WATER FOR WOMEN is a 5 Year, $110.6 million Australian Government initiative that aims to improve the health, gender equality and wellbeing of Asia and Pacific communities through inclusive, sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects. A total of 19 projects managed by civil society organization in 15 countries are being implemented through this initiative. In Timor-Leste, WATER FOR WOMEN is being implemented between July 2018 and December 2022 in Manufahi and Liquica municipalities by Water Aid and CARE International

Challenging traditional gender roles in Timor-Leste:

Creating more equitable gender relationships in Timor-Leste starts with individuals – and Rosa Soares is one woman who is leading change in her community. 

Rosa, 49, is the chief of the Lualisa Water User Group (GMF) in Maubara, Likisa, and she takes her job seriously.

“In my role, I plan and mobilise the community to do public cleaning around water sources and fix problems with pipes, and I facilitate community meetings about why their contribution of a monthly fee is necessary to keep the water system maintained. I often participate in other meetings too, representing Maubara GMF both at my own suco (village) and aldeia (community),” she explains.   

However, women in leadership is not common in Timorese communities. To tackle this issue and increase women leadership in GMF structures, CARE led delivery of Social Analysis and Action (SAA) sessions with GMFs in Maubara.  


SAA is a tool to reflect with communities on how they can take a lead in transforming themselves to challenge gender and social norms. Participants take part in discussion and activities to understand physical characteristics of women and men and reflect on accepted and unaccepted norms for men and women in society. Men as well as women participate in the training, as men’s acceptance of the need for change is a critical step. 

 After the training, Rosa reflected that changing gender norms begins at the household level – and it is challenging. 
 “It can be difficult to change the traditional norms in which men monopolise all the decision making at home in all aspects. Though sometimes things are open to discussion for both wife and husband, the final decision is always what man says. And women often still confirm… [that] only men must be the head of the household. 

SAA is a facilitated process to address gender inequality through individuals and communities exploring and challenging harmful social norms and practices.

The goal of SAA is to help participants to surface and challenge restrictive norms and act together to create more equitable ones, while building support for sexual, reproductive, and maternal health and rights.

The core elements are:

  • REFLECT to understand gender norms
  • CHALLENGE norms by taking concrete steps to address social issues
  • EXPLORE alternatives ways of thinking and behaving
  • LEARN how social norms influences decision and behaviors

“Personally, I can apply the lessons in my life as chief of the GMF. In the training I learnt about why equal sharing of roles in the household between men and women matters, and how to promote women’s leadership in decision making in the family and in the community.”  


For Rosa, learning how to share roles and responsibilities within the household helps her to balance her responsibilities as the GMF chief.


“This training is important as it encourages us as women to be a leader in the community. To obtain this, women’s time should not just be spent at home, but also in the community to participate in different activities so she can develop herself to be a leader. It’s difficult, but we look to challenge things slowly and to overcome our social norms that still impede the process.”


July 2021