Women’s Collective Action in Advocating for Improvements in Women’s Reproductive Health

Desi Rahmawati
Nadlirotul Ulfa

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This case study focuses on how women in the Cirebon research village in West Java have played an active role in village policy making processes. These women leaders first participated in regional ‘Aisyiyah leaders (PD) programs to raise awareness on women’s reproductive health which is a pressing issue in the research village.

Data collected by ‘Aisyiyah reproductive health cadres portrayed the considerable number of women who have experienced health conditions and diseases affecting the reproductive system, including tumours and cancer. The village’s limited access to clean water and reliable electricity has also affected the health outcomes of villagers. Women in the Cirebon research village have also faced challenges due to low levels of education, limited economic capacity, and restricted involvement in public life.

An initial step for ‘Aisyiyah to support women’s collective action and to increase their awareness about sexual and reproductive health issues was to form a new women’s group, the Balai Sakinah ‘Aisyiyah Qoryah Thayyibbah (BSA). The BSA group is a forum for village women of childbearing age (defined as 15 – 49 years old) from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn about women’s reproductive health rights and family planning. From the BSA, a group of ‘Aisyiyah reproductive health cadres emerged to share information and skills with the other BSA cadres. ‘Aisyiyah reproductive health cadres have run education programs with assistance from ‘Aisyiyah at the regional level. These education programs have provided opportunities for women to improve their leadership and organisational skills, public speaking, and understanding of reproductive health issues. With their improved skills, these women have acted as agents of change by sharing their knowledge with other village women. These cadres also played an important role in forming the MAMPU ‘Aisyiyah Women Farmers Group (KWT), which has strengthened this support network. The KWT group has focused primarily on maintaining a “nutrition garden” (kebun gizi), providing agricultural training, and creating livelihood opportunities for poor women in the village. This KWT group also has played an important role in ensuring women’s collective action and participation through regular farming activities. The ongoing presence of KWT is hoped to provide another space in the village to further women’s understanding of reproductive health.

The formation of these women groups has not only enhanced women’s skills and knowledge, but also strengthened and diversified women’s networks with other village women, key government actors at the village and district levels, as well as with religious figures. Women’s advocacy, skills and knowledge enhancement, group support, and strengthened and diversified networks have led to significant change. First, women’s collective action directly shaped the content and enactment of the 2017 Village Regulation on Women’s Reproductive Health. This Village Regulation has provided the basis for Village Fund allocations for women’s reproductive health. Second, through the KWT, women successfully proposed shifting the “nutrition garden” (kebun gizi) to a more strategic and fertile location in a village planning meeting. Third, their advocacy also resulted in changing Village Consultation and Deliberation Meetings (musyawarah desa – MusDes) to a time when women could attend on Sunday afternoons, so they could become more involved in policy-making processes at the village level.

Women in the Cirebon research village have increasingly advocated for women’s needs in village development planning meetings. Yet, change is incremental, and at the time of the research, women’s ability to consolidate these collective action efforts still relied to a degree upon the support and guidance of regional ‘Aisyiyah leaders and the receptiveness of the village government to advance women’s health policies. In this context, the use of existing social networks may help to facilitate ongoing advocacy in the village. Equally, ‘Aisyiyah’s regional leaders’ strategy of approaching key government actors has been especially important as their support provided a basis for policy action to advance women’s reproductive health agenda over the long term.

This video outlines the trajectory of change in a village in Cirebon, West Java in which positive changes were brought about through women’s collective action primarily tackling sexual and reproductive health issues. With support from ‘Aisyiyah, women formed village-based women’s groups (Balai Sakinah ‘Aisyiyah – BSA) and worked to influence village policy. Women also created a ‘nutrition garden’ with support from the Village Fund.

Read case studies in the same sectoral focus area of health and nutrition.