose distorted and narrow understandings of “nationalism” crippled our learning processes.

21In this regard, it is absolutely necessary, for our survival, to begin new methods of learning, new methods of governance, new methods of international and local collaboration – to learn from local knowledge, cosmologies, and paradigms on human safety and security. To engender a politics that is about promoting socio-ecological integrity-more of a dance like Sau Batar, an art, a way of harmonizing with nature, rather than a killing spree, or domination, is the challenge we face, if we are to survive sustainably into the future in East Timor and in Southeast Asia more generally. It is certainly a lot less costly and more sustainable, than spending a huge proportion of the national budget on militarized security and defense (larger than the budget for Education), and marginalizing socio-ecological integrity and ethics. The poverty of our imagination has prevented us from reflecting on the disastrous consequences of our incapacity to heal or even begin to acknowledge that which has been broken and destroyed. It is a lot healthier for the national psyche and emotional healing when we focus on producing new knowledge and new methods of learning and teaching in the villages, with ordinary girls, women, and peasants producing their own assessments about safety, security, and resilience, rather than knowledge and power being hijacked by an exclusive ''alto-nivel'' elite, and dependency on an external “rule of experts”.

Women of the FFDTL. © Jacqueline Siapno.

Woman from the former clandestine movement. © Jacqueline Siapno.


254 Jacqueline Aquino Siapno, May 2008, “Re-defining Security: Articulating the Female in the PNTL and F-FDTL, Timor-Leste” Dili.

255 Timothy Mitchell makes a powerful analysis of this in his chapter on “Nobody Listens to a Poor Man”, 2002. On resilience and “speaking beyond trauma”, Sylvia Tiwon argues that there is a tendency to professionalize “victims” to speak trauma only, but not beyond. Engaging Spivak’s article “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” Tiwon argues that the subaltern does speak, but we are not equipped, we do not have the capacity, patience, nor training to listen. She argues that subaltern women, in particular, do speak – but we do not listen. See Sylvia Tiwon, 2007, “Narratives of Women’s Experiences,” Paper presented to conference on “The Peace Process in Aceh,” Asia Center, Harvard University, Oct. 24-27, 2007.

256 I am saying this also from a personal perspective of someone who lives in an “official state residence” (the home of the President of National Parliament in Farol) and is also disciplined by protocols of “state representation” when “appearing in public”, but is also privileged in observing and tracing some of the minute transformations in personnel and policy decision-making within the government.

257 Op. Cit. Jacqueline A. Siapno, May 2008.

258 Antonio Gramsci, 1971, “State and Civil Society,” and “The Formation of Intellectuals”.

259 Louis Althusser, 1984, Essays on Ideology.

260 The School of Democratic Economics (SDE) is a cross-border learning-network in Southeast Asia, founded by Dr. Hendro Sangkoyo, who is based in Jakarta. The SDE framework is based upon more than ten years of ethnographic fieldwork in different societies in Southeast Asia, providing an analytical framework for food-water-energy nexus on the theoretical and applied (local, national, and global) levels. At the social-praxis level, SDE has worked directly with villages, developing field schools, as well as collaborating with progressive scholars and economic policy-makers. SDE also facilitates curricular reform and course material development to reclaim the social-ecological in the modalities of economic expansion and in understanding the state of the crises in Southeast Asian countries (for example, to this day, most universities in Southeast Asia, including Timor-Leste, only teach neo-liberal economics.) SDE also works with government Ministries to develop a more inclusive, participatory, and consultative “National Development Plan”, which can sometimes be hijacked and held hostage by the hyperfragmented nature of ministerial portfolios and the absence of vision and political will of key political figures and stakeholders.

261 See for example, Jacqueline A. Siapno, 2002, “The Problem of Power in History and Historiography: Women in Acehnese and Malay Texts,” in Gender, Islam, Nationalism and the State: The Paradox of Power, Co-optation and Resistance.

262 For in-depth analysis of the negotiations between Timor-Leste and Australia, see reports by NGOs such as Lao Hamotuk, ETAN, Haburas; also, Kathryn Kamsi, “A Settlement to the Timor Sea Dispute?,” Harvard Asia Quarterly, Volume IX, No. 4, Fall 2005.

263 Joseph Stiglitz, 2002, “Broken Promises”.

264 See "National Priorities: Working Together to Build the Foundations for Peace and Stability and Improve Livelihoods of Timorese Citizens,” Government of Timor-Leste, Timor-Leste and Development Partners’Meeting, 28-29 March 2008.

265 Op. Cit. Jacqueline A. Siapno, May 2008.

266 See for example the UN Commission on Investigation Report on the 2006 crisis.

267 I say “predominantly males” and “male-dominated” because there are very few women actually involved in the UN Police and ISF operations in East Timor.

268 See for example: Dylan Hendrickson of the Conflict, Security and Development Group at King’s College London, with input from Comfort Ero, Steve Pullinger, Chris Smith and Philip Wilkinson, and edited by Colin Roth (consultant), “Understanding and Supporting Security Sector Reform” (especially the sections on East Timor), produced by Department for International Development (DFID); Julio Tomas Pinto, 2005, “Security Sector Reform: Menuju Negara Demokrasi Timor-Leste”; Edward Rees, “Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Peace Operations: “Improvision and Confusion” from the Field,” UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 2006.

269 See also Jacqueline Siapno, 2006, “The Bitter Taste of Victory”.

270 Correspondence, Professor Sondra Hale, Dept. of Anthropology and Women’s Studies, UCLA, November 2006.

271 For an illuminating analysis of Alexandra Kollontay and Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of Lenin, see James Scott’s “The Revolutionary Party: A Plan and a Diagnosis”.

272 For a fascinating analysis of gangs and so-called “martial arts groups” in East Timor, see for example, Gaku Homma Sensei, 2008, “Bujutsu Fighting Gangs in East Timor”. This is an important analysis that should be read more widely amongst government policy-makers, in terms of how to resolve the conflict amongst martial arts groups in Timor-Leste.

273 See for example, J.S. Furnivall, 1956 Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India. New York University Press.

Table des illustrations

Légende Women of the FFDTL. © Jacqueline Siapno.
Fichier image/jpeg, 176k
Légende Woman from the former clandestine movement. © Jacqueline Siapno.
Fichier image/jpeg, 192k


Jacqueline Aquino Siapno (Joy) teaches Philosophy and Political Economy in the Universidade Nacional Timor-Leste (UNTL) and also co-founded the School of Democratic Economics, Faculty of Economics (UNTL), with Hendro Sangkoyo. She has also previously taught at the Universidade Dili and Universidade da Paz in Timor-Leste. Once a year, she teaches in Universitat Jaume I in Castellon, Spain, in the Graduate Program in International Conflict, Peace and Development. She has held a tenured position in the University of Melbourne and research fellowships at ANU, University of California Irvine and Riverside. She lives in Dili where she is raising her family, and conducts extensive research in rural districts in Timor-Leste, and comparative research with the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. She has written several articles and books on Timor-Leste, Aceh, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Southeast Asian history, culture and politics. Contact:

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