Alola’s impact: Strong Women, Strong Nation

March 3, 2016

This is the motto of the Alola Foundation, a women’s rights organisation in Timor-Leste.

Alola was founded in 2001 by then First Lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao to address the widespread sexual violence against women and girls in Timor-Leste. Since its inception, Alola has broadened its focus, and now has programs in education, health, economic empowerment and advocacy.  It was through Alola’s advocacy and training work that they met Rita.

Women who are interested in running for positions of power in their community face many barriers before they even decide to stand as a candidate. For example, women frequently have less access to resources, leadership experience and networking opportunities while discriminatory social attitudes can affect the extent to which women are perceived as effective leaders.

Opposition often starts in the family home, and for a single mother or widow responsible for providing for her family, seizing the opportunity to campaign can be a risk. These are barriers that Rita Sarmentu has herself experienced.

Rita was known for her strength and fearlessness in the community. What she needed was the confidence and practical leadership skills to take the next step. Through Alola’s training, Rita learnt about public speaking, campaigning and advocating. Crucially, Alola also gave Rita a safe space to gain the confidence she needed to stand for Village Chief for Aileu, a district in the northwest of the country.

Alzera Reis, the CEO of Alola, knows the value of women in leadership spaces. In the video above, Alzera and Rita discuss the crucial role of women’s rights organisations in helping women to run for elections. And why it matters to have more women elected.

The quality of Alola Foundation’s training is evident in Rita’s newfound confidence, as she prepares to stand for election. “I am brave to speak in front of people. I feel I am equal to men.”

Every woman is entitled to the kind of support Alola provides. Yet for many women living in rural districts of Timor-Leste, leadership training and opportunities remain out of reach and women’s rights organisations which can provide crucial support are under-resourced.

This International Women’s Day, you can directly support Rita and women like her, by ensuring the vital training provided by women’s rights organisations is readily accessible.

To donate, click here.

This program was implemented with the support of the Australian Government.