Research Methodology

The Methodology section describes the overarching research questions and the mixed-method research of this study, which uses multi-level comparative case analysis, in-depth life story interviews, focus group discussions, process tracing, social network mapping, and supported by analysis of quantitative monitoring data from 27 provinces. This section provides a background to the study and its methodology as is outlined in Figure 2 in the Introduction section below, with further details provided in Annexes.


This Research Methodology section first overviews the evolution, aims, and key features of Indonesia’s 2014 Village Law. It then briefly overviews existing research on the Law, identifying the gap in recent studies in understanding how women have influenced the implementation of the Law and the role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in this process. We then overview how this study seeks to fill this gap and the key concepts used in relation to collective action and women’s empowerment.

The report then explores the approach of the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality (MAMPU) in Indonesia and the ways it supports CSO partners to bolster women’s voice and influence. We further explain the research methodology used to investigate how women’s influence might influence the implementation of the Village Law, including the aims, questions, site sample, and data sources and collection methods.

Figure 2: Structure and Key Content of Section 2

Indonesia’s Village Law

Indonesia’s Village Law—Law No. 6/2014—has introduced profound changes to Indonesia’s development landscape and governance system. In the section below we briefly overview the antecedents and aims of the Law, the Law’s key features and village governance institutions. We then review relevant studies exploring the early implementation of the Law and its impacts to identify the point at which this study intervenes to fill the knowledge gap on how women have influenced the implementation of the Village Law.

Antecedents and evolution

The 2014 Village Law evolved from various iterations of prior large-scale community development initiatives—such as the Kecamatan [Subdistrict] Development Program (KDP)—to support village-level governance, priority setting, and self-managed development. Just prior to and in the early years of Indonesia’s democratic transition, the focus on village-level initiatives to accelerate development and tackle poverty was growing in Indonesia, especially in response to the high levels of poverty that were worsening with the impacts of the Asian Financial Crisis. In 1997, in the year prior to President Suharto’s resignation, KDP was piloted in 25 villages and then scaled up in 1998 just as Indonesia overhauled its political system and decentralised significant fiscal and political authority. The structure of this program was in stark contrast to many of Indonesia’s other centrally-planned development initiatives, which tended to be implemented through top-down hierarchical structures of authority and funds disbursement. KDP’s funds were instead channelled directly into subdistrict accounts, bypassing higher levels.

The program was underpinned by community-driven development (CDD) principles, in which it sought to support communities to determine their development priorities, and to plan, budget, implement, and monitor small scale development projects themselves, with the support of facilitators at village, subdistrict, and district levels and the support of technical and financial planners/experts such as engineers. Project proposals were developed in villages with the support of a female and male village empowerment facilitator in each village. Special Women’s Meetings were held in villages to determine priority proposals from women. Other village priority projects determined in village consultation and deliberation meetings known as musyawarah desa or MusDes (also sometimes referred to as Village Meetings). In inter-subdistrict forums, village projects were ranked by committees of villagers (at least half of whom were women) against a number of criteria, including poverty alleviation. As many top-ranked projects as possible were funded within the limits of the subdistrict budget allocation. This CDD pilot evolved over the next 15 years through the following phases, with many of its village development principles being enshrined in the 2014 Village Law legislation:

  • KDP—Between 1998-2002, this large-scale development initiative was scaled up from the 1997 pilot to target village development across many subdistricts across Indonesia with the support of the World Bank through loans and grants, and other bilateral aid (such as the Australian Aid program) and multilateral development agencies. Villages competed for development funds for local infrastructure projects and other initiatives such as revolving savings and loans funds, supported by significant facilitation. The program went through various iterations to 2006, reaching some 20,000 villages.
  • PNPM Mandiri—In 2007, the Indonesian government nationalised the program, scaling up these community-driven development methodologies through The National Community Empowerment Program (PNPM Mandiri), which was funded through Indonesia’s national budget and continued support from development agencies. PNPN Mandiri ran from 2007-2014, reaching over 65,000 villages, again with a focus on local infrastructure development and poverty alleviation, also incorporating block grants for other kinds of services and initiatives. The program was also heavily facilitated but inter-village competition was reduced.
  • The Village Law—The Law legislated the authority and budgets and for village-level governance and self-managed development, further expanding the reach of the prior initiatives to include all of Indonesia’s 75,000 villages. Each village receives an annual budget of approximately USD75,000. To date, facilitators in villages (pendamping desa) primarily support the village government for technical and administrative planning and budgeting and accountability.

The 2014 Village Law incorporates some of the original CDD principles and practices of prior programs into village government and governance, particularly community-level planning and decision making for determining development priorities through MusDes. How to best encourage participation in these meetings and decision-making processes has long been considered key to inclusive development and ensuring transparency and accountability, even for the Village Law’s antecedent programs such as KDP (Barron et al., 2011). The Law does not legislate quotas or special rules for the inclusion of women, but technical rules and regulations are periodically released by the ministries responsible for supporting village governance and accountability and guiding implementation.  


The 2014 Village Law has a number of aims, which are outlined in various Articles (see Box 1). While Indonesia decentralised much of the authority for political and fiscal decision making to districts (through Law No. 22/1999, Law No. 25/1999 and later revisions), the status of villages within Indonesia’s structures of decision-making authority in Indonesia’s governance system nonetheless remained unclear. The 2014 Village Law has clarified the status and authority of villages, including the role and responsibilities of the elected Village Head, the elected Village Consultative Council (Badan Permusyawaratan Desa, BPD[1]), and the village administration, budget allocations, decision making and accountability mechanisms.

Under the Village Law (No.6/2014) and associated regulations, villages hold origin rights (hak asal usul), defined as inherited rights and rights derived from community initiatives (rights to culture, community organisations and land [Article 1]). These shared histories and identities of villages inform how villages are framed under the Law as autonomous and self-managing governmental entities. Based on this principle of autonomy, villages are encouraged to identify and implement their own development priorities and policies using the funds allocated by the central government known as the Village Fund (Dana Desa), which is discussed further below.

The Law also emphasises the importance of participatory community decision making, poverty reduction and gender equity. Article 4 in particular identifies the aims of recognising diversity, increasing village community participation in development, accelerating the attainment of welfare improvements and addressing disparities in national development. Article 78 emphasises the goal of poverty reduction in village development, while other articles (26, 63) emphasise the responsibility of the village leadership to uphold democratic life in ways which are gender equitable.

[1] This is also sometimes known as the Village Representative Council (Badan Perwakilan Desa – BPD).

Box 1: Aims of the Village Law

Article 4: Aims of the regulatory arrangements:
a. To give recognition and respect for villages existing prior to and after the formation of the Republic of Indonesia, and the diversity of these villages,
b. To provide clarity and legal certainty on the status of villages in the constitutional system of the Republic of Indonesia in order to bring justice for all Indonesian people,
c. To preserve and promote the customs, traditions, and culture of village communities,
d. To encourage the initiative, action, and the participation of the village communities and the potential for the development of village assets for public welfare,
e. To form a professional, efficient and effective, open, and accountable village administration,
f. To improve public services for village communities in order to accelerate the realisation of general welfare,
g. To increase the social and cultural resilience of village communities in order to realise village communities that are able to maintain social cohesion as part of national resilience,
h. To increase the social and cultural resilience of village communities in order to realise village communities that are able to maintain social cohesion as part of national resilience,
i. To strengthen the village community as a subject of development.

Article 78: Village development
(1) Village Development aims to improve the welfare of village communities and the quality of human life and reduce poverty through the fulfillment of basic needs, the development of village infrastructure, local economic development potential, as well as the use of natural resources and the environment in a sustainable manner.
Articles 26 (4e), 63 (b): Gender equity
Village Heads (or equivalent) and members of the Badan Permusyawaratan Desa—BPD (Village Consultative Council)must ‘implement democratic life which is gender equitable’.

Village budgets and institutions

The Village Fund (Dana Desa): In addition to clarifying the status and authority of villages, the Village Law introduced the ‘Village Fund’, which is contributed to by the central government to the amount of 10% of regional transfer funds. Villages also receive district funding of at least 10% of the amount of national transfers to districts. Approximately USD75,000 (weighted according to village population size, geographical size and degree of poverty) is transferred annually to each of Indonesia’s 75,000 villages to be used in accordance with locally-determined priorities. The newly-created Ministry of Villages, Disadvantaged Regions Development and Transmigration (herein the Ministry of Villages) and the Ministry of Home Affairs have responsibility for supporting different aspects of the implementation of the Law and for oversight. For further information on the evolution of the law, debates on the role of districts under Indonesia’s decentralised system of authority, and division of responsibility for the Law, see Annex 1.

Villagers decide through MusDes how to spend the Fund (Chapter IX, Paragraph 1, Article 80). However, guidance is also provided by the Ministry of Villages on what to prioritise, which the Ministry considered was particularly important in the early phases of the rapid roll-out of the new Law when villages sought implementation support from the Ministry.

The Village Government—led by the Village Head (Kepala Desa), the Village Secretary, and village officials charged with managing the portfolios of government, welfare, and planning—is one of the key institutions under the 2014 Village Law. In contrast to previous legislation on Local Government (32/2004) in which directly-elected Village Heads were responsible to the district, the Village Law specifies that they are responsible to the Village Consultative Council and village consultative and deliberation meetings (MusDes, or Village Meetings, mentioned above). Under Article 27 of the 2014 Law, the Village Head’s accountability to their constituents is realised through publishing and socialising an annual report on village administration. Likewise, the Ministry of Home Affairs Regulation No. 114/2015 extended this responsibility to disseminate information to the community to include the socialisation of a work plan and the village budget in consultative meetings.

The Village Consultative Council is a body designed to represent community interests. It must coordinate an annual MusDes with the village government and ‘community elements’ (unsur masyarakat), or different sections of the community to plan yearly and long-term budgets (Article 54). MusDes thus represent a key mechanism designed to foster participation and ensure accountability. MusDes can also be convened to address village planning (musrenbangdes), investment plans, the formation of village-owned enterprises (BUMDes), village asset management, and in response to extraordinary events (Article 2). Council members have the right to draft Village Regulations (Perdes, Peraturan Desa) with the exception of regulations related to their village’s Medium-Term Development Plan (Syukri et al., 2018, 19). Further, the Village Representative Council organises a separate ad hoc committee to coordinate the election of the Village Head.

The gap: Existing research on Indonesia’s Village Law

While the roll out of the Village Law is still in early iterations, several studies have begun to assess its impact. Some of these focus on national level impacts, for example Suryahadi et al.’s (2018) examination of the impact of the Village Law—and other reforms of the Joko Widodo government—on economic growth and household income. Of most relevance to this study, however, is research exploring the impact of the Village Law on local-level governance (Salim et al., 2017; Antlov et al., 2016; Syukri et al., 2017, 2018; and Vel and Bedner, 2015, among others). These studies identify a range of shifts over time, in which the introduction of the Law has made local governance more inclusive in some ways, but has also deepened inequality in other ways. From these studies we explore relevant findings for community participation, the role of civil society organisations, gender participation, changes to governance practice as a result of the Village Law, and gender impacts.

The most recent large-scale research on the Village Law has been undertaken by the World Bank together with the SMERU Research Institute through the Sentinel Villages Study. The Sentinel Villages Study consisted of a mixed-methods baseline study of the first two years of the implementation of the Law from 2015-16 (the study was then extended to 2017), the qualitative component of which was published by Syukri et al. in 2017 and some of the mixed-methods findings were published by the World Bank in 2018 (see Dharmawan et al., 2018). The research investigates the implementation of the Village Law and the quality of Village Fund spending. It was conducted in 10 villages spread across five districts in three provinces (Jambi, Central Java, and East Nusa Tenggara—NTT). Prior Local Level Institutions (LLI) studies were also conducted in these same sites by researchers with the support of the World Bank in 1996, 2000-01 and 2012 in order to trace changes over time in the implementation of the KDP and PNPM programs mentioned above.

Community participation: The structures of governance introduced with the Village Law have the potential to enhance government responsiveness at the local level through active citizens and more participatory institutions (Antlov et al., 2016). The Sentinel Villages Study investigated general community participation in the implementation of the Village Law, with a particular focus on participation in MusDes, as well as the transparency and accountability of village governments. The Study baseline (2015-2016) concluded that in some places there was limited participation in these meetings, not all village meetings are inclusive, and women are often less likely to attend village and hamlet-level meetings than men (Dharmawan, et al., 2018). In general, villagers tended not to participate in meetings—and especially when they are not invited—due to high opportunity costs and the perception that discussions only related to village government and community leaders (Dharmawan et al., 2018). Thus, the challenges of encouraging participation evident in prior LLI studies of KDP and PNPM have not receded with the scale up of CDD introduced under the Village Law. The Sentinel Village Study authors argue that a continued focus on supporting community participation and empowerment is needed. Certainly, the new regulations introduced in 2019—after the Sentinel Villages Study and this research were undertaken (see Annex 1)—by the Ministry of Villages seek to do this.

The role of civil society organisations: It is important to note that in very few of the village research sites in the Sentinel Villages Study was there a strong presence of CSOs focused on supporting village communities or the implementation of the Village Law. Thus, given this significant gap in the sample, understanding the ways that CSOs might strengthen local governance, gender inclusion, and the implementation of the Village Law was beyond the scope of the Sentinel Villages Study. As a result, the Sentinel Villages Study tends not to identify in detail the multiple pathways by which women might influence Village Law implementation, or the effects of CSO advocacy and programs.

Gender participation: While the Sentinel Villages Study baseline reports identify the limited participation of women in village decision-making forums, Syukri et al. (2017) also identify ways that the functioning of the Village Fund could be improved by empowering villagers and strengthening local institutions such as the Village Consultative Council and village community institutions (LKD). The baseline reports (Syukri et. al, 2017; Dharmawan et al., 2018) also found, that when they participated, female village activists were highly engaged in meetings at the village level. While finding ways to overcome participation in meetings is not a new challenge for CDD, such indications highlight that people who have an activist background or are supported by CSO gender-inclusion initiatives may be more likely to exercise voice and influence in village decision-making meetings. If this is found to be the case more widely in other research such as the present study, it is an important input for efforts supporting inclusion and finding ways to bolster women’s influence in village development and ultimately poverty reduction.

Changes to governance practices as a result of the Village Law: Syukri et al. (2017) argue the Village Law potentially enables more accountable governance through the increased amount of funding going directly to villages. Yet, the implementation of the 2014 Law relies, to a considerable degree, on the understanding and interpretations of local leaders about governance. Susan and Budirahay (2018, 26) find that ‘though the village government may know about the law on villages… they still do not fully understand and practice the principles of good governance—particularly transparency, accountability, and information distribution’. Thus, while the Village Law could have substantial impact on governance reforms, a broad lack of knowledge about principles of good governance amongst local leaders has the potential to undermine these reforms. Indeed, Salim et al. (2017) contend that the ambiguity in roles and responsibilities and lack of citizen participation in practice has meant the implementation of the Village Law constrains governance reform in some ways. This is evident in the discussion in Annex 1 on the different interpretations of the Law among the responsible ministries and corresponding implementing regulations.

Gender impacts: The Sentinel Villages Study baseline report (Syukri et al., 2017, 2018) highlight how the implementation of the Village Law often revolves around practical needs rather than challenging often sensitive ideologies and norms around gender roles. Village Fund decision making in practice focuses on infrastructure and the village economy and not necessarily on other investments that may represent the preferences of women. Similarly,in their analysis of two villages in Central Java that are regarded as successful in governance reform, Kushandajani and Alfirdaus (2019) also observe that women are often excluded from decision making roles, tend to perform support roles and remain underrepresented in MusDes, and women’s concerns are often cast as being secondary in importance. In a study of West Kalimantan, Vos (2018) also identifies how new land claims have emerged with the introduction of the Village Law, but this use of Village Law to support land rights claims did not mean that processes were inclusive of women. Further, the Village Law clarifies the status of villages and gives recognition to customary forms of local governance, such as the custom and tradition communities in village-like structures (e.g. the nagari in West Sumatra). Based on their research, Vel and Bedner (2015) ask whether the Village Law will stimulate progressive changes in inclusive local governance in Indonesia more broadly, or alternatively, stimulate a shift to traditional systems of governance that may or may not be inclusive of different gender needs.

The gap: All of these studies above highlight that it cannot be assumed that the introduction of the Village Law will necessarily result in more inclusive governance. Despite the aims of the Law and its efforts to legislate aspects of community driven development, this has not necessarily resulted in more inclusive village development in the early implementation of the Law, particularly for women. The Sentinel Villages Study does, however, suggest that the Village Law still presents an opportunity to drive gender equality in Indonesia—if government decision makers are able to take that opportunity. Across these studies, limited examples have been identified of where women have indeed influenced the village development and the implementation of the Law, but none deeply investigates the conditions under which this occurs or how such influence is exercised. Further, while the above studies draw on examples of civil society engagement in governance reform at the village level, these studies have not examined how CSOs may contribute to such influence, support more vulnerable groups and rural communities more generally, or support government decision makers at multiple levels to harness the opportunities to drive improvements in gender equity.

Research background and design

Research aims

This research aims to better understand to what extent and in what ways women exert influence on the implementation of the Village Law, the Village Fund and village development in Indonesia and the role of civil society organisations in this process. Specifically, this research focuses on women’s collective informal and formal influence on Village Law outcomes for the benefit of women and other potentially socially marginalised groups.

Background to the study: MAMPU-CSO Partnerships and experience

Women’s empowerment and gender inclusion, through building voice, activism and collective action, has long been a key focus of women leaders, the broader women’s movement and many civil society organisations concerned with gender equity in Indonesia. Many women’s CSOs nationally and locally have been pivotal to Indonesia’s reform movement and influencing the policy agenda to give greater attention to legal protections and policies that improve women’s welfare. Well prior to this, for decades, women’s organisations, be it service providers (such as in health), religious organisations, and in state-corporatist institutions such as women’s farmers groups (see Section 5) had long worked to improve women’s welfare and continue to do so.

The Indonesian women’s movement (See Section 5) has made notable achievements in reducing gender inequality, particularly in seeking to reduce violence against women and improve labour force participation as well as in advocating for the reduction in instances of child marriage. As a result, Indonesia has made progress in achieving gender equality, but such improvements have been incremental and uneven, particularly in poor, rural areas.[2] As with other countries, achieving gender equality remains a challenge in Indonesia, with the weaknesses in the implementation of the Village Law identified by the above studies being no exception.

MAMPU: To support the work of organisations, networks, and other institutions—particularly women’s CSOs—in improving gender equality, the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality (MAMPU) funded by the Australian Aid program provided funding, program design and implementation support to its CSO partners for their core activities and for specific projects—for the purposes of this study our reference to CSOs includes mass organisations made up of women, such as the religious mass organisation ‘Aisyiyah. MAMPU began in 2012 (in a design phase, being fully operational by late 2013) as an eight-year initiative to contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment in Indonesia. Broadly, the program, with its partnership approach, sought to increase women’s voice and influence on decision making at multiple levels from the village to national parliament through networks of civil society organisations (MAMPU Partners).

MAMPU supported the strengthening of women’s collective capacity and resources to influence decision making at various levels and to help build choices for women, mirroring in part the emphasis of development agencies on enhancing women’s access to resources. However, it also directly supported its CSO partners (in organisational development) and indirectly the village women’s groups established or strengthened by these CSOs, with the aim of taking a more socially transformative role through collective action. For more details on the MAMPU empowerment framework see Annex 2.

In its first phase, MAMPU and its Partners focused more on policy development and implementation at district and national levels (Kelly and Wardini, 2019). However, changes in Indonesia’s social and political context at the time, including growing conservatism and slowed economic growth, created significant challenges for the women’s movement (Kelly and Wardini, 2019). Meanwhile, women’s organisations identified that the introduction of the Village Law, provided significant opportunities to undertake efforts to deepen grassroots gender inclusion in villages. Decentralising some aspects of political and fiscal authority in Indonesia to the village level had created much greater potential for women at the grassroots to have a say in the use of public funds. MAMPU program reviews at the time also emphasised the importance of additional support from MAMPU to CSO partners to scale up on-the-ground initiatives in villages to further anchor policy influence and advocacy efforts. Thus, in Phase 2, based on inputs from its CSO partners, MAMPU scaled-up support to its CSO partners to:

  • Intensify efforts to establish or strengthen women’s groups in villages, with the aim of bolstering collective action,
  • Scale-up a variety of skills-building activities with these groups and others, including raising gender awareness,
  • Support these groups in their economic activities, service provision and efforts to influence village development,
  • Support villages in designing policy frameworks, regulations and development activities to benefit women, and
  • Continue undertaking wider policy advocacy as well as providing support to national government and districts in policy design.

[2] The UNDP HDI report for 2018 ranks Indonesia as a country experiencing ‘medium equality’ between men and women.

Filling the knowledge gap: Questions and contributions

In 2018, as the results of these initial studies of the early implementation of the Village Law became clear, particularly in relation to gender inclusiveness and impacts, a number of organisations such as the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) were considering introducing pilots and random controlled trials to try and improve outcomes for women under the Village Law. However, there was insufficient existing research on how this process might be achieved.

Significant interventions and learning by women’s CSOs in this space had taken place, including among MAMPU Partners. Evidence was emerging in MAMPU monitoring reports of village women’s groups influencing village development. The SMERU (2018) mid-line study of MAMPU program impacts undertaken in 2017 had identified some examples of where the Village Fund has been used to support social protection in health, in peatland environmental restoration programs, and to provide support for women’s initiatives. Discussions with the implementors of the Sentinel Villages Study for the present research also revealed that they found one or two examples where there was a culture of cross-gender participation in village decision making (e.g. established through legacy programs of KDP and PNPM). For example, in the study site in NTT, women were more active in village decision making. In other sites, one or two examples were identified in which there were efforts of CSOs to encourage women’s participation in village decision making, with varied success in influencing outcomes. However, no large-scale study had been undertaken to:

  • Learn from these experiences or to investigate in depth and at scale the processes by which women have influenced the implementation of the Village Law and village development,
  • Understand how such influence had varied across Indonesia,
  • Identify what has constrained or enabled such influence, and
  • Determine what has been the role for CSOs—as a structured, organised form of collective action that often operates to support village women but also beyond the village—in this process.

Prior independent research commissioned by MAMPU such as the Migunani (2017) study had identified the different types of women’s groups that had emerged or been strengthened in villages with the support of Partner CSOs and the motivations for women to participate in these groups. However, this study did not look at the ways such groups sought to influence village power structures and decision making under the Village Law. Thus, whilst important work has been done to study these fields separately, a gap in knowledge remained about the ways in which women’s collective action and efforts by CSOs to empower women intersected with Village Law implementation in Indonesia (see Figure 3 below). Thus, the MAMPU program and its CSO Partners supported this independent study to help fill this gap indetermining: in what contexts, to what extent and through what mechanisms has local collective action by women influenced the implementation of the Village Law, and what has been the role for CSOs in this process?

In answering this question, this study seeks to understand the direct and indirect ways that women influence the implementation of the Village Law collectively to bring about positive changes for women. More specifically it investigates women’s collective action, often via groups, or formal and informal networks, to influence the implementation of the Village Law, and the role for women’s CSOs in this process. Many studies, including the Sentinel Villages Study, also find that decision making is influenced through processes that precede or are unrelated to village meetings in which decisions might be formalised. Thus, this study undertakes a comparative examination of a range of mechanisms by which women might exercise influence that go beyond village meetings, and seeks to trace processes of women’s influence over time so as to situate any emerging changes within broader context dynamics.

Figure 3: The Gap in Research on Women’s Empowerment and the Village Law

In so doing, this study endeavours to gain a rich understanding of the village level dynamics that drive, shape and constrain women’s collective influence on the implementation of the Village Law. It uses in-depth comparative research design to account for variation in village and district contexts, and the presence and nature of women’s groups and networks, which is necessary for identifying different forms and drivers of influence and constraints on women’s collective action and influence through Indonesia’s diverse regions.

Another key contribution of this study is in examining the interaction between village-level and district-level influences on the implementation of the Village Law. The above literature on the Village Law is primarily focused on the implementation at the village level. There are some reflections on the influence of the district, for example, Salim et al. (2017) describe the ways that district leadership can control village election outcomes. In the analysis in the coming sections we seek to extend this work and describe the complex interactions between district and village and how this impacts on the implementation of the Village Law and women’s collective action.

The findings of this study can be used by MAMPU Partners as well as stakeholders involved in implementing the Village Law to:

  • Inform initiatives to support women’s collective influence on village-level decision making,
  • Design strategies to mitigate the challenges to women’s collective influence on, and participation in, village-level activities, and
  • Influence policy and regulation-making regarding the implementation of the Village Law to bring about better outcomes for all women.

Concepts: Power, empowerment and collective action

Collective action

As discussed in detail in Section 5, we conceptualise women’s collective action as actions undertaken by groups and networks, predominantly made up of women although often too with others, that seek to create positive changes in women’s lives. We distinguish between when these actions seek to create positive changes for women in their everyday lives in general, and when this relates specifically to creating such changes via influence on governance processes and structures of power, which is important for understanding women’s influence on Village Law implementation. We distinguish between formal forms of collective action, i.e. through organisation and government structures, and informal collective action which takes place within more fluid social networks. The distinction between formal and informal collective action is of particular importance to this study as it is believed that the engagement with these types is gendered (Pandolfelli et al., 2008; Agarwal 2000), with women more often excluded from formal collective action.

Across the research sites in this study, we have found examples of collective action that are both formal and informal in nature. Formal collective action includes women’s participation in village governance forums such as MusDes and/or Musrenbangdes. At the same time, women were engaged in informal practices of collective action, for instance by creating and participating in spaces (i.e. women’s groups) through which they can exercise voice, and through networks developed through social interactions, livelihoods and other connections that they leverage to exercise influence, such as to gain the support of influential social and political actors. While the exact shape and extent of women’s collective action differs both across and within research sites, through these activities women were increasingly able to exercise their influence and power, develop their capacities, improve their own wellbeing and that of their families, and ultimately shape the implementation of the Village Law.

What is women’s empowerment?

While this study is focused on women’s collective action, underlying such action is the extent to which women are able to exercise influence within processes of decision making that might otherwise be less inclusive, and ultimately have the power to effect outcomes. This includes exercising voice as an expression of women’s power—individually and collectively—as well as women’s direct and indirect influence over village power structures so as to shape outcomes under the Village Law. In tracing changes in the ways women are collectively able to influence the Village Law implementation and outcomes, and in identifying what factors (including interventions) have supported or constrained this influence, we gain an understanding of processes of women’s empowerment.

While women’s empowerment is central to the work of development agencies across the world, the term ‘empowerment’ sometimes remains undefined or used in different ways (Porter, 2013; Cornwall, 2007; Batliwala, 2007). For many feminists, the value of the concept lies in exactly this ‘fuzziness’ as it gives them considerable scope to develop their programs (Kabeer, 1999). Within development discourse generally, enhancing the economic status of women, equal participation in decision making and leadership and improved health and education outcomes are all considered to promote gender equity; which in turn, is deemed central to economic and human development (Porter, 2013). Furthermore, empowering women as political and social actors is broadly assumed to lead to a more equitable redistribution of public goods to disadvantaged or marginalised groups.

Many feminist researchers and advocates stress it is important to think about women’s empowerment in terms of ‘capabilities’ or ‘choice’. Nussbaum (2011, x) stresses the importance of asking: “What are people actually able to do and to be? What real opportunities are available to them?”. Kabeer (1999, 437) encapsulates the dimension of choice in her definition of empowerment:

“the processes by which those who have been denied the ability to make choices acquire such an ability”.

The ability to exercise choice is often conceptualised to entail three interrelated dimensions: resources, agency, and achievements (see Box 2). While such categories are helpful for efforts to measure empowerment, it is important too to emphasise the nature of empowerment as a process rather than merely a set of tangible indicators (Kabeer, 1999; Batliwala, 2011).

Box 2: Dimensions of Empowerment

Resources (pre-conditions) are not only material resources but refer broadly to the human and social resources through which people can exercise choice. Resources are acquired through social relationships (that is: family and community).

Agency (process) is the ability to define goals and act upon them. While agency is often considered as the ability to make decisions, it may take on other forms such as ‘bargaining and negotiation, deception and manipulation, subversion and resistance as well as more intangible, cognitive processes of reflection and analysis’. (Kabeer 1999, 438)

Achievements (outcomes) refer to the potential of people to live the way they want. Sen (1985) describes this as people achieving valued ways of being and doing. (Source: Kabeer, 1999)

MAMPU’s framework for supporting its CSO Partners, and CSO partner advocacy and support for villages, are often described as ‘women’s empowerment’ initiatives so as to convey the intention of their efforts to strengthen the power of women. Throughout this report we also occasionally use the label ‘women’s empowerment initiatives’ to convey the empowerment intention of specific activities and efforts, and we use the term when policies and programs are labelled in this way. However, we do not assume such efforts have necessarily had empowerment effects for women. At the end of the comparative analysis, we do, however, return to the question of empowerment and the empowerment effects of CSO support for village women examined in this study.


The definition of power is also central to understanding women’s empowerment. VeneKlasen and Miller (2002, 39) distinguish four types of power and four realms of power (see Box 3). Within the field of community development specifically, there is growing emphasis on fostering the latter three types of power (power with; power to and power within), which are considered more collaborative and equitable (VeneKlasen and Miller, 2002). However, VeneKlasen and Miller (2002, 40) contend that different types of power should be considered and that endeavours to empower women should distinguish the three ‘realms’ of power: the public, private and the intimate realms (See Box 3).

Box 3: Four Types of Power and Three Realms of Power

Types of power
Power over—The most commonly recognised form of power, power over, has many negative associations for people, such as repression, wealth, force, coercion, discrimination, corruption, and abuse. Power is seen as a win-lose relationship.
Power with—to do with finding common ground among different interests and building collective strength.
Power to—refers to the unique potential of every person to shape his or her life and world.
Power within—has to do with a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge.

Realms of power
Public realm—the visible face of power as it affects women and men in their jobs, public life, legal rights etc.
Private realm—refers to relationships and roles in families, among friends, sexual partnerships, marriage, etc.
Intimate realm—one’s sense of self, personal confidence, psychology, and relationship to body and health.
(Source: VeneKlasen and Miller, 2002, 39-40)

Knowledge, choices and values: The importance of leadership and context

For many women, in reality empowerment combines the different dimensions above. This serves as a reminder that resources (for example, access to credit, legal provisions for political participation or enhanced education) are ‘unlikely to be automatically empowering in themselves, but they do create the vantage point of alternatives, which allows a more transformatory consciousness to come into play’ (Kabeer 1999, 462). That is, as women become increasingly aware of options from which they may have been excluded, or of information and knowledge that was previously unavailable to them, doors open that spur deeper social transformation.

Indeed, the notion of empowerment relies to some extent on the different aspirations of women; hence, the emphasis in the definitions described above, on women’s enhanced capacity to make choices about their own lives. Feminist leadership helps create spaces for women to increase their awareness, knowledge and potential for action, which in turn has implications for changing power dynamics so as to be more equitable. Batliwala (2011, 37) explains such leadership should entail two goals: firstly to ‘challenge visible, hidden and invisible power… especially where it constructs and reinforces women’s subordination’ and secondly, to ‘strive to make the practise of power visible, democratic, legitimate and accountable, at all levels, and in both private and public realms.’

Adding further complexity to tracing women’s empowerment is that its dimensions vary according to context. For instance, given the variation in social, cultural and religious norms within and across countries, it is unlikely that all people in a given society agree on valued ways of being and doing. This is one of the reasons why we first explore contexts in detail in this report to understand how they may shape the pathways for women to exercise influence. People’s aspirations may also differ in various life stages. While for some women empowerment manifests as enhanced social belonging, others feel empowered as they access more knowledge or social services. While we acknowledge in this study that the notion of women’s empowerment is fragmented; it is fundamentally about women’s capacity to exercise choice and to individually and collectively experience positive change in their lives.

Research methodology

Specific research questions

As mentioned, the overarching research questions are concerned with determining: in what contexts, to what extent and through what mechanisms has local collective action by women influenced the implementation of the Village Law? And what has been the role for CSOs in this process? More specifically the questions this research seeks to answer are:

  1. In what ways [if any] has women’s collective action (e.g. through organisations, groups and networks, and through formal and informal processes and action) been able to influence village development priorities and the implementation of the Village Law?
  2. What has been the role of civil society organisations (as a structured form of collective action) in supporting grassroots women’s collective action and the implementation of the Village Law?
  3. What factors within the external institutional environment or village actor networks enable or constrain women in exercising influence on village development and decision making in order to meet their needs?
  4. How do these dynamics vary by village and district contexts?

In order to answer these broad questions, this study will use qualitative research methods to undertake a deep analysis of the mechanisms by which local collective action by women in MAMPU village locations has influenced the implementation of the Village Law. We established a sub-set of more operational questions to investigate village and district contexts and cases of emerging influence from women’s collective action on the implementation of the Village Law to establish:

  1. The extent to which the implementation of the Village Law and the Village Fund is accommodating the needs of women.
  2. The ways in which women’s collective action through groups and networks (with or without the support of civil society organisations), has sought to influence village decision making, the creation of new Village Regulations, and the disbursement of the Village Fund, to meet their needs.
  3. If and to what extent women’s collective action has influenced social norms through efforts to influence the implementation of the Village Law more widely.
  4. Which actors, mechanisms, processes and capacities have been instrumental in exercising this influence and why.
  5. The enabling and constraining factors within the external institutional environment and village networks of actors for exercising this influence.
  6. How women might have achieved influence when they did not have the support (or the initial support) of the village government.
  7. If possible, whether similar processes of initiating women’s collective action have taken place outside of MAMPU-supported arenas, or whether there are aspects of MAMPU’s support to its partners and women’s collective groups that have enabled influence on the implementation of the Village Law that may not have otherwise taken place without this support.

Research approach

A critical aspect of this study was the involvement of MAMPU CSO Partners in the research design at the beginning of the study. This is an important aspect of feminist research design, for accessing field research sites (also with the permission of the relevant authorities) and for ensuring the quality of the research and the relevance of the findings for future efforts to bolster gender inclusion and women’s empowerment. A Collaborative Discussion and Study Planning Workshop was held in January 2019 to design the research and select study sites together with almost all of MAMPU’s core partners.[3] The research design, data collection tools, site selection and proposed analysis framework were discussed and finalised throughout the workshop in partnership with these CSO representatives. Later workshops and webinars were also held with CSO Partners for iterative reflections and analysis.

This study is grounded in strong operational and logistical thoroughness to extract rich, in-depth, qualitative data about the influence of women’s collective action on the implementation of the Village Law, the Village Fund and village development in Indonesia. Whilst this study employs mostly (mixed) qualitative methods so as to focus on understanding the mechanisms by which women might influence the implementation of the Village Law, some quantitative data is also analysed to better understand the potential generalisability of the findings across all MAMPU’s project sites.

This study is not only focused on identifying the influence of women’s collective action on the Village Law, Village Fund and village development priorities in Indonesia; but also, on how and in what context this influence takes place. Therefore, underpinning this study is a model of theory-driven evaluation called ‘realistic evaluation’, first described by Pawson and Tilley (1997). Pawson and Tilley argue that not only is it important to identify the outcomes of interventions (which is the focus of quasi-experimental evaluation models), but it is also important to understand how these outcomes are brought about and what is significant about the context within which these outcomes arise. Hence, in this study we comparatively investigate contexts, mechanisms and outcomes and the messy, somewhat blurry overlap between them in the study (See Box 4). For more details on how this framework informs the design and analysis, see Annex 4.

[3] ‘Aisyiyah, PERMAMPU, KAPAL Perempuan, PEKKA, Migrant CARE, FPL, BaKTI, BITRA, Yasanti, TURC. A key partner—Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia (KPI)—was unable to attend the Collaborative Discussion and Study Planning Workshop. The research team engaged KPI representatives at later stages to involve them in the study, however, they were unable to participate due to staff changes and internal constraints.

Box 4: Contexts, Mechanisms and Outcomes

Contexts: An array of sites that covered different socio-cultural contexts, geographies, proximities to services and structures of power were selected (at village and district levels) such that the final sample would include a range of degrees of contextual conduciveness to gender inclusiveness and women’s collective action; that is, some sites that were highly conducive to gender inclusion, some that were not conducive and some in-between.

Mechanisms: An array of sites that included a variety (or absence) of women’s collective action groups and other actors as well as variety in the types, levels and processes of support provided to such groups by MAMPU.

Outcomes: An array of sites which included a variety in the level of influence that women’s collective action had on the Village Law, Village Fund and village development priorities; that is, some sites where there was no CSO presence, some sites where there was minimal influence and others where there were changes in regulations, laws or social norms.

Sampling frame

Indonesia boasts extraordinary cultural, political and economic diversity. There is also a wide range in access to services and supporting budgets from regencies and provinces, as well as in the influence of customary and ethnic or religious organisations. When this study began in 2019, MAMPU’s Partners consisted of 13 large national or regional women’s civil society organisations and consortium networks that focus on women’s issues. Many of these large-scale organisations and consortiums have provincial and district organisational partners. In total, at the time the study was undertaken MAMPU was directly and indirectly supporting 122 partners at national and subnational levels. MAMPU-supported initiatives were operating in 1,137 villages, in 147 districts and municipalities, across 27 provinces in Indonesia.

Whilst this study could not represent all regions in Indonesia, it was designed to capture a diverse range of regions in Indonesia and places where activities were underway across MAMPU’s five core thematic areas mentioned below. We also capture two sites with no evident CSO presence, one on and one off the island of Java. During and in many cases after the program, MAMPU CSO Partners have undertaken advocacy and provided support for village women and the groups of which they are members in five thematic areas. These thematic areas were selected based on their importance to relevant civil society groups, both the governments of Indonesia and Australia, and assessments of scope for achieving results. The thematic areas are:

  1. Increasing access to social protection programs.
  2. Improving conditions for women’s overseas labour migration.
  3. Improving work conditions and removing workplace discrimination (especially for women home-based workers).
  4. Improving women’s health and nutrition.
  5. Reducing violence against women.[4]

Research sites were selected to cover both context diversity and the five themes of MAMPU CSO Partner activities. The research sites were also selected to be able to explore how village women might have influence on the implementation of the Village Law in rural Indonesia, if indeed they were able to do so, and to also establish the effects of CSO support for these women. Other studies on the early implementation of the Village Law mentioned above find that village women have tended to be less likely to influence the implementation of the Village Law at scale (see for example, Syukri et al. [2017, 2018] and Dharmawan et al. [2018]) and other related research). However, these studies had few sites in the research sample where there were active civil society groups giving attention to Village Law implementation, and did not investigate in detail the mechanisms by which women have influenced Village Law implementation in the instances that this did occur.

To fill this gap, this research uses a method of positive deviance for site selection. The research includes sites in different regions across Indonesia where women’s influence on Village Law implementation may have occurred and identifies and analyses the mechanisms underpinning such influence. The research also includes sites where CSOs were and were not operating to support village women.

During the initial planning workshop, the research team worked with MAMPU Partner organisations to identify the criteria for capturing Indonesia’s socio-cultural, economic and geographic diversity, and the range of opportunities and challenges for women, as well as to narrow down the selection of research sites to a long list of places where they thought women may have influenced the implementation of the Village Law. From this long-list, a short list was established to accommodate as many regions and as much diversity as possible within the available resources.

Overall, nine provinces, 12 districts, and 14 villages were selected for the study. This included regions where MAMPU Partners’ activities were underway across the five themes (12 villages/districts) and two control villages where no CSO interventions were underway.

Given that the authority of the Village Law is focused on rural villages (rather than, in most cases, the urban equivalent precincts [kelurahan]), deeper studies were conducted in 10 districts/10 core rural villages. This covered regions on and off Java and MAMPU Partner support to rural village women under the umbrella of four of MAMPU’s core focus issues (social protection, migrant workers, reducing violence against women, and reproductive health and nutrition).

Given the different conditions on and off Java in Indonesia, it was also determined that the two control villages should reflect this dichotomy to test assumptions and strengthen the comparative findings of the aspects of change attributed to women’s collective action. One village was selected in the Pangkajene Islands District (South Sulawesi Province, Sulawesi Island) and a second village in Gresik District (East Java Province, Java Island) where there were also no known interventions or support for village women undertaken by CSOs.

MAMPU Partners are also focused on a fifth issue, supporting women improve their work conditions, in particular homeworkers engaged in cottage industry livelihoods that often form a part of the supply chain of larger industries or supply to smaller enterprises. These ‘homeworkers’ are often located in peri-urban and urban precincts (kelurahan) but also sometimes in villages, the latter of which fall within the authority of the Village Law. We undertook lighter studies (through case work) in two case study districts where homeworkers were located in villages (one on and one off Java) as this may partially intersect with Village Law implementation.

Throughout this report in the analysis, we have guarded the identities of the research villages (referring only to the district in which they are located) to protect identifiable respondents and guard their right to confidentiality. Figure 4 maps the geographic spread of the research sites and Table 1 shows the site selection and the focus of the CSOs. Further information is provided in Annex 3 on these national MAMPU Partner organisations, and their subnational CSO implementing partners.

[4] The MAMPU program also supports reform and leadership in each of these core focus areas through two broad strategies. Firstly, by supporting women’s and gender-interest organisations to mobilise networks and coalitions that can influence policy and make practical investments at the local level. Secondly, by supporting female parliamentarians and male gender-advocates to play a greater role in advocating for reforms (MAMPU, 2012).

Figure 4: Map of the Research Locations and CSO Partners
Table 1: Sample—Research Sites, CSOs and MAMPU Theme

Research methods

Qualitative research methods

The bulk of the data in this research was collected through mixed qualitative methods. This included:

  • Life histories of village women—summaries are also published separately (Setiawan et al. 2020).
  • Semi-structured interviews with interviewees in districts and villages, including CSO leaders and staff, CSO cadres, government representatives, legislators, village men and women, village group members, village leaders (state, customary, religious and other leaders), and other observers.
  • Semi-structured interviews with national CSO partners and other observers.
  • FGDs conducted separately with village men and women.
  • Observations of community life and where possible village meetings, recorded in diaries and notes.
  • Collecting village monographs and other village data on meetings and participation.
  • Qualitatively developed social network maps of each village, identifying different types of social ties and relationships between prominent village actors. Essentially these maps sought to identify the nature and types of ties between actors seeking to influence village life and power structures.

In total, over 450 interviews (semi-structured and repeated life history interviews) and more than 30 focus group discussion were conducted (involving more than 150 people). For each research project site, researchers lived in villages observing community life and activities and also conducted interviews in districts with a range of different actors. Further details of these methods are outlined in Annex 4. The field work was conducted in several phases so as not to clash with the Indonesian legislative and presidential elections and national holiday periods:

  • Phase 1: February-March 2019 (4 research project sites).
  • Phase 2: July 2019 (6 research project sites).
  • Phase 3: October-December 2019 (4 research project sites).

Analysis of the data entailed compiling multiple types of case studies for within case and comparative analysis. These processes were conducted iteratively, also involving MAMPU CSO Partners to provide inputs into the analysis through workshops and interactive webinars. Case studies include cases of district and village contexts, social networks, and of CSO structures, strategies and activities, including their support for women’s groups. They also include life histories of women to understand trends in individual agency of women activists and change agents. Most importantly, case studies were also developed that trace pathways of how women were collectively able to influence the implementation of the Village Law, including analysis of the forms of collective action and influence exercised by village women, and the planned and unplanned strategies used by CSOs—at both district and village levels—in direct and indirect ways to support village women’s collective action and as a part of CSO’s own advocacy. The case studies of these pathways of influence (or ‘Stories of Change’) identify the mechanisms and processes of change that resulted in different outcomes under the Village Law, that being changes in:

  1. Formal rules (such as Village Regulations, meeting processes and priorities).
  2. Informal rules (such as village social norms and practices relating to gender roles, behaviours, representation in decision making and perceived responsibilities—the 4Rs).
  3. New village development initiatives, programs, and use of the Village Fund.

The case studies tracing women’s collective action and influence were comparatively analysed and are illustrated in this report. An edited volume of summaries of these case studies, including an overview (see Diprose et al., 2020), have also been published in full in Bahasa Indonesia. This edited volume also includes an overview and case study abstracts in English (see Savirani, Diprose, Hartoto, and Setiawan, 2020). A selection of women’s life stories have also been published separately in Bahasa Indonesia and in English, with each containing an overview of common themes (see Setiawan, Beech Jones, Diprose, and Savirani, 2020).[5] Excerpts from these case studies and women’s life stories are included throughout the comparative analysis in the following sections of this report.

[5] See

Quantitative research methods

The MAMPU Monitoring and Evaluation team collected detailed data on Partner activities, village (and district, provincial, and national) context dynamics as well as program and policy developments, women’s groups and other groups and their membership, and on many other themes. The analysis has also drawn from some of the quantitative data from MAMPU’s database to indicate where trends emerging from the qualitative findings from this research might be occurring at scale. This includes:

  • Core challenges to building women’s empowerment reported by all MAMPU CSO Partners in 27 provinces, 147 districts/municipalities and 1,137 villages between July 2014 – October 2019.
  • Legislation, regulations, and other policy instruments developed in 27 provinces, 147 districts/municipalities and 1,137 villages between July 2014-October 2019, related to women’s empowerment and wellbeing.


The research team ensured that ethics considerations were built into the study design and fieldwork. All research team members were female so as to ensure interviewees and CSO partners were comfortable with the study. The research team was made up of female researchers from the School of Social and Political Sciences at The University of Melbourne (one chief investigator leading the research, two associate researchers, and two research assistants) and the Politics and Governance Department (PolGov) at Universitas Gadjah Mada (the University of Gadjah Mada) (one team leader, and 14 field researchers and one research assistant). The team was structured to involve researchers who are skilled in qualitative research about community development across multiple contexts and languages.

All field researchers were trained in ethical research practice and were supervised by senior staff. Access to the villages was facilitated through MAMPU’s CSO Partners, and other trusted local contacts, who supported the researchers in establishing connections with local communities and potential participants. The researchers also sought the appropriate permission of village and other relevant authorities before conducting this research. Interviews were conducted in private homes or in busy public spaces (as was the preference of interviewees) to mitigate the risk of interviewees being overheard.

In general, verbal informed consent was sought as the most culturally appropriate form of consent in Indonesian villages. Where it was appropriate, a written informed consent was used, for example, with representatives of CSOs or government bodies. Interviews were only conducted with people aged over 18 years and child protection guidelines were followed. In conducting the research, the team endeavoured to always maintain the confidentiality and anonymity of all informants. This report uses pseudonyms (or positions) to disguise the identity of interviewees and only refers to study locations by district.


As mentioned in the introduction, many of MAMPU’s partner organisations working in rural areas endeavour to access and support some of the most vulnerable women in Indonesia, such as female-headed families, survivors of domestic and other forms of gender-based violence, or homeworkers with precarious livelihoods and often below-subsistence incomes, among others. Thus, in collaborating with such organisations for the research, the study has tended to capture in ethnographic detail the voices and experiences of more vulnerable rural village women, women who have often experienced multiple-dimensions of poverty. The study also—but to a lesser extent—captures the experiences of other women in the rural research sites who may still experience significant challenges but do not (or no longer) have the same heightened degree of vulnerability—an aspect that may narrow pathways for action.

Thus, there may be further pathways for collective action (with and without external support) in other places and for other people than are captured here.The findings, nonetheless, are helpful for other agencies, programs, and facilitator networks, among others that seek to bolster gender inclusion, in understanding many of the pathways and mechanisms by which rural village women might undertake collective action (both together and with other actors) to access and exercise influence over the structures of power and decision making.