Webinar on “Frontier Finance: The role of microfinance in debt and violence in post-conflict Timor-Leste”

In this webinar, Dr Melissa Johnston discussed what can the study of microfinance in post-conflict contexts tell us about its use in a post-covid environment.

Webinar Series 2020-2021: Financial Transformation, Credit Markets and Household Debt in Southeast Asia

Wednesday, 15 June 2021 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “Frontier Finance: The role of microfinance in debt and violence in post-conflict Timor-Leste”, delivered by Professor Melissa Johnston, a postdoctoral research fellow at Monash University. She was joined by Dr Isabelle Guérin is a socioeconomist, Senior Research Fellow at the French Institute of Research for Sustainable Development (IRD), associate at the French Institute of Pondicherry.

Professor Melissa Johnston
Professor Melissa Johnston discussed the data from her 15-month fieldwork in Timor-Leste and West Timor. Dr Isabelle Guérin is discussant of this session, while Dr Nicolas Lainez is moderator. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Professor Johnston began her presentation with a brief introduction of the microfinance scene in Timor-Leste during the Indonesian Occupation from 1978 to 1998 and its consolidation during the post-conflict period up till 2015. Timorese elite classes have benefitted the most from microfinance during these periods, via ‘brideprice’. Brideprice refers to the payment to the bride’s family for marriage, and is used as a gender order regulation by the elite class. It weds the exchange of women to the class system in which the violent control of women is paramount to retaining political power. Additionally, this order has resulted in extractive debt relations between elite classes and ordinary citizens and has become characterized by gender circuits of violence. Professor Johnston noted that microfinance adds liquidity and high interest rates to the debt relations of brideprice helping to create the very conditions for poor women’s disempowerment in a fragile state. She concluded her presentation suggesting that the success of microfinance is predicated on systems of gender inequality and gendered circuits of violence, debt, and the exchange of women.

Next, Dr Isabelle Guérin shared her insights and continued the discussion of the relationship between microfinance and brideprice in Timor-Leste in which she echoed similar sentiments as the thoughts shared by Professor Johnston.

The webinar concluded with Professor Johnston and Dr Guérin answering the questions posed by the audience.

Over 30 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)