Friday, 25 February 2011

“Sex using force” in Timor-Leste – the perils of survey questions

My last post on domestic violence and marital rape attracted lots of interesting comments. Some points made are valid, others are red herrings, and I have already addressed many in the comments section. I don’t have time to cover everything here, but I will address the most important point, which is the reliability of the data with regard to language and understanding.

First however, I must clearly state that I make no apology for ‘sensationalism’. My blog post was primarily about violence against women, which is a serious problem in Timor-Leste and needs to be talked about more. Yes, there is some good news in there too, and I will write further posts about that, e.g. Timor-Leste appears to be on-track for the water supply MDG. But that blog was about violence against women: so, to the survey questions.

A survey designer has a lot of control over how questions are supposed to be asked by the enumerator (i.e. person carrying out the survey), and the response options that are given. However, the designer can never be completely sure how the enumerator (i) asks the questions in practice, or (ii) interprets the response. Furthermore, the enumerator cannot be sure whether the respondent has (i) understood the question, (ii) given a truthful response. These are the perils of surveys, but we have to live with them – they are the only source of important demographic data.

For this reason, a lot of effort goes in to training the enumerators (i.e. the people who do the fieldwork) to ensure they fully understand the questions. It is clear from p.6-7 of the DHS 2009/10 (click here to download) that they took pains to:

   1. translate and back-translate the questions into Tetum and Bahasa
   2. pretest the questions in 3 different districts
   3. hold a four-week training course in Tetum for the enumerators
   4. conduct oral and written tests of enumerators

We can assume that the questions were asked in whichever of Tetum or Bahasa the respondent was more comfortable with, but this is still problematic (see language post). According to the 2004 census, 43% of Timorese speak Bahasa, and 91% Tetum of some kind (but only 46% Tetum Prasa, the Dili version). We cannot therefore be sure that all respondents understood all the questions perfectly. Did the enumerators pass over households that spoke neither, use a local translator, or do something else? However, we can be sure that with language being such a problematic issue in Timor-Leste, the training will have tackled these problems head-on and proposed ways around them. This is why I accept the data as presented.

[Update 28/2/11 – I worked out a way around one of the language issues. We can safely assume that men with at least primary education can understand either Bahasa or Tetun, at least to the extent required to understand the below question. Using the table published in the report, it is easy mathematically to isolate only those men with greater than primary or greater than secondary education. Ignoring the differences across districts for a moment, we find that that on average across the country, those with greater than primary 1 in 7 agreed, and with greater than secondary 1 in 8 agreed. The rest of this post has not changed.]

Now, to the controversial question, which you can read on p.389 of the survey (link here again). “Do you think that if a woman refuses to have sex with her husband when he wants her to, he has the right to use force and have sex with her even if she doesn't want to?” The question is unequivocal about (i) him wanting to, (ii) her not wanting to, (ii) the use of force.

Want and force are simple concepts, not e.g. complicated names of diseases or health issues, which are often a source of confusion in DHS surveys. The options for answers are “yes”, or “no” or “don’t know / depends”. In the survey report we are only given data on “yes”, so we cannot infer the split between “no” and “don’t know / depends”.

It is notable that the answers to this particular question show significant variation between districts. More than 30% of men in 3 districts (Baucau, Bobonaro and Covalima) said “yes”, but in 6 other districts less than 5% said yes, with the other 4 districts falling somewhere in between. This might lead us to suspect that the question was not universally understood in all districts.

It might be worth investigating these kinds of problems regarding other survey questions. The only other such example that I have looked hard at is the data on diarrhoea on p.139. Reported rates of under-5s having diarrhoea in the last two weeks are unusually low in 3 districts. Furthermore, some findings are counterintuitive, with mother’s education apparently contributing to higher diarrhoea incidence.

In conclusion, I should state that I stand by what I wrote, which was merely commenting on published government data. I was not saying that all Timorese men are rapists. Violence against women is a big problem both in Timor-Leste and in other countries around the world. It needs higher priority.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

1 in 6 Timorese men think it’s OK to rape your wife if she refuses sex

Yes you read that right.

[update 28/2/11 - this post was since followed up with a supplementary post exploring the survey questions involved: to read it, click here. The text of this post has not changed]

This statistic comes p.219 of the Timor-Leste Demographic and Health Survey 2009-10 (DHS) which came out in December. It was carried out by the National Statistics Directorate of the Ministry of Finance, with funding from various donors, you can get it from, click here and download the PDF. There's a useful 3-page summary at the beginning which gives you the headlines.

Many governments now carry out a DHS every 5 years or so. As WaterAid’s resident data nerd, I’ve had the joy of reading about 20 different DHS from various countries over the last few years. Like any survey, it has its flaws. Judging by some of the data on sanitation and diarrhoea there have been some serious translation issues (sympathy due here – Timor-Leste has 30+ local languages, check out my language post). However, of all the types of surveys I’ve worked on, DHS is the strongest: large nationally-representative sample, well-tested questions, and a consistent methodology.

So, 1 in 6 Timorese men think it’s OK to rape your wife if she refuses sex. That’s just one of the depressing statistics in the section on gender equality and domestic violence. Over a third of women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and this rises to over half of women in Dili.

64% percent of women (yes, women) believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she goes out without telling him. The figures for men are similar and, in fact, women seem to be more willing to sanction domestic violence than men. There’s no space to go into detail on this here – look at p.213-14. Even more depressingly, these views don’t appear to change much in younger women.

Clearly, a lot more work needs to be done on both stopping violence against women, and changing social attitudes so that women themselves see such violence as unjustified. Of course this will take time, but we can be sure that changing social attitudes will take more than posters of Horta and “hapara violensia kontra feto”. Not having much knowledge in this area, I will let the data do the talking and leave the solutions up to the experts (if you work in this area, please leave a comment).

These were the most shocking statistics I read in there, but it’s not all bad news. It’s also worth noting that most of the data is more hard facts than attitudes. For example, under-5 mortality has gone down a lot. It declined from 83 per 1,000 live births during the in 1999-2003 to 64 per 1,000 live births during 2005-2009, which is a decent chunk out of MDG 4.

Less welcome is the data on undernutrition (anecdotally, one reason why publication was delayed for so long…) – 58% of under children under 5 are stunted and 45% are underweight. That’s high compared to similar countries, and is one reason why Timor urgently needs to sort out its food security problems. Of course, nutrition is about far more than food, and I’ll take the opportunity to bang the drum for sanitation here, which is strongly linked to undernutrition, both through its impacts on diarrhoea and on acute respiratory infections – for more see p.6 of this report

I’ve obviously been poring over the DHS data on water and sanitation in a lot of detail and comparing it to previous surveys – a full post on that to follow later. So, I’ll end with a link to a bizarre article on DHS from Tempo Semanal. Often I like TS articles, but this one was a desperate attempt to add political intrigue, headlined with a year–old unrelated quote from Horta complaining about donors always spending money on reports. They evidently failed to notice that (i) this survey was led by the government, (ii) without these surveys the government wouldn’t be able to target resources and policy responses.

In conclusion, I urge you to read the 3-page summary at the beginning of the new DHS (again link here). It really contains a wealth of statistically solid and nationally-representative information about development in Timor-Leste.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Dili’s population to double every 16 years

As mentioned in a previous post, Dili is growing pretty quickly. The Timorese are coming here for many reasons, but above all, jobs. It is arguable that jobs are not being created fast enough in the districts, so more and more people are flocking to town to seek their fortune. And flocking they are: the population was 120,000 in 2000, but it’s 200,000 according to the 2010 census. That’s a growth rate of 4.8% a year, meaning a doubling of the population every 16 years. I recommend reading the summary of the preliminary census results (available from here) - they're pretty interesting.

Given Dili’s relatively small size, you would expect an influx of 80,000 people in a short space of time to create a huge slum, but this doesn’t seem to have happened (a lot of IDPs moved out recently, which complicates the issue). I’ve cycled around pretty much every part of town, and whilst many people are clearly very poor, and much housing hardly deserves to be called such, there’s nothing approaching the crowded living-on-top-of-each-other slum conditions that characterise many developing country cities.

This is mostly because Dili is on a large plain (see google maps link here, and click the “terrain” tab). There was plenty of room to expand outwards into agricultural land so Dili, so far, seems to have absorbed the additional people fairly well. As you can see if you click on the “satellite” tab on google maps, there still is quite a lot more space. Most buildings are bungalows, and are unlikely to acquire second stories for some time.

I’ve cycled around a lot of the periphery and once you get more than 3km from the centre it feels more like an extended village rather than urban or even “peri-urban” as such areas are normally characterised. Slight digression – people argue about where urban starts and rural ends until the cows come home (should you define it by economic structure? land use? population density? etc.). Often it boils down to administrative boundaries, which can have a large bearing on the management of water infrastructure.

So, enjoy Dili’s “rural” outskirts while you can. With the population doubling every 16 years, they may not last that much longer… Of course, all of this urbanisation has scary prospects for water and sanitation infrastructure, which already leaves a lot to be desired (post to follow).

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Joga bola, tee iha (playing football, shit happens)

The Timorese do like their football, and it’s probably the most widely played sport. At the weekend I played football with a load of WaterAid staff and guys from our NGO partners HTL and NTF. Enough people for 10-a-side which was pretty good going. It was a great laugh, and some pretty good skills on show too. Kudos to the guys playing in flip-flops, though it does inhibit sparkling runs up the right wing when you lose your footwear every 5 minutes.

No skills on my part unfortunately, as anyone who’s seen me play football will know. Maximum points for effort and tackling, minimum points for skill on the ball. This is why I try to stick to sports without balls, like running and cycling, where effort and stamina matter but hand-eye coordination is not required.

Anyway, moving on… the Timorese do like their football. The only other team sport you really see people playing is basketball (mostly on courts newly built with ‘Pakote referendum’ money, massive budget overestimations leading to tidy profits for the contractors, but I digress). The Timorese national team isn’t so high in the FIFA rankings yet (currently 7th from bottom), but give them time… they only affiliated to FIFA in 2005. Wikipedia has a pretty good page on the national team. If there’s anything that’s holding them back, it’s that they have to stop playing every 20 minutes for a cigarette – virtually all Timorese men smoke like chimneys.

As in most developing countries, it’s popular to support English teams – the penetration of the Premier League never ceases to amaze. You’ll see little kids running around in knock-off Chelsea shirts, taxis emblazoned with Man U colours. When you see football related graffiti, it's always extolling the virtues of Nani, Ronaldo or other Portuguese players, like some I saw in Bebonuk the other day. Less common to see Rooney, though the similarity in temperament leads me to suspect he may have Timorese ancestry.

As soon as I tell guys I’m from the UK, they proudly state their allegiance to Liverpool, Arsenal or whoever, which (naturally) dates well back into the 90s and they (naturally) have a very good reason for supporting them. This is actually pretty useful, because the only time I really followed football was in 94-95 when collecting the Panini stickers at primary school and then 96-97 when we were all playing Championship Manager 2. This means I can look really clever by knowing bizarre historical details about their chosen team… (“ah Liverpool, yes, Grobelaar, McManaman, and wasn’t Graham Souness the manager then? Such great taste in moustaches back in the day…”).

Of course, the next question is “who do you support, then?” so I have to make some excuse about not really following football any more (“Oh, If I had to support someone it would be Coventry City, near where I’m from. They’re not very good now, but they did win the FA cup in 1987 you know…”)

There are quite a few pitches around Dili. We were playing at a place called Tasitolu just out of town. On the plus side, our pitch was by the beach with a beautiful view of Atauro island. However, that didn’t outbalance the fact that the pitch was far from “open defecation free” (to use some sanitation jargon) due to cows/goats animals roaming nearby. By the end of the game, most of the 20 or so cowpats had a couple of footmarks in them… tee iha (shit happens) I suppose. Hopefully these games will become regular, as it’s a good way of getting to know partner staff outside work as well.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Dili #1 – Introduction to East Timor’s capital town

Dili is the capital town of East Timor. I say town rather than city, because it really is a rather small place. There are only a couple of buildings over 3 stories, and in fact the vast majority of buildings are bungalows. This fact is most striking when you enter the port by boat – the few big churches are the only things which stick out.

Despite Dili’s small town feel, urbanisation is happening extremely rapidly as the economy expands, and the streets are filling with cars and motorbikes. This is perhaps a sign of “development”, or perhaps a sign of ballooning government budgets and therefore lucrative contracts for anyone with the nous to set up a new business. I’m writing a separate post on the rapid urbanisation of Dili, so I’ll say no more on that at the moment. It will suffice to say that the 2010 Census found that c.200,000 people living in urban Dili district. Its population is growing by 4.8% a year – it may not sound like a lot, but that means its population doubles every 16 years (!). For an urban planner, that’s a scary prospect.

So, Dili is the capital, and it has been for since 1769 when the Portuguese moved their centre of government there. Architecturally, they didn’t leave much to speak of. The only striking Portuguese-era building I’ve come across is the Pala├žio Governo, with its large open courtyard and monument to Prince Henry the Navigator. A large proportion of buildings were torched during the various bouts of violence, but particularly in 1999 and 2006 (see history post again) and even now many burnt-out shells remain. However, frenetic building work is taking place all over town, and many of the burnt-out shells in good locations have signboards outside saying what is going to be built there eventually.

Despite its capital status and rapid growth, Dili still has a small town feel – people are friendly and it has a very relaxed atmosphere compared to the bustling crowds (and overwhelming smells) of other Asian cities. There’s a long seafront and beach of sorts (sunbathing not recommended) which is somewhat spoiled by the bloody great port right in the middle of town. About 10 mins cycle out of town you come to a lovely beach which gets pretty busy with malae and richer Timorese at the weekends.

You can tell when you’re getting further out of town as the kids start shouting “hello mister” and “malae! malae!” (foreigner! foreigner!). There are so many malae in central Dili that kids that live in town got bored of that years ago. Speaking of foreigners, Dili is absolutely crawling with malae, many doing jobs like myself, i.e. “counterparts” for Timorese NGO staff new to their jobs. There are also hundreds of UN bureaucrats, UN police, and a host of young Australian volunteers. Maybe the UN contingent will scale down a little when the mission ends in 2012 (at least in theory), but the NGOs and donor agencies will be here for some time.

Most spare wall space is scrawled with gang names and other random graffiti (see previous post) which, I suppose, brings down the tone a bit. In the past few weeks I’ve seen increasing amounts of Timor Telecom advertising being painted on previously graffito’d walls. I’m not sure which is worse (a blog post laying into monopolistic Timor Telecom to come another time…) – at least the graffiti is socially interesting, if mostly ugly.

There’s quite a lot of urban agriculture, with various areas even in the government ministry area people are growing  vegetables or kangkung, which is good as it means there’s somewhere for water soak away. All the building work going on is potentially a big problem. As more areas get concreted over, the worse the flooding situation is going to get (see this post).

It seems I’m finding it hard to do justice to Dili in a single blog post, which is only to be expected, so let’s say this is just a brief picture, and a start of a series of posts on Dili…

Friday, 21 January 2011

Dili graffiti – gangs, memorials and Jackie Chan

First blog for over a month as I’ve been away and really busy with work. I have nearly completed a couple of posts on Dili, so in the meantime, here’s a taster of something you’ll immediately notice when you come here: the ubiquity of (mostly bad) graffiti.

I’m a fan of graffiti (or “street art” as the good stuff has been rebranded) when it’s done well and in the right place, especially if it’s provocative, political or just pretty. There’s some really good stuff back home in London. Unfortunately, most stuff in Dili is terrible. For some reason, the jovem (youth) feel like they have to scrawl their neighbourhood gang affiliation over any spare piece of wall. So, you notice pretty quickly when you move from a “Seven 7” area to a “Mambo no 5” area (see photos). I live in the border between “Bambros Vila Verde” and “Malcovi”.

Part of this is due to the martial arts club stuff that was all over the media a few years ago (see here) but now seems to mostly have died down. At its height, the martial arts club were even covered on Ross Kemp’s gangs programme (see here), and Jackie Chan came to Dili to teach the Timorese to use their skills for good! (here and here)

Despite all the crappy gang graffiti, there is some better stuff on offer, such as the peace messages all over the walls of the football stadium, which must have been a commission of some sort (see photos). Hopefully Dili Cidade Da Paz (Dili city of peace) will stay as true as it is now, though there has been some trouble this week with the police evicting 1000 people from Bairo Pite (see here).

Not many of the scrawlings actually say anything in Tetun, though there is some stuff near my office to do with rival boxing clubs, e.g. “King of Boxing beik ohin rahun”, which translates into something like “If you’re not careful King of Boxing will smash your face in”. Nice.

There is also some memorial-related stuff, e.g. the memorial to Kuka (see picture). Kuka was a promising young musician killed at a party by police breaking up a fight which he wasn’t involved in (see here and here). It’s a sad story, and controversial too, as the police reportedly kept the house blockaded for 45 minutes during which time he could have been taken to hospital and saved.

Dili-dwellers, if you're reading, please recommend some of the best (or funniest) stuff and I'll add it.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Separation from the UK political discourse

(Unrelated to Timor, but something I’ve been thinking about this week. My main points are that (i) I can personally see why the left is arguing against the cuts and agree, but (ii) I think they are failing to successfully communicate their reasoning beyond the headline of "cuts are bad"; people get this, but aren't aware what the alternatives are. )

Being on the other side of the world and largely deprived of UK media and political conversations with friends over the last 2 months has been a real eye-opener. It made me realise what a muffled message most people in the UK are likely to get on politics, and how important it is to get the message clear and reasoned. Here on the other side of the world, I’m hearing the basic message, but not the reasoning.

At home, I read the Guardian and BBC, topped up with Liberal Conspiracy, Left Foot Forward and Guido, then discuss issues in the pub with friends regularly. Here, I’m reading far more on East Timor and international affairs. Consequently, I’m only receiving about 10% of the UK-oriented information that I usually get.

For example, I could tell you that in recent weeks students have been demonstrating against increases in top-up fees and Labour are organising against most cuts in general. But I couldn’t tell you the nuanced arguments behind why Labour are arguing against most of the cuts, beyond “they’ll hit the poor hardest” which is obvious.

I am instinctively drawn to anti-cuts positions, being an independent man of the left. (I have variously voted Lib Dem and Green but not yet Labour – I was sixteen on 9/11, after which they became authoritarian and war-mongering – that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t vote Labour if Ed Miliband cleans things up). However, without the detail, the likely right-wing counter-argument is harder to refute. For example, Labour’s election campaign also acknowledged the need for cuts, just slower ones on a slightly different ratio. Is it not hypocritical of them to wail at every lost public sector job?

I know that most of Labour’s positions are defensible. I would and could happily defend them myself. My point is that with my media intake being 10% of what it usually is, I couldn’t immediately tell you how they are defending it currently. This is important, because even out here I’m probably still reading 10x more news than the majority of the British public.

It really brings it home how important the headlines are, and how you need to make the message simple yet reasoned. Anyone arguing against cuts needs to be upfront about either (i) what they would cut instead, (ii) which taxes they would raise instead, or (iii) why cuts aren’t needed at all. I want to hear this every time an anti-cuts statement is made.

Whilst it’s fair to say that the Tories are being overly ideological in some respects and going further than is needed, that is a side-issue – everyone campaigned on the fact that some cuts are needed. The default right-wing response is “all these cuts are Gordon Brown’s fault, and you’d be cutting this yourself if you’d won the election”. To the right sort of person, that line of argument becomes more persuasive when Labour aren’t clearly justifying their positions.

Personally I buy the narrative that (i) the financial crisis was mainly due to contagion from the USA, (ii) graphs don’t lie – Britain’s debt wasn’t at historically high levels in 2008, and (iii) Gordon did the right thing in bailing out the banks. But I’m not hearing a more nuanced message from the left than simply “fight the cuts”. Maybe Labour people think if they complain loudly enough about the cuts for the next 5 years, people will blame the whole lot on the Coalition and vote Labour again. I honestly don’t think this will be enough.