The Future is Equal

Timor-Leste Women and Land Project

A woman stares above near her garden, with text 'Timor-leste women and land project'

Though gender equality is guaranteed in the Timorese constitution and there are high levels of women’s political representation in Parliament, women’s leadership within political parties remains low, and the composition of parliamentary committees is highly gendered.

Additionally, women’s mobility, security, advancement and voice are influenced by a range of highly restrictive patriarchal social norms. Women frequently have less control over the assets on which their livelihoods depend, especially land.

Woven flax


Timor-Leste Women and Land Project is part of our larger five-year, multi-country programme, Kōtui. Read more about Kōtui here!

This te reo Māori word means binding together, or interlacing, during weaving. The woven mat represents dialogue and joint problem-solving in Pacific countries and in Timor-Leste. It is an appropriate symbol for a programme focused on inclusive and equitable governance.

Dilva quote

Land rights

Access to land is central to life and resilience in Timor-Leste and across the region. Over 90% of the population of Timor-Leste is involved in some form of agricultural activity. With the vast majority of the population depending directly on customary land for agricultural livelihoods, and limited social security systems, land is the most important social safety net for Timorese communities, and is central to identity, culture, social cohesion and resilience. 

A woman shields her young child from the sun with an umbrella

Stronger land rights laws

Timor-Leste passed its first ever land law in 2017, and although the law itself is reasonably equitable, the process of land registration hasn’t lived up to that standard. The government is drafting over 18 subsidiary laws and policies on land. Oxfam’s work will include: gendered analysis of the land sector, drafting evidence-based submissions on relevant land laws; and creating forums for dialogue between Civil Society Organisations, government stakeholders, and the public (specifically women).

Increased recognition of rights

An important aspect of improving women’s land rights will be making sure that formal and informal leaders recognise the how important it is that women have these rights in the first place. This will be achieved through training and reflection within our own organisations and allies; collaborative research,  developing public campaign materials relating to women’s land rights, and sharing positive stories about ways in which Timorese customs and customary leaders can protect women’s land rights.

Strengthening women’s voice

This project will fund two partner organisations to drive work on the distribution of land rights information at the community level, alongside broader women’s empowerment work.

A woman smiles as she sits beside a garden

Improved civil society capacity

This project will seek to build bridges between women’s rights and land rights organisations through collaborative research and learning opportunities. While there are Timorese CSOs that are strong on land rights and those that are strong on women’s rights, there aren’t currently many people, or organisations, who have a deep understanding of both. Resources, technical expertise, and institutional support, will lead to more sustainable and stronger Civil Society Organisations and networks.


Oxfam in Timor-Leste was the only Timorese civil society organisation to make a submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) regarding priority issues for Timor-Leste’s upcoming CEDAW reporting. Ines Martins, our Kōtui Women and Land Advisor, spoke to the committee and argued for a focus on women’s land rights, asking the CEDAW Committee to investigate how women’s voices are included in legislative drafting processes regarding land rights and access to land. The CEDAW Committee has included these issues on a list for discussion with the Government of Timor-Leste at a session in late 2022 or early 2023. This dialogue will contribute to a stronger understanding of the importance of including women in governance processes, and could significantly advance women’s land rights.

Focus on partners

Rede ba Rai (RBR) is a long standing national level civil society network which advocates for just and sustainable land rights for all Timorese people. RBR members, working together with community representatives, made a compelling contribution to the development of the 2017 Land Law, a momentous win for land rights in Timor-Leste.

Juristas Advocasia is a legal aid and paralegal organisation that provides training for communities on legal issues, provides legal aid for communities facing complex land issues, and undertakes analysis and advocacy relating to land laws and policies. Juristas Advocasia was intimately involved in Rede ba Rai’s research on land registration which highlighted the negative impacts of the land registration process on women’s rights.

By the end of the five-year Kōtui programme…

We expect to see the following improved governance outcomes:

  • More laws, policies and programmes that provide protections for women’s land rights
  • Land registration processes that protect and uphold women’s land rights
  • Women’s voices included in more policy processes relating to land at national and community levels
  • Policy processes increasingly use a stronger evidence base on women’s land issues
  • Strengthened collaboration between civil society and government on women’s land issues