Jacinta's story: A female judge in Timor-Leste

08 Mar 2009

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Dr. Jacinta Correia is one of 11 national judges in Timor-Leste's district courts.
© UNDP
Jacinta Correia wakes up at five in the morning. This could be the story of billions of women around the world, taking care of their children and rushing to work. But this is the story of Dr. Jacinta Correia, who is a 36-year-old judge, mother of two and first graduate of the first group of Magistrates and Public Defenders of Timor-Leste. At five in the morning, when it’s still quiet, she thinks of her cases – and makes decisions. She then prepares the kids to go to school and spends most of the day at her office, at the Dili District Court.

Dr. Jacinta – as she is known in her country – is one of the 11 national judges in the country's district courts. Sworn in on July 2007, she and three other colleagues are the only women among Judges and Public Defenders in  Timor-Leste. They attended a two-and-a-half year training course conducted by the Ministry of Justice, through the Legal Training Centre (LTC), one of the national justice institutions that has been supported by the UNDP’s Justice System Programme since 2003.

"When I was little I used to see my grandfather making decisions in our local village. He was what we Timorese called Lia nain, a community mediator. Although the role was not common for women, I always knew I wanted to do the same," said Dr. Jacinta.

It was not an easy path. She had to convince her family to go abroad to study. “Our culture is very patriarchal and it was difficult to convince my parents.” But she did it and went to law school in Indonesia for five years. In 2000, when she returned to Timor-Leste, she was selected to act as a judge as part of the United Nations Transitional Administrator in East Timor (UNTAET), led by Sergio Vieira de Mello. When UNTAET mission ended in 2002 she enrolled in the first Magistrates and Public Defenders training course.

Dr. Jacinta hopes that many other women will also become part of the country’s government in the future. “I can say that everything is possible as long as we are willing to invest in ourselves. I was a little girl living in the countryside who ran towards a dream. I know it took me a long time and the path was not always easy, but I am proud to be where I am today,” she said with a smile on her face.

The UNDP Justice System Programme (JSP), is a capacity development programme for the Timor-Leste justice sector. The Programme was been working closely with Timor-Leste's judicial institutions in capacity development to support the nationals, such as Dr. Jacinta, to perform their duties. The UNDP JSP was originally launched in 2003 and it was recently revised to continue and expand its activities until 2013. It is currently supported by Australia, Brazil, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UNDP (Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery).

For more on UNDP's work in Timor-Leste, go to www.tl.undp.org.

For more on UNDP's work in the areas of Crisis Prevention and Recovery, go to www.undp.org/cpr.