BOBONARO, Timor-Leste – Hundreds of school children and parents in Timor-Leste are learning how to treat each other with greater respect in the classroom, at home and in the community through a programme called Connect with Respect. The one-year, Spotlight Initiative-supported training engages parents, teachers and students to prevent violence against women and girls and also helps participants to respond to any violence they may experience in, around or on the way to school.

Four hundred and fifty parents – most of them farmers - have received training on respectful relationships, while a separate set of training will be delivered to a total of 450 children in schools. 

"Most parents in rural areas were never given the opportunity to participate in training like this. Now we are all empowered to become change-makers." - Leonor Gago, Parent

Parents take part in activities that include role-playing to counter harmful gender roles and expectations, discussing their relationship with their children at home and analyzing videos of harmful parent-children relationships and how they can avoid them.

“Traditionally, educating children through physical forms of discipline was deemed appropriate,” said Amaro Ribeiro Amaral, a parent from Viqueque municipality. “But the more I learn about respectful communication with children, [the more] I realize that children can become much closer to their parents through other forms of discipline. Thus, improving relationships at home and setting a good example for the community.”

Between August and October 2021, the programme reached 15 schools in three municipalities of Timor-Leste. It is implemented by UN Women, with educational institutions, civil society organizations Alola Foundation and Mane ho Vizaun Foun (Men with a New Vision) and the Ministry of Education.

Photo: UN Women/Sylvio da Fonseca

LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND

The use of corporal punishment (or physical violence) as a way for disciplining children both at home and in school is prevalent in Timor-Leste. According to one UNICEF study,  83 per cent of parents believe that it is sometimes necessary to frighten or threaten their children in order to make them behave, and 46 per cent believe that in order to bring up and educate a child properly, the child needs to be physically punished. 

Research shows that exposure to violence is high among people 15–19, indicating that it often starts early in women’s lives. This makes early intervention programmes like Connect with Respect even more critical. 

"If all the parents start doing this, just imagine how many people we can reach.” - Jaime Brites, Parent

“What we learn is completely new and most parents in rural areas face difficulties in reading and writing and were never given the opportunity to participate in training like this,” said Leonor Gago, a parent from Ermera municipality. “Now we are all empowered to become change-makers, not just for ourselves but most importantly, our children”. 

Jaime Brites, another parent from Ermera, said: “With every positive action we learn, we will pass it on to our family members and other parents in the community. If all the parents start doing this, just imagine how many people we can reach.” 

Timor-Leste is one of the countries that benefits from the Spotlight Initiative which receives generous support from the European Union. It works in partnership with government, civil society, UN agencies and other partners in the eradication of violence against women and girls.

By Sylvio da Fonseca