Timor Leste1


Building Peace, Rebuilding Patriarchy: The Failure of Gender Interventions in Timor-Leste

Hosted by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre

CKK 2.06, and online via Zoom


Melissa Johnston

Melissa Johnston

Lecturer, School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland


Prof. John Sidel

Prof. John Sidel

SEAC Director, Sir Patrick Gillam Chair in International and Comparative Politics

Men and women do not experience war, violence, and peace in the same ways. Accordingly, peacebuilding interventions now incorporate “gender mainstreaming” and stand-alone “gender-and-development” programming. These gender interventions should make peacebuilding more effective and sustainable, facilitating stable societies and efficient economies, but results have been mixed. Rebuilding Patriarchy explores outcomes for people on the ground in the instructive case of Timor-Leste. Using extensive fieldwork data, the book examines three gender interventions: gender responsive budgeting, domestic violence, and microfinance, comparing their aims with outcomes using the yardstick of gender justice.

Instead of focusing concentrating on a clash of “local” and “international”, Rebuilding Patriarchy uses an integrated gender and class to explain the uneven outcomes. Such an analysis shows domination of the post conflict landscape by a coalition of militarized and patriarchal elites, to whom peacebuilders have made concessions at women’s expense, a tendency amplified by local turn approaches to peacebuilding. Consequently, the valorisation of armed masculinity, associated most strongly with the dominant class has justified the unequal distribution of state petroleum resources; domestic violence reforms have been rendered ineffective by the political economy of brideprice. Finally, microfinance was supposed to empower women and grow the economy, but its main beneficiaries were elites, repeating patterns of accumulation and rule -through- debt established during era the Indonesian- era.

Bridging feminist security studies and feminist political economy, the book demonstrates how gender interventions (whether focussed on peace or economic reconstruction) cannot see or unable to address the broader social forces within which these interventions are operating.

This seminar was co-hosted with the Department of Gender Studies. The seminar was recorded and the video can be found here


Speaker and Chair Biographies:

Melissa Johnston is a Lecturer in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland where she works in the areas of political economy and security. In 2022, Melissa received a Discovery Early Career Research Award for her project on Brideprice, Conflict and Violence Against Women in Southeast Asia. Melissa has two main research areas. The first area examines the pivotal role of misogyny and violence against women in the political economy of violent extremism, populism and Islamist and right wing politics, looking at the empirical and analytical links between violence against women and violent extremism in Australia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Libya. Findings show that support for violence against women and misogyny is the best predictor of an individual's support for violent extremism - a finding cited several times by the UN Secretary General in 2019 and 2020. The second area is the political economy of post-conflict rebuilding. Her doctoral dissertation, winner of the 2019 Australian Political Studies Association thesis prize, applies a feminist political economy approach to account for the uneven outcomes gender programming by international development agencies. Her journal article, "Frontier Finance" was the winner of the 2021 Australian International Political Economy Network best journal article prize.

Prof. John Sidel is Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, and the Sir Patrick Gillam Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Professor Sidel received his BA and MA from Yale University and his PhD from Cornell University. He is the author of Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines (1999), Philippine Politics and Society in the Twentieth Century: Colonial Legacies, Postcolonial Trajectories (2000), Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (2006), The Islamist Threat in Southeast Asia: A Reassessment (2007), Thinking and Working Politically in Development: Coalitions for Change in the Philippines (2020, with Jaime Faustino) and a forthcoming book Republicanism, Communism, Islam: Cosmopolitan Origins of Revolution in Southeast Asia.

Building Peace, Rebuilding Patriarchy: The Failure of Gender Interventions in Timor-Leste was published in July 2023. It is available to purchase from Oxford University Press. Order online at https://global.oup.com/academic with promotion code ASFLYQ6 to save 30% off the list price. 

Photo by Trevar Skillicorn-Chilver on Unsplash