Does War Empower Women? Evidence from Timor Leste

Type Report
Title Does War Empower Women? Evidence from Timor Leste
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
Conflicts may change the material conditions and the incentives individuals face through
death, displacement and other consequences of violence. Being a victim of a war can also
profoundly change individual beliefs, values and preferences (Bellows and Miguel 2009).
Several counts have linked violent conflicts – including the two world wars – to changes in
the roles of women, as well as social norms and beliefs towards gender roles within
1 The aim of this paper is to investigate the medium- and long-term consequences
of a long-lasting conflict – the Timor Leste conflict – on various dimensions of women’s
In particular, we analyse whether and how the exposure to the Timor Leste conflict affected
(i) the decision-making power of women within the household and the community, (ii) the
probability of a woman being a victim of domestic violence, and (iii) attitudes and perception
towards domestic violence. We also explore whether exposure to the conflict influenced
economic empowerment indicators, such as education and labour market outcomes, and
reproductive indicators such as fertility and marriage.
A large literature has emphasised how wars and civil conflicts destroy countries and, within
them, people, institutions and social capital. The legacies of wars have been deemed to be
devastating.2 However, historically wars have also promoted state formation and nation
building (Tilly and Ardant 1975), as well as positive social change (Acemoglu, Autor and Lyle
2004). Recent literature has shown evidence for a positive link between conflict and social
capital, social cohesion and political participation. Bellows and Miguel (2009) find that
individuals who experience violence are more likely to engage in politics, attend community
meetings and join social and political groups. Similarly, De Luca and Verpoorten (2011) show
that political exposure to a conflict increases political participation. These findings are
compatible with the psychological literature on post-traumatic behaviour, whereby individual
tragedies may lead to personal growth and socio-political activism (Tedeschi and Calhoun
2004). Gilligan, Pasquale and Samii (2014) investigated the effects of war on social cohesion
and found that members of communities highly exposed to the Nepalese conflict exhibit more
pro-social behaviours in relation to those exposed to low levels of violence.

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