In Timor-Leste, the Dangers of Staying Home

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By Pauline Tweedie

Timor-Leste confirmed its first case of Covid-19 on March 21, and the government was quick to enact measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Schools were suspended the next day, and in a country where 97 percent of the population is Catholic, the Church canceled Sunday Mass. Within a week the government declared a state of emergency, limiting gatherings to fewer than five, curtailing international arrivals, and instituting a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all people returning to the country.

While the government acted swiftly to protect its citizens, confinement at home could be a frightening prospect for many of Timor-Leste’s citizens. The Nabilan Baseline Study revealed some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world in Timor-Leste; the Covid-19 crisis, with its restrictions on movement, increased stress, and diversion of police and health resources, could be devastating to vulnerable women and children.

Timor-Leste has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world. The Covid-19 crisis, with its restrictions on movement, could be devastating to vulnerable women and children.

As social activity slows, essential services such as shelters and counseling may also draw further out of reach. The Asia Foundation, through the Australian government’s Nabilan Program, works closely with essential-services partners in Timor-Leste to ensure that women and children have access and that front-line providers have the skills to protect themselves and their clients from Covid-19.

The Nabilan Program started early to inform its partners about Covid-19 transmission and prevention and identified strategies to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on shelters and other services. This includes drafting guidance with the Ministry of Social Solidarity on receiving clients during the crisis, establishing a reception center for monitoring all new shelter clients during a 14-day quarantine period, and providing additional funding to improve water and hygiene in shelters.

These simple, early measures can save lives and help women and children experiencing violence in Timor-Leste continue to have access to quality support. Meanwhile, like the rest of the world, the people of Timor-Leste wait and hope.

*Pauline Tweedie is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Timor-Leste. She can be reached at pauline.tweedie@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation*