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Timor-Leste: Radio Series Promoting access to Higher Education for Women

April 20, 2011

  • Women in Timor-Leste account for only one in three students in higher education, and of these just 20 percent graduate
  • The World Bank has created a radio drama to combat attitudes that prevent women from obtaining a higher education
  • The focus of the series is on young women in rural areas who face numerous challenges regarding the expectations of traditional gender roles

DILI, April 20, 2011 - "Women can't be very interested in their own education, because they have too much work to do at home; there's not enough money and families don't pay all that much attention to daughters. And when they do finish university, they don't get the opportunity to work even if they want to".

These are the words of a teenage Timorese girl, speaking about the challenges women in the country face when trying to gain an education. As a country emerging from decades of conflict, Timor-Leste must overcome many barriers to provide its citizens with access to education. Currently, the average amount of time a Timorese adult spends in school stands at just 2.8 years.

Women in the country, particularly those in rural areas, face difficulties in completing their schooling due to traditional gender roles that focus greatly on domestic responsibilities.

Not only do females in Timor-Leste represent a mere one in three students in higher education, but just 20 percent of these women will actually go on to finish their studies. In what is a strongly patriarchal society, a lack of education for women often leads to limited decision-making powers, economic dependence, and poor access to information.

A new radio drama to change attitudes

Working with the Ministry of Education, the World Bank launched in March 2011 an eight-part behaviour change radio drama in order to combat some of these issues. Titled Anastasia, the drama demonstrates how the benefits gained through a young woman’s education positively affect her entire family and society at large.

"Education for women is very important because it helps families to end poverty," said Fernanda Borges, Parliament member, Leader of the National Unity Party and the only female leader of a political party in Timor-Leste. "I ask parents to continue supporting their daughters until they complete their education. This way, they can also gain full access to opportunities in development, helping Timor-Leste to become a better nation."

Radio is by far the most effective way of communicating on a large scale in Timor-Leste. With few people having access to television outside of the capital, and only an estimated 36 percent of literacy among the population over 15 years of age, community radio stations and national broadcasters play a vital role in keeping Timorese people informed and engaged on issues which affect their livelihoods. Listening to radio programs is also an important social activity – particularly in more remote areas – with people often gathering to hear programs together.

Rather than simply raising awareness on a given topic, a behaviour change campaign targets a specific behaviour and provides alternatives to the audience in order to create a positive, sustainable change in their actions. In the case of Anastasia, the campaign is particularly focused on young women in rural areas and their families. It is examining the traditional focus on females as homemakers and caregivers, and how this often prevents them from pursuing higher education. Above all, it is looking at the positive effect a woman’s education has on her community.

Research behind Anastasia’s story

To assist with the preparation for Anastasia, over 100 students and teachers across the country were surveyed on their views relating to the benefits and constraints of women attending university. While an overwhelming majority saw the education of both men and women as being equally important , a number of commonplace barriers included:

  • lack of parental support or commitment,
  • difficulties surrounding the balance of domestic chores and study,
  • financial burdens, and
  • lack of transport and safety concerns.

The campaign focuses on the first two points, while two projects - Education Sector Support Project and Second Chance Education Project carried out by the Bank are also working to improve education access for both men and women.

"For me, education is very important," said one female student. "Education gives me the opportunity to study and to learn about how I can help my other fellow women, especially children."

The drama is currently airing on Radio Timor Kmanek (RTK), Radio Timor Leste (RTL), and eight community radio stations around the country.

About the Anastasia radio drama series

Anastasia takes its name from the program’s main character, a bright 17 year old woman who lives in a village in Oecussi district, and dreams of pursuing a university education after graduating from high school. Throughout the series, a number of issues and obstacles surrounding this transition are explored, including marriage, struggles with money, distance to university, domestic responsibilities, and above all the importance of support from family. Through Anastasia – and indeed all of the characters in the drama – listeners are able to hear directly about the benefits of education for young women and their families in rural areas. The first of eight episodes, recorded in Tetum, aired in Timor-Leste on Wednesday 16 March 2011.