Collaborating for Disability Rights in Timor Leste During COVID-19
In late 2020, Disability Rights activists in Timor Leste collaborated to hold the country’s first public rally seeking greater awareness of people living with disability in the community. The public protest highlighted the need for greater access to safety information during the COVID-19 pandemic and employment rights for people with a disability, particularly in rural areas and towns.
Collaborating to protect vulnerable workers during COVID-19
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Timor Leste in 2020, APHEDA partner organisations rallied to provide support, information and training on prevention and protection for their members and communities, particularly across rural areas. Under the banner of FONGTIL (Timor Leste’s peak NGO forum) they used media conferences, radio interviews and even a live talk show with MPs to raise awareness of the impact of state lockdowns on vulnerable and informal workers and the urgent need for greater social protections.
AHDRO, a local NGO for people with disabilities in the district of Maliana sought direct support for its membership who, despite being extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, had been left out of existing community education activities. With DFAT-approved funding pivots, the Institutu Edukasaun Popular (IEP) and Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste (WWCTL) joined forces with AHDRO to provide training and advocacy specifically targeting people with disabilities.
Farmer organisations and women’s rights organisation join forces
Since May 2020, APHEDA’s farmer partner organisations – including IEP – had been honing their skills by developing and delivering training in remote areas of Timor Leste to provide farming community bases with the knowledge, skills and tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This included making hand soap and hand sanitiser using local ingredients. So combining IEP’s skills in rolling out and delivering COVID-19 training with WWCTL’s extensive experience delivering workshops on employment rights, child protection and gender based discrimination, a formidable training partnership was formed. In the end over 80 participants joined the disability training in September 2020.
December Rally for Disability and Human Rights in Bobonaro
The success of the joint October COVID mitigation training led to an invitation for WWCTL and IEP to participate in a disability awareness raising activity around the International Day of People with a Disability (December 3). Further discussions led to a joint public walk on December 10 (International Human Rights Day) highlighting disability rights and the campaign to end violence against women and girls in the Municipality of Bobonaro.
Starting in front of the Bobonaro administrative office and ending at the Lahomea village office, the rally was attended by over 120 people from three villages (Lahomea, Ritabou and Holsa) and included representatives of the Bobonaru Municipal Administration, Heads of Villages, school students, workers and local community members. The march was followed by an address from the Director of AHDRO, Mr Sebastiao, who spoke about the rights of people with disabilities. Requests were made not only to governments but also to families of people with disabilities seeking greater compassion and inclusion in community activities and workplaces.
Under the Banner of Social, Equal, Inclusive, the rally demands included:
- guarantee and respect the rights of all people including people with disabilities to end violence and abuse in the community
- inclusion of people with disabilities in government projects including the support for human resources with appropriate adjustments to allow full participation.
- allocation of funds in state financial budgets to support people with disabilities in the community
- Improving school curriculum to be more inclusive for people with disabilities including the development of special education curricula
A strong future of collaboration to look forward to
Working together with local NGO’s, APHEDA partner organisations in Timor Leste will continue to collaborate to deliver human rights messages and solidarity for marginalised workers and communities. The area of disability rights is an important cross-cutting issue for APHEDA’s Timor Leste partnerships and it is anticipated that more opportunities to highlight disability awareness and inclusion will feature in future project planning.
Read more about projects we support in Timor Leste:
The Working Women’s Centre of Timor Leste’s Advocacy, Education, Organizing & Support Program for East Timor Domestic Workers and the Farmers Towards Sustainable Farming in Timor Leste programs are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).