Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Violence as a means of resolving problems

Today my team conducted children’s rights training with grade four primary school students from the nearby school. I had an opportunity to talk to the coordinator of my team who is due to give birth to her fourth child early next month (see Return to work).

My colleague is 38 years old and is the fourth of six children (female, male, male, female, male, male). Her eldest sister is in her late 40s and is already a grandmother to four grandchildren. One of their younger brothers died of kidney failure at the age of 18. Their mother died in 1999 due to kidney failure and stomach problems. Kidney problems are very common in Timor due to the lack of access to clean drinking water and the fact that common health education which we now take for granted in the West (eg drink at least two litres of water a day) is unheard of here. My colleagues think it strange that I drink so much water (at least three litres a day due to the amount I lose through perspiration) and when I tell them that they should too for good health, they look a little bemused.

My colleague’s father is 67 years old and still working as a teacher in a secondary school! He teaches Portuguese to both students and teachers. Her father used violence against both his children and his students as a disciplining tool. Likewise, my father used violence against my sister and me. Thus, authoritarian fathers similarly raised us. We talked about this and how in Australia, it has only been in recent decades that new parenting methods have been “introduced” and discussed (the ideal of which is authoritative). However, although it is an improvement on previous generations, we’re still a long way off in raising children without resorting to violence. In Timor the issue of parental and familial violence against children is only now being discussed and at a much less complex and smaller level.

My colleague said that Timorese culture in general, uses violence to resolve problems, and that there is very little use of dialogue and communication as these conflict resolution methods require a skill level not yet available to most people. Moreover, as Timor is a hierarchical communitarian society with strong social rules that dictate behaviour, people are not socialised to question what is right and wrong, to formulate and internalise their own values and ethics, as a guiding framework for their lives. Thus, people simply follow what their elders (parents and community leaders) instruct them to do without question. And when people break the rules, the punishment tends to involve violence and humiliation, with the intention of making sure that people conform to the prevailing social order.

My colleagues are attempting to address the issue of violence in Timorese societies by educating children and adults that violence is not okay and that there are other more constructive ways to resolve problems. It is an admirable project but again I wonder how it will be achieved without fundamentally changing the nature of Timorese societies. To question the prevailing culture and social norms requires people to think critically and for themselves, which fundamentally is the nature of what it means to be an individual and not solely a member of a community.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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