The SIGI 2023 profile for Timor-Leste provides a comprehensive overview of the state of gender equality in the country, as measured by the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI).1 The fifth edition of the SIGI, released in 2023, assesses 140 countries based on the level of gender-based discrimination in their social institutions. These discriminatory social institutions encompass both formal and informal laws, as well as social norms and practices that restrict women’s and girls’ access to rights, justice, empowerment opportunities and resources, thereby undermining their agency and authority.

In 2023, Timor-Leste did not obtain a SIGI score due to missing data in the “Restricted civil liberties” dimension. The country is missing data on practices related to access to financial services, freedom of movement and access to justice – more specifically, (1) the share of women among those declaring not feeling safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they live and (2) the share of women among those declaring not trusting the country’s judicial system and courts. The country obtained a score of 37 in the “Restrictive physical integrity” dimension, followed by “Discrimination in the family” (26) and “Restricted access to productive and financial services” (20).2

The legal system is based on civil law. Section 2 of the Constitution (Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, 2002[2]) recognises and values the norms and customs of Timor-Leste as long as these remain in accordance with to the Constitution and to any legislation dealing specifically with customary law. However, there is no approved legislation in Timor-Leste that confers legal value to customary justice mechanisms (Almeida, 2017[3]).

Section 16 of the Constitution recognises and prohibits multiple and intersectional discrimination – an essential provision to enhance gender equality from a legal perspective. Moreover, Timor-Leste ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2003, without reservations (United Nations, 1979[4]; United Nations, 2023[5]).

Gender-disaggregated, gender-relevant and intersectional data and indicators are essential to better identify policy areas that have strong linkages with gender. In Timor-Leste, there are applicable legal provisions regulating the production and dissemination of gender statistics. Decree-Law No. 17/2019 (Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, 2019[6]) governs the organisation of the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion. Article 10(2) of Decree-Law No. 17/2019 mandates, among others, the statistical production and analysis of sex-disaggregated data.

Timor-Leste has a strong legal framework which guarantees women and men equal rights regarding family and marriage matters, as well as in the economic and political spheres. Yet, in practice, informal laws often undermine this de jure equality, for instance by limiting women’s ability to inherit land or property assets. Nonetheless, gender gaps in asset ownership remain very limited. In the political sphere, legal quotas are in place since 2011 and have helped promote women’s political representation. As a result, in 2023, 40% of members of parliament are women, which is substantially higher than the global and regional averages.

The limited availability of data on practices and social norms restricts the analysis and prevents from having a clear understanding of the state of gender equality in the country. Timor-Leste lacks data that are comparable to other countries in many dimensions covered by the SIGI. For instance, data on the division of domestic responsibilities, attitudes on women’s and men’s roles in society, as well as feeling of security and trust in the judicial system are not available.

Discriminatory social institutions undermine women’s and girls’ agency, bodily autonomy and integrity. Child marriage is not prohibited. The minimum legal age of marriage is 17 years for both girls and boys and there are also legal exceptions that allow for minors over 16 to get married. Moreover, the law does not comprehensively protect women from all forms of violence – particularly regarding sexual violence and rape. Prevalence levels of intimate-partner violence remain high and attitudes justifying men’s use of physical violence against their spouses are widespread. Moreover, women’s reproductive autonomy is restricted. Access to safe and legal abortion is only permitted if necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, safeguard her health or in cases of foetal impairment, whereas nearly one quarter of women report an unmet need for family planning.


[3] Almeida, B. (2017), The Main Characteristics of the Timorese Legal System – a Practical Guide, pp. vol. 50/2, pp. 175-187, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26429316.

[6] Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (2019), Decree-Law No. 17/2019 of 11 July, Jornal da República, Série I, No. 27 A.

[2] Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (2002), Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

[1] OECD (2023), “Social Institutions and Gender Index (Edition 2023)”, OECD International Development Statistics (database), https://doi.org/10.1787/33beb96e-en (accessed on 10 January 2024).

[7] OECD Development Centre/OECD (2023), “Gender, Institutions and Development (Edition 2023)”, OECD International Development Statistics (database), https://doi.org/10.1787/7b0af638-en (accessed on 11 January 2024).

[5] United Nations (2023), Status of Treaties: Chapter IV - 8. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-8&chapter=4.

[4] United Nations (1979), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-elimination-all-forms-discrimination-against-women.


← 1. The full SIGI Country Profile for Timor-Leste is available at: OECD Development Centre (2023), “Timor-Leste SIGI Country Profile”, SIGI 2023 Country Profiles, OECD, https://oe.cd/sigi-dashboard.

← 2. SIGI scores range from 0 to 100, with 0 indicating no discrimination and 100 indicating absolute discrimination. Levels of discrimination in the SIGI and its dimensions are assessed based on scores as follow: very low [0-20]; low [20-30]; medium [30-40]; high [40-50]; and very high [50-100].

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