Asian & Asian American Studies

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In Women’s Words

Violence and Everyday Life during the Indonesian Occupation of East Timor, 1975–1999

In the Series
Asian & Asian American Studies

Hannah Loney is a Melbourne-based early career researcher and sessional lecturer, who specialises in Southeast Asian and Pacific history and politics. She has published on topics that include women, violence, oral history, and memory studies.

Drawing primarily upon oral history interviews, this study presents a woman-centred history of the Indonesian occupation. It reveals the pervasiveness of violence – as well as its gendered and gendering dynamics – within the social and cultural “everyday” of life in occupied East Timor.

The violence experienced by East Timorese women ranged from torture, rape, and interrogation, to various forms of surveillance and social control, and the structural imposition of particular feminine ideals upon their lives and bodies. Through women, East Timorese familial culture was also targeted via programmes to “develop” and “modernise” the territory by transforming the feminine and the domestic sphere. Women experienced the occupation differently to men, not just because they were vulnerable to sexual violence, but also because they endured proxy violence as the military’s means of targeting male relatives and the resistance at large.

In Women’s Words tells a story of survival and perseverance by highlighting the strength, initiative, and negotiating skills of East Timorese women. Many women lived in circumstances of constant negotiation and attempts to maintain order and normality, as well as to provide for themselves and their families, in a society where everyday life was characterised by violence and uncertainty. This study demonstrates the capacity of people to survive, to endure, and to resist, even amid the most difficult of circumstances. It provides insights into the social and cultural elements of territorial control, as well as the locally-grounded strategies that are often used for negotiating and resisting an occupying power.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-891-6
Hardback Price: £60.00 / $74.95
Release Date: September 2018
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-971-5
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: January 2019
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: No



Abbreviations and Terms
Map of Timor-Leste

Introduction: “Our Entire Lives Had Changed Completely”

Chapter One: “This Is Me”: Women’s Narratives of the Indonesian Occupation

Chapter Two: “The Bullets Were Just Like Leaves”: Women’s Experiences of Invasion and Conflict

Chapter Three: “We As Women, We Really, Really Suffered”: Women and the Violence of Military Occupation

Chapter Four: “There Was No Escape”: Women and Everyday Life under Indonesian Rule

Chapter Five: “And I Started to Understand”: Women and the Development of a Culture of Resistance

Conclusion: “The Chance of a Lifetime”


A rich and multilayered account of how East Timorese women endured, survived and resisted the violence and brutality of the 24-year Indonesian occupation.
Reviewed by Lia Kent, Regulatory Institutions Network, The Australian National University, in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

In providing a woman-centred history of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor this book presents rich detail of the everyday lives of women, offering a correction to the often masculine-dominated narratives of war and occupation.
Reviewed by Sharyn Graham Davies, Associate Professor in the School of Languages and Social Sciences at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, in Asian Studies
Review Link:

East Timor’s independence campaign is unique in the history of guerrilla warfare. A small territory about the size of Northern Ireland, but without a friendly state on its borders, without external suppliers of weapons, and without a liberated area in which to recover between guerrilla operations, it relied on international solidarity and its own population’s heroic resistance to achieve political independence. Hannah Loney’s perceptive study shows the pivotal role played by women in this inspiring yet tragic story. Her exploration of the ‘everyday lives’ of women under occupation is a significant contribution to scholarship. It is a grim reminder that behind the rhetoric of “national interest” lay human beings of flesh and blood – who struggled to hold on to their dignity in the face of Indonesian aggression and the hostility of great and middle powers. Loney’s penetrating inquiry honours their struggle by allowing them to be heard in their own words.
Professor Clinton Fernandes, University of New South Wales, Australia

This compassionate and compelling book narrates women’s histories of the violent Indonesian occupation of East Timor. In recounting the women’s experience of the invasion, the occupation and the resistance, Hannah Loney provides a counterpoint to the masculinist framing of the nationalist narrative of funu or struggle, acknowledging the contribution of women to struggle and survival. The women recount their modes of everyday resistance, accommodation and survival. The specifically gendered forms of violent everyday intimacy, deployed by the Indonesian military are linked to the use of gender ideology as a mode of social control in Suharto’s New Order.  This work of feminist oral history recounts compelling personal narratives of suffering and resistance and puts on record a dark dimension of the occupation.
Emeritus Professor Kathryn Robinson, Australian National University, Australia

Through the rich insights provided by original interview material, even further enriched by the inclusion of many other databases and documents, this book provides an important contribution to the historiography of East Timor’s occupation by the brutal Indonesian military. The structural violence, particularly the sexual violence, the intimidation, the surveillance and the effects that this had – and still has – on ordinary women’s lives is vividly invoked. This work convincingly demonstrates the relevance of the oral history method and approach for mainstream historical writing. The book throws new light on the history of the Indonesian occupation, theories of resistance and survival, as well as the growing literature on women’s agency and resistance.
Professor Saskia E. Wieringa, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

This work provides a rich, multilayered account of the ways in which East Timorese women endured, negotiated and resisted the brutality of the Indonesian occupation. By placing women’s voices and experiences at the centre of analysis and paying close attention to the realm of everyday life, Loney not only deepens understandings of the gendered and gendering effects of political violence but also contributes to a radical rethinking of the nature of agency, resistance and the political. It is essential reading for those interested in East Timorese politics, culture and history, and for scholars concerned with the enduring legacies of political violence in Timor-Leste and beyond.
Dr Lia Kent, Australian National University, Australia

Revieed in Australian Feminist Studies, 34:100, 263–265, DOI: 10.1080/08164649.2019.1644608

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