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In the lead up to the annual 16 Days Against Violence Campaign in November there will be much public discussion about the high rates of domestic violence in Timor-Leste. Over 38% of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, according to the Demographic Health Survey 2009/2010. A timely new report launched by Fokupers provides fresh insights on this issue suggesting a link between domestic violence and the tradition of paying a bride price or ‘barlake' in Timor-Leste.

The report titled ‘Bride-Price and Domestic Violence in Timor-Leste' is based on research and interviews carried out across 4 districts to examine the relationship between barlake and domestic violence in both married-in communities (where a bride price is not paid) and married-out communities (where a bride price is commonly paid). The report provides evidence that while barlake is not a direct cause of violence, there are strong links between domestic violence and barlake. According to co-researcher Nasrin Khan, the women interviewed for this study believe that barlake causes men to see their wives as property. This can create the perception that men can treat women as they like because they have paid for them, in some cases beating them or at times abandoning them. One woman interviewed in Same said "the barlake gives the man the right to beat his wife. If barlake is big the wife becomes a slave and has to do everything. Our experience is that men say that when they are beating their wife it is like they are beating their money." Another interviewee in Betano reinforced this point of view stating that "Men often say ‘I provided so much for you. I can beat you like I beat my buffalo.' This happens a lot."The report compared four districts, and noted that there were lower rates of domestic violence in districts where the payment of barlake was rare or minimal. In Manatuto, married-out clans interviewed said that barlake makes women more vulnerable to mistreatment and it is more difficult for a woman's family to protect her. They have changed their tradition and rejected the payment of barlake to ‘protect their daughters'. There is now very little difference between married-in and married-out communities in Manatuto district. It is interesting to note that Manatuto has one of the lowest rates of domestic violence in the country.

The report also highlights the positive aspects of Timorese culture, in particular, that traditions and practices are open to change. Traditions surrounding barlake have changed in Manatuto and other districts in recognition of the need to protect women. One of the report's recommendations to prevent domestic violence in the future is to reduce or abolish barlake in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner for Timor-Leste. There are many areas that must be addressed within Timorese society in order for real progress to be made on domestic violence. Awareness on women's rights and gender equality is growing and attitudes are slowly changing but not quickly enough for those that live in fear and suffer silently each day. Tackling the issue of barlake and traditional perceptions of women's position in society is a very important area for future focus. 

This report was funded by UNFPA and New Zealand Aid and officially launched on October 5th, 2012 in Hotel the Ramelau, Dili. The launch was attended by UNFPA Representative, Mr. Pornchai Suchitta, Senora Antonia Carmen da Cruz, Director Nacional Reinserción Social, Ministerio Social Solidaridad, Maria Bereto, Managing Director of Fokupers, Nasrin Khan and Selma Hayati, co-authors and researchers of this report, Dr. Silverio Pinto, Deputy Provedor, Provedoria dos Direitos Humanos e Justica and various representatives from other UN agencies and civil society.

In order to download a copy of this report please click here.