Strengthening Village Women’s Economic Capacities and Political Participation to Break the Poverty Trap

Devy Dhian Cahyati
Anastasia Imelda Cahyaningrum

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This case study examines how women in a village in North Hulu Sungai district in South Kalimantan have worked collectively to economically empower themselves and advocate for change so village governance is more inclusive. In this village natural resources are scare and livelihood opportunities are limited. Women not only have had limited livelihood and self-development opportunities, but they also have not been involved in decision-making processes about village development. The arrival of the Female-Headed Families Empowerment Foundation (Yayasan Pemberdayaan Perempuan Kepala Keluarga or PEKKA) and the women’s groups it established—Pekka (female heads of families) unions—provided new hope and options for women facing severe economic challenges.

Economic empowerment activities were the entry point for organising village women in the North Hulu Sungai research village. PEKKA encouraged women to form a Pekka union savings and loans group called the Papadaan Group. This group has provided opportunities for village women, especially the female heads of families (such as widows), to access loans and get business training so that they can earn an independent income. Moreover, this group has become the vehicle through which women have participated in village development decision making. Due to the popularity of this savings and loans group, married women also expressed interest in joining the group and its activities. PEKKA responded flexibly in the spirit of inclusiveness, forming a new category of membership called “extraordinary” PEKKA members. These married women who contribute to their family economies then formed another group, known as the Setia Kawan (Loyal Friends) group.

Through joining these women’s collectives, women in the village have built both their practical and organisational and influencing skills and now have the self-confidence to increase their participation in the public sphere, interact with public institutions, and are increasingly empowered economically. In regular group meetings they have practiced public speaking but have also learned a variety of other more tangible skills. By participating in PEKKA’s Paradigta Academy, some women have also learned about government systems, village budget processes, and advocacy strategies to voice women’s policy needs in their village. They have also built networks with other women and with influential village and other leaders.

Such women’s groups, with the support of PEKKA, have created significant change. PEKKA women initiated the establishment of a village-owned enterprise (BUMDes) to develop the village economy, which was legalised through Village Regulation No. 4, 2015. To draft the Village Regulation, village women in North Hulu Sungai worked together with village, sub-district and district governments. Women’s participation in village development has increased the allocation of village budget for women’s programs and activities and ensured women’s political representation in village meetings. In village meetings (Musdes), women in the North Hulu Sungai research village have successfully made proposals for village budget allocations to procure medical equipment, fund the Posyandu (maternal and child health clinic), and purchase musical instruments. The participation of women in village meetings has also been codified through Village Head Decision No. 5, 2019 about the involvement of women’s organisation representatives in development planning meetings (Musrenbang).

Members of Pekka women’s union groups also have assisted community members to apply for legal identity documents so that they can access government social protection programs through PEKKA’s Village Consultation and Information Service Clinic (Klinik Layanan Informasi dan Konsultasi – KLIK). This clinic provides information and consultation services for issues about legal identity, marital and domestic problems, and access to social protection programs.

This case study shows how economic empowerment activities can be an effective strategy in encouraging rural women undertake collective action and influence village development, governance and wider change. Women in North Hulu Sungai have developed their economic and political capacity and strengthened their role in their community’s development and village government policy.

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