Asia-Pacific

'Women can do the job': Meet Timor-Leste's first female police commander

0:00

Timor-Leste’s first female police commander wants to see other women in leadership roles.

Hannah Sinclair is reporting from Timor-Leste

Superintendent Natercia E.S. Martins is a rare type of authority figure in the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste.

Not only is she female, she’s also determined to encourage other women to take up space in what she calls typically “masculine spheres”.

The 39-year-old was the first woman in the small country to become a municipal police commander in 2010.

Superintendent Martins in her 20's, training to be a police officer.
Superintendent Martins in her 20's, training to be a police officer.
Supplied

She was inspired to climb the ranks by her late father, who fought for the country’s independence from Indonesia.

“I grew up in a situation where I saw with my own eyes and I felt directly, that many people lived under pressure,” Ms Martins told SBS News.

“There was no justice.”

Superintendent Martins' late father, who inspired her to become a police officer.
Superintendent Martins' late father, who inspired her to become a police officer.
Supplied

There are 156 police officers in the Ermera district where Ms Martins works, about an hour’s drive from the Timor-Leste capital Dili.

Of them, 27 are women, and only one other woman in the country holds the same position as Ms Martins.

“Some aspects of our culture prevent Timorese women from taking part in public spheres, particularly those public spheres that are normally dominated by men,” Ms Martins said.

The mother of five, who also has a law degree, wants other women to be uninhibited by traditional expectations.

“All the work that’s normally carried out by men, women also have the capacity to do the job.”

Superintendent Martins taking the wheel with her colleagues in Timor-Leste.
Superintendent Martins taking the wheel with her colleagues in Timor-Leste.
Supplied

The strong message comes as Timor-Leste marks 20 years since a vote for independence from Indonesia.

Across Dili, there are dozens of grand statues recognising the men who fought for their country’s freedom.

But women were also involved in the struggle, many paying a brutal price that some NGOs say remains hidden from public view.

After Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste in 1975, a third of the population was killed.

Many women supported the independence movement by also taking up arms and by smuggling medical and food supplies across the country in a secret network.

CEO of ACbit Manuela Leong Pereira.
CEO of ACbit Manuela Leong Pereira.
Supplied

Others were vulnerable to extreme physical and sexual violence.

“There’s not enough space for these women to talk about their experience,” ACbit CEO Manuela Leong Pereira, who works with female survivors, told SBS News.

“People don’t know about what happened to them and discrimination still continues.”

ACbit has been lobbying government and non-government bodies since 2010 to acknowledge past violations of women’s rights and to implement essential policies and services to support survivors.

Ms Leong Pereira said the sacrifices women made weren’t highlighted in official events in Tasi Tolu this week; that saw 100,000 people gather for an evening of music, speeches and tributes, attended by dignitaries and international guests.

“Twenty years is too long a wait,” Ms Leong Pereira told SBS.

“This is not the time to wait longer, they deserve to get the recognition.”

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch