Norin Mustika Rahadiri Abheseka
This case study illustrates changes in a village in Gresik after the formation of a Women’s School (Sekolah Perempuan) group supported by the Women’s Groups and Sources of Life organisation (Kelompok Perempuan dan Sumber-Sumber Kehidupan – KPS2K). This Women’s School group was formed to respond to problems experienced by poor women in the village, including women’s limited access to the public policy making sphere, education, economic opportunities, and government social protection programs. The geographical location of the village has also created difficulties for people to travel outside of the village, thus limiting their access to basic services and to fulfil their rights. Local social norms have also restricted women’s mobility and involvement in public decision making.
Through participating in training sessions, group discussions and advocacy activities, members of the Women’s School group have strengthened their individual skills, knowledge, capacity to exercise influence in the village and encourage new thinking about how to reconfigure gender relations in households and more widely. Women have created new networks and opened up opportunities for the wider participation of women in the public sphere, demonstrated by their increased involvement in village development planning meetings.
This increasing role of women in village governance has underpinned successful advocacy efforts for changes to Village Regulations on the use of the Village Budget (APBDes) so as to provide an allocation from the Village Fund for the Women’s School group. Initially such calls were rejected by the village government, so Women’s School members leveraged their growing connections with the district government to lobby for support. The district government – which had committed to supporting Women’s School groups – exerted pressure on the village government which, in turn, allocated some funding to the group. Such networked collective action saw results in accessing the Village Fund, although advocacy continues in the village for the institutionalisation of the Women’s School through a Village Regulation. At the district level, Women’s School members also made recommendations to influential district actors to make greater investments in women’s health issues and against child marriage. This resulted in the enactment of a District Regulation (Perda) prohibiting child marriage and the establishment of a special development planning forum (Musrenbang) for women.
These changes have been supported by KP2SK’s community-building and education programs. KPS2K took a combination of bottom up and top down approaches to encourage the participation of women from disadvantaged backgrounds in the Women’s Schools and to garner support for these Schools to be funded over the longer term at the village level through the village budget. In the Gresik research village, KP2SK has taken a grassroots approach to increase women’s knowledge of their civic and social rights and their participation in the public sphere. To effect policy change at the district level, KPS2K mapped power structures in order to identify key actors who they then approached both formally and informally.
As a women’s collective, the Women’s School faces challenges and some resistance from men in the community in particular, both for the group and for the individuals within it, as it challenges gender norms on women’s roles in the community. Despite these ongoing challenges, support from the district government has funded the replication of Women’s Schools in villages throughout the district. This expansion shows that Women’s School groups have been recognised as successfully increasing the capacity of poor rural women to be involved in village decision-making processes and to fight for their basic rights and needs to be fulfilled in public policy and programs.
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