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Q&A with leader, activist, and alumnus Lindsey Greising

Q&A with leader, activist, and alumnus Lindsey Greising

329.jpgFollowing the completion of her law degree from the University of Minnesota, Lindsey Greising was hired to run the Women's Rights Project branch at the exemplary organization Ba Futuru in Timor-Leste. A leader in its community, Ba Futuru is Timor-Leste's preeminent national child protection and peace building organization. Lindsey's main role at the organization is as an international adviser for the Empowering Women and Establishing Grassroots Protection Networks Project (EWP), which focuses on increasing access to justice for victims of domestic violence in Timor-Leste through trainings of key actors, empowering and supporting female community leaders to refer cases, and conducting advocacy to the national government on identified issues. Lindsey also serves as a human rights advisor to the organization generally. Through this work, she helps develop training materials for the organization's various projects and also provides trainings for staff on legal frameworks and human rights principals.

How did you get involved with Ba Faturu?
I originally travelled to Timor-Leste in 2005 after participating in a workshop at my university where then-Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta spoke and inspired me to research and volunteer in Timor-Leste. While there, I met Ba Futuru's founder and learned about their work. When I earned my BA in 2008, I decided to return, and coordinated with Ba Futuru. After receiving my law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School, I received a Robina Public Interest Law Fellowship to work for a year on Ba Futuru's women's project, a project is funded jointly by the European Commission and Australian AID for nearly 300,000 EURO and $70,000 USD, respectively.
What is your specific role in the organization?
As it is a small organization in a developing nation, I have many roles! My main role is as an international adviser for the Empowering Women and Establishing Grassroots Protection Networks Project (EWP), which focuses on increasing access to justice for victims of domestic violence in Timor-Leste through trainings of key actors, empowering and supporting female focal points to refer cases and take larger leadership roles in their communities, and conducting advocacy to the national government on identified issues. I also serve as a human rights advisor to the organization generally. Through this work, I help develop training materials for the organization's various projects and also provide trainings for staff on legal frameworks and human rights principals.
How does it provide training in conflict resolution, conflict analysis, decision-making, child protection, and access to justice? Who provides the training and what does it entail? These topics seem complex and difficult to teach, how is it done in an effective but also timely way?
The organization has developed its training program since it was founded in 2004. Trainings are conducted by Timorese trainers who have various backgrounds. Many were teachers previously. Several were previously members of gangs or involved in conflict. All receive training and capacity building from Ba Futuru's international and high-level national staff. The training materials have been developed by Ba Futuru based on lessons learned and also with support of various consultants and international experts. For example, I have redeveloped their legal frameworks, and gender and civil rights components through my work here.
While the topics are complex, Ba Futuru has developed its materials and trainings in consultation with local staff that understand the nuances. It uses a lot of role-plays and arts in order to make high-level concepts accessible to various audiences. In several areas, we have addressed illiterate populations, and facilitators skillfully revised the training to accommodate this challenge.
What are some other challenging aspects of your work?
It is incredibly challenging to work on access to justice issues in a country with a bit more than 10 years of independence. Having been trained as a lawyer at the U, I am now confronting situations in which much of that training is inapplicable. For example, while the law requires domestic violence cases to be processed through the formal court system, there are not enough qualified people to make the courts function, and thus processing times can be more than a year. There are also only four courts for a country of 1 million people, with the population widely dispersed over areas that have poorly maintained roads and infrastructure, making it nearly impossible for some people to access the courts. And, very few people understand the law; the literacy rate is only 58.3% (UNESCO), the laws are often only available in Portuguese rather than the more commonly spoken language, Tetum, and the majority of the population has had very little education based on years of colonialism/occupation. Thus, I am constantly challenged by knowing how the system should function to protect victims, but being confronted by daunting constraints.
On top of all these structural challenges, I confront deeply rooted cultural values, especially regarding women and justice, which make this work incredibly difficult. Even among women, many believe domestic violence victims should not report their cases unless they are severely physically injured. Domestic violence is considered a private issue, and unless there is blood (ra'an sae, in the local language) it should not be reported. Some police hold many of these values and therefore refuse to report cases even where victims report to them. Economic dependence of women on men prevents many from reporting their cases, and also encourages the formal system to apply "protective" treatment such that some police will refuse to report cases, and courts often issue suspended sentences so that the perpetrator can support the family.
In terms of training female advocates, have you seen the training play out in any real-life successes, as these women go out into the community and voice their concerns?
This has been the best part of my work so far! Within the organization, I work closely with two women who I have trained as advocates. Their confidence and understanding of political advocacy and liaising with government officials has been incredible to see. Within the community, the female focal points we have trained are also showing exponential growth. We recently held a training for these women and, afterward, several reported that they felt more confident to speak out in their communities and support other women. One from a rural area was so inspired that she began conducting stronger outreach to victims in her community, which resulted in two people filing their cases with the police--a huge accomplishment considering this took a 4 hour boat ride (one way) on high seas to get to a lawyer. And, another focal point who had been a victim of violence herself, finally came forward to share her experience within the group after being too scared to do so before.
What is it like to work at such an organization as Ba Futuru?
It's been really inspiring! I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who have experienced incredible violence but are still positive and dedicated to improving their country. The women with whom I work are incredible. My work colleagues are powerful, insightful, smart, dedicated women who balance tough work with family life. And, they confront the myriad of issues and depressing challenges of our work with incredible passion and positivity. One colleague was attacked and saw numerous others harmed in a terrible massacre during the Indonesian Occupation in Timor-Leste. Yet, she is often more positive than I am, and constantly strives to improve herself and her country. So many others with whom I work have similar stories and are similarly inspiring.
The Human Rights Program extends its sincere thanks to Lindsey for her thoughtful and generous comments. What truly incredible work!
February 14th, 2014