Last night, two men tried to rape me. I saved myself by yelling in broken Tetum: “I work for the police! Next to the Commander General of PNTL (Policia Nacional de Timor Leste)!”
So I escaped. Looking like I’d been visited by The Dementors. Feeling upset, relieved, and furious. And thinking, in the words of Ani DiFranco,“f*ck you”.
Timor Leste is a beautiful island between Australia and Indonesia. At 7am, admiring the colours in the sky and the light on the water, I thought: “I love this place. I’m glad to be here.” By 7pm: “F*ck this place, I’m going home.”
But I won’t go home, because I’ve had enough.
Enough of living in a world where women are taught to curb their expectations. To settle for less than what they want. To be less than they can be. Where the world misses out on the contributions of brilliant women who were never able to thrive. Things are getting better. My grandmother wasn’t allowed to finish school. My mother went to college. I got two degrees, and know that the world is your oyster—if you happen grow up in a peaceful country, spending weekends fishing for sticklebacks and performing plays for patient parents.
In conflict-affected countries—300,000 are estimated to have died during Timor’s struggle against Indonesia—rape is often so normal that women are amazed to learn that is a crime. Some forms of rape are not crimes at all. And illegality seems irrelevant: perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, and violence against women proliferates in impunity.
So here I am, and here I will stay.
I am glad to help create a police service which promotes women’s rights. But I will make a difference simply by showing up for work tomorrow as me.
Wearing colour when shades of grey and black are equated with intelligence. With a smile on my face, even though gloom is bizarrely conflated with being a ‘serious professional’. With a determination to be kind, when gentle strength is mistaken for weakness. With enthusiasm and belief in people, where these are perceived as inexperience and naivety.
To be who I am.
This will be my “f*ck you” to violence against women. It will be my best contribution to a world where people are free to be who they are, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, or personality. It’s the UN job for anyone who wants to live in that world. You create it through this choice: to have the courage to be yourself, the generosity to see the best in others, and the willingness to help. And by knowing this truth: the path of history is towards greater peace and justice, and what the future looks like is up to you.
With gratitude, not fear, I write for those who choose to create a better world. Life is a competition in who can love the most. And we’re going to win.