The Political Economy of Gender Interventions: Social Forces, Kinship, Violence, and Finance in Post-Conflict Timor-Leste

Author: 

Melissa Johnston

PhD defended at: 

Murdoch University

Summary: 

This thesis applies a structural feminist political economy analysis to explain the uneven outcomes from gender interventions promoting gender-equitable distribution of state resources, protection from gender-based violence, and women’s economic empowerment in post-conflict Timor-Leste. Scholars of the “local turn” in peacebuilding, which arose in response to peacebuilding’s failures in creating sustainable peace, have argued local cultures and institutions were more legitimate, authentic, and sustainable sites to build peace than international models. In contrast, I identify the emergence and continuity of an elite class coalition dominating the state, which relies upon a highly gendered allocation of resources and a concomitant shoring up of exploitative militarised and patriarchal gender relations. Hence, I argue the outcomes from gender interventions in post-conflict Timor-Leste have been shaped by the actions and interests of a dominant coalition of rural and Dili-based social forces, all members of the Liurai-Dato (King-Noble) class. I use qualitative data and extensive fieldwork to show how members of the Liurai-Dato class depend on gender and kinship for legitimacy, wealth, and continuity, which have mitigated against gender just outcomes for gender interventions.
Not only did the interventions take place in this setting of elite dominance, peacebuilders made concessions to elites and violent men in order to keep the peace, a tendency amplified by local turn approaches. These approaches to security have reinforced the valorisation of armed masculinity, associated most strongly with the dominant class, which have in turn justified the unequal distribution of state petroleum resources. As well, gender relations construct social relations through kinship, accumulation through brideprice, and the political economy of domestic violence, rendering legal and political reforms ineffective. Lastly, peacebuilding programs sought to use microfinance to empower women and grow the economy, but its main beneficiaries were the Liurai-Dato class, repeating patterns of accumulation and rule-through-debt established during Indonesian-era microfinance.

Defended: 

2018