Poverty and Gender Study on Timor-Leste: insights on pathways out of poverty

Poverty and gender are complex multi-dimensional phenomena where sources of income and expenditure need to be assessed side by side with quality of life and opportunities to advance out of poverty in order to be understood properly. This is especially true for Timor-Leste where economic as well as socio-cultural characteristics govern the way a household looks at income and expenditure. To understand this better, MDF has taken a nuanced perspective to assess poverty and the roles played by men and women in poor households.

To understand poverty in the sectors MDF works on in Timor-Leste, a study has been completed on a wide cross-section of households in terms of locations, crops and income levels across six regions of the country. In the study, the situation of smallholder farming households was examined to determine who is poor and how they can advance out of poverty through agricultural development. The study was designed to be built upon existing secondary research and statistics to afford a view of the scenario beyond just numbers. Special attention was paid to aspects such as poverty and vulnerability, how households manage their economic activities and income, the reasons behind perpetual poverty and vulnerability, and solutions for a pathway out of poverty for both women and men.

The study findings suggests that poverty or vulnerability to poverty is greatest in agricultural households that have a combination of factors that contribute to it and there is no one factor that makes a household poor. Factors such as land size, distance from the market and family size all contributes to the household status. Households with diversified farm related and non-farming incomes are most likely to be above the basic needs poverty line or better able to cope to shocks, trends and seasonalities that may put the household back below the poverty line. The Poverty and Gender study investigates those factors or events and analyses what makes household vulnerable and suggests the possible pathways out of poverty.

The report also gives powerful insights on the role of women in the household and to a certain extent the findings does not always corroborate the conventional wisdom on women in Timor-Leste.  Findings reveal that a rural household functions as an economic unit, money from productive activities is pooled, and that much of the financial decision making is jointly made between the male and female heads of the household. Although women have specific challenges related to their roles and responsibilities particularly on workload in the household sphere, there are avenues to improve women’s economic empowerment.

Drawing on this information, MDF will be able to adapt programming decisions to ensure that economic growth is inclusive of poor women and men. MDF also aims to share the study findings with a broader audience who may be interested to gather insights on the intricacies and complex factors and relationships that influence household decisions and that which contributes to vulnerability and poverty level of the households in the agriculture sector.

For more details please refer to the Poverty and Gender Study report which will be published on our web-site soon.