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Blazing a trail for girls and women in Timor-Leste

Seventeen-year-old Feb (pictured above) is blazing a trail in her small community in Timor-Leste. She is a passionate and confident ChildFund Pass It Back coach who wants to change the future for girls and women in her country.

“In Timor-Leste, there is no gender equality,” she says. “We still use this ancient system, where opportunities are given to boys or men. There are less opportunities in terms of education and jobs for girls and women. Women have no opportunity to lead; they just know how to cook.”

But Feb is stirring the pot. As a ChildFund Pass It Back coach she is a part of a new generation of girls and young women in Timor-Leste who are learning about their rights and taking action.

“What I would like to change in Timor-Leste is this ancient system; we have to give opportunities for girls and women so they can develop themselves and they can become leaders,” Feb says.

Recently, she applied to become a member of the Youth Parliament. Her motive?

“I want to raise the issue of gender equality,” Feb says. “I want equal opportunities for girls and boys in Timor-Leste.”

BREAKING BARRIERS

Feb grew up in a disadvantaged community, where her parents worked on the family farm and sold rice and vegetables to raise their five children.

Where many children in similar circumstances dropped out of school to help their parents and contribute to the household income, Feb was determined to finish her education. A few years ago she left home and moved in with an aunt so she could be closer to a good secondary school.

“When I finish secondary school, I want to go to university,” Feb, who is now in Grade 9, says. “I want to study English and Information Technology.”

Feb (in green) with her team in Timor-Leste. “I would like to see my players change their mentality, to become good women and to contribute to changing Timor-Leste,” she says.

As the eldest child, Feb is a natural leader and hopes she can set a positive example for her siblings. As part of Timor-Leste’s first cohort of ChildFund Pass It Back coaches she has been able to develop her leadership skills and help pave a new path for many girls like herself.

For the past nine months, Feb has been coaching a team of young girls in her community, helping them to learn the rules of rugby, the values of the game and develop important life skills, including how to plan for the future and drive social change in their communities.

Timor-Leste’s first-ever season of tag rugby – the “papaya ball” game, as locals call it – wrapped up in June, and Feb says the program has changed her.

“I really like ChildFund Pass It Back because it focuses on gender equality and includes the participation of girls and women,” she says.

“Before joining the program I was one of the girls who always disturbed other classmates. I was very naughty.”

Feb says the rugby values that stand out the most for her personally are passion and respect.

“With passion, I have learnt that when we participate in anything we must participate with our full commitment and not because we’ve been forced by others to participate,” she says. “With respect, I must respect myself first and my family so that other people can respect me and my family.”

There have been many noticeable changes in her players as well since they joined ChildFund Pass It Back, Feb says.

“In the first session when they came to play, it was hard for them to introduce themselves to me,” she says. “They were not confident. When I saw this, I motivated them.

“In our first competition, while they knew how to play rugby they weren’t confident and lost their focus, but after the game I supported them and motivated them.

“I would like to see my players change their mentality, to become good women and to contribute to changing Timor-Leste.

“In the ChildFund Pass It Back program we have girls’ and boys’ teams, but in the future I would like to see more girls’ teams so we can change the ancient system in Timor-Leste and girls will be empowered and be able to develop themselves.”

The ChildFund Pass It Back program uses tag rugby to teach children and young people in the Asia-Pacific region a range of valuable life skills, which equips them to overcome challenges, inspire positive social change and ‘pass it back’ to their communities. It is supported by the Australian Government.

Feb (middle in green) says her players are more confident and empowered since joining ChildFund Pass It Back.

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