Public Perceptions of Women as Leaders


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Throughout the struggle for independence, and to the present day, Timorese women have been strong activists and leaders. However, the public face of political leadership in Timor-Leste is still overwhelmingly male. Timor-Leste’s system of gender quotas to ensure adequate representation at national and local levels has been successful in increasing numbers of women representatives, but more work is needed to translate these numbers into substantive participation by women in political institutions and processes.

There are many barriers faced by women as political leaders in Timor-Leste, and across the world. Often, programming focus is put on building the abilities of women to improve their political and leadership skills. But the other side of the equation, in which gendered norms and assumptions mean women are not recognised for the skills that they do have, receives less attention.

The purpose of this project was to analyse public perceptions of women as leaders in Timor-Leste, in order to (1) understand how women’s leadership is perceived, and (2) identify potential entry points for transforming conservative gender norms that impede recognition of women as leaders.

Research results indicate clear issues of gender stereotyping and unconscious bias among the political constituency, with people giving conflicting responses in expecting women to demonstrate more feminine or womanly characteristics of being ‘humble’, ‘calm’ and ‘caring’, while also penalising them at the ballot box if they fail to demonstrate more aggressive qualities associated with political competition. Potential practical strategies for gender advocates were also identified in the report.

The research was conducted for Monash University, as part of their work with IWDA and the Alola Foundation. Combined quantitative and qualitative fieldwork was conducted with total 383 community members, community leaders and government & civil society stakeholders across four municipalities Viqueque, Bobonaro, Ermera and Dili from late 2018 to early 2019.

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