Girl rights role model Marta launched to promote gender equality in Timor-Leste

The Office for Promotion of Equality (OPE), which comes under the Office of the Prime Minister, with UNICEF, officially launched the Marta Communication Initiative on 10 November 2006. This is a multimedia edutainment package of radio melodramas, stickers, posters, brochures and, in the future comic books and cartoon films, about a girl Marta, her brother Atoy, their pet parrot Kakatua and their adventures.

In a show of firm support, both the Prime Minister Dr Jos? Ramos-Horta and First Lady of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste Ms Kirsty Sword-Gusm?o were present at the official launch of the Marta Communication Initiative at the Gymnasium Hall. The OPE and the First Lady?s NGO Alola Foundation have been key partners with UNICEF in developing the initiative.

?This initiative is very much in line with my Government?s commitment to focus on issues important to women like health, education, violence against women, and greater representation in public employment and decision-making,? said Dr Jos? Ramos-Horta. ?Our country needs the full participation and empowerment of women to succeed both economically and socially.?

The Marta Communication Initiative is a multimedia package that the Government and all organisations can use to promote children and adolescent girls? rights. It is a dynamic process that allows users to create new stories based on emerging issues that affect children and young women in the country.

?One of the most powerful obstacles standing in the way of realising children?s rights and achieving the Millennium Development Goals is the discrimination experienced by women and girls. As a role model, Marta has the potential to bring positive change in the lives of girls and women by getting families to discuss important issues in a lively and non-threatening environment,? said Shui Meng Ng, UNICEF Representative in Timor-Leste.

Issues like access to education, child marriage, health and hygiene, peace and conflict will be tackled using entertaining radio melodramas, comic books, and cartoons. Children will be inspired by the positive examples that Marta and her brother Atoy show in the stories.

?Marta and her adventures will give us an opportunity to promote the rights of young people, both boys and girls, in a positive and entertaining manner. It promotes the equality and rights of one half of the population whose voices is very often not heard or is ignored,? said Ms Kirsty Sword-Gusm?o when she spoke at the launch.

The first Marta story was launched at the event, with part of the 15-minute radio melodrama played to 500 invited guests, which included almost 200 primary and secondary school students from Dili.

In the story Will Marta Leave School?, 10-year-old Marta is dismayed when she has to drop out of school to look after her baby brother. One day at the market, she stops a businessman from cheating her father by calculating correctly how much money he should be paid for the corn he was selling. Her father then realised how important it was to have all his children go to school. The producers hope that this story will inspire parents to support all their children to continue schooling. In Timor-Leste, many girls tend to drop out of school early, as their education is not a priority for their families.

And in light of the current civil unrest in the country, the story Marta and Peace is being developed to encourage children and families to respect and listen to one another so as to restore peace. In May, political tensions rocked the tiny country and resulted in a deep ethnic divide amongst people, especially in Dili. Sporadic gang wars continue to create a volatile tension in the city.

The idea of a role model like Marta began in 2003 when UNICEF and a group of radio drama producers (Timor Murak Group) first developed a 12-part radio drama series Hakarak Kaer Ba Fitun (Reach for the stars) to promote equal access to education for boys and girls.

?In early 2005, some of us visited Bangladesh to learn from Meena, an animated model for children and girls throughout South Asia. Meena, who was conceived in the early 90?s by UNICEF, is now a household name in South Asia for child rights. Based on the experience, we came home determined to create Timor-Leste’s own child model,? said Dominggus Monemnasi, UNICEF consultant who has been involved in developing Marta since 2003.

In November 2005, a group of local artists, writers, radio producers, and representatives from international and local NGOs, UNICEF, the OPE and other ministries came together to develop the characters of Marta and her family. The sketches were field tested with children in Dili, and in districts like Los Palos, Manatuto, Aileu and Ermera; the stories were written with the technical advice from relevant ministries and NGOs.

?We all know we have a stake in making sure Marta develops to her full potential so that she with her motto ?Hakarak Kaer Ba Fitun? will inspire all our Timorese children to do the same,? said Ms Kirsty Sword-Gusm?o.

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