In the words of Manuela Soares Brites: “To build a respectful and healthy family, we treat our girls and our boys the same”
Author: Helio Miguel
Manuela Soares Brites is pictured near her garden in Ermera, Timor-Leste, September 28, 2022, when she underwent training from the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative. Photo: UN Women/Helio Miguel
It was in 1995 that I finished my ninth grade and moved to live with my husband and his adoptive family. I spent days and days just being at home and doing only the things I was asked to do, which mostly helped my husband. Housework and farming were mostly done by us as all his cousins went to school.
One afternoon, I made the decision to leave home with our daughter and ran to my mother-in-law. A few hours later, my husband came and asked me to come home, but I said no. So he decided to stay with us.
My husband started working in construction and I started doing outdoor activities. Then I was invited by our village chief to be one of the village youth leaders. Then I was called to work in the church.
Back from the devastating crisis of 1999 [transition to independence from Indonesia], my husband came home and told me about a one-year school program in Dili by UNMIT (United Nations Integrated Mission in East Timor) and the Ministry of Education for those who had no no high school diploma. I didn’t think twice. My husband… took care of the children and did the housework when I was at school.
With the certificate obtained, I worked doing administrative work with the Canossian nuns in Dili. In 2012, I started working for the NGO Alola Foundation… and since 2021, as a field officer for the EU-UN Spotlight initiative in Ermera and leading the Connect with Respect program in five schools. The coordination work I have done with local authorities has boosted my confidence to deliver trainings, make decisions and reports. I also participated in capacity building activities on respect, gender equality and ending violence against women through the Spotlight initiative.
Since then, I have been aware that in order to build a respectful and healthy family, we (must) treat our girls and our boys equally. Our boys did more housework. My husband and I also had no hesitation in sending our daughter to college. Everyone also started helping out in the family gardening business.
Our first daughter told me that she would pay for my studies at university. My husband also said that when he receives his veteran’s money, he would like to invest in my education. And I want to study agriculture to help expand the farm.