Paulina Quintao – A new report shows that most midwives in Timor-Leste still have little knowledge about the country's domestic violence law.
Researcher Dr Lidia Gomes from the National University of Timor Lorosae (UNTL) said the assistance provided by midwives was based on their existing knowledge and many had not received adequate training on how to assist victims of gender-based violence.
She said the research showed that only midwives who had received training from local organizations were providing effective assistance in terms of treatment and counseling.
"The midwives are humbly asking for training because so far the assistance provided is only based on their knowledge," she said following the launch of the report at UNTL in Dili.
The study looked at ways to strengthen the primary health care response to violence against women and was jointly conducted by UNTL and Australia's La Trobe University.
Limited human resources and the lack of space for counseling services for victims were also among the other challenges, according to Dr Gomes. She also urged local organizations working in capacity building to revise the training guidelines on gender-based violence issues as they did not reflect the reality.
The study was conducted in Baucau, Dili and Liquica municipalities after data from the 2010 demographic health survey showed that these regions had the highest prevalence of violence against women. There are a total of 782 midwives working in government institutions and private clinics across the country.
Dean of UNTL's Medical and Health Science Faculty Joao Martins said the aim of the study was to ask midwives about their opinions on the health assistance provided to victims as they were often the first person to attend to the women.
Although midwives' knowledge on the health implications of domestic violence was very good, their knowledge about the legal aspects was still low, particularly in terms of identifying cases and where to refer victims.
"We should strengthen their (midwives') knowledge so they can provide good assistance for women who are victims of gender-based violence," she said.
She said UNTL supported the introduction of training on gender-based violence issues for university students, particularly those in the medical department, so that they were prepared once they were working professionally in the field.
Meanwhile, Board President of Rede Feto Judit Ximenes said it was the Health Ministry's responsibility to facilitate training as the national action plan on gender-based violence clearly states that each ministry must provide training for their staff.
"Midwives should ask the ministry to provide them with training in the forensics area and share information about gender-based violence," she said.
She said violence against women and children was a crime and that anyone with information, including health personnel, had a responsibility to report such cases to the police.