PROBLEM:The health sector is a critical partner in the response to violence against women, but little is known about how to translate international guidelines and sustainable good practice in remote and under-resourced health systems. AIM:This research explores the barriers and enablers that midwives report in responding to domestic and sexual violence in Timor-Leste, a country with a very high rate of violence against women. The aim is to inform a systems approach to health provider training and engagement applicable to Timor-Leste and other low-resource settings. METHODS:In 2016 we conducted qualitative interviews and group discussions with 36 midwives from rural health settings, community health centres and hospitals in three municipalities of Timor-Leste. FINDINGS:A range of individual, health system and societal factors shape midwives' practice. While training provided the foundation for knowing how to respond to cases of violence, midwives still faced significant health system barriers such as lack of time, privacy and a supportive environment. Key enablers were support from colleagues and health centre managers. CONCLUSION:Health provider training to address violence against women is important but tends to focus on individual knowledge and skills. There is a need to shift toward systems-based approaches that engage all staff and managers within a health facility, work creatively to overcome barriers to implementation, and link them with wider community-based resources.