• customary governance;
  • democracy;
  • gender equality;
  • Timor-Leste

In Timor-Leste, women lack a voice in customary governance processes. Since independence in 2002, the Timor-Leste government has adopted policies that provide equal rights for men and women and promote the inclusion of women in decision-making structures at national and local levels. Women's participation in democratic governance has been supported by international development agencies. This article draws on field research in Timor-Leste in 2011 to investigate the experiences of women leaders in national and local governance structures. It analyzes the strategies to promote a national women's agenda in national politics as well as the challenges for women representatives on community governance councils. A case study on domestic violence provides analysis of the inconsistencies between customary leadership and the constitutional right to equality. The article argues that greater integration of the customary and national governance systems would better support the human rights principles to which Timor-Leste is committed.