Some of the MAMPU Partners—particularly consortium member organisations (MAMPU CSO sub-partners) throughout the archipelago in the FPL (Forum Pengada Layanan, Forum for Service Providers) and PERMAMPU (Consortium of Women’s Organisations in Sumatra) networks—have collaborated with existing women’s groups and organisations. These existing groups include both state-corporatist and non-state organisations and networks with village-level presence, including the women’s wings of religiously-affiliated institutions such as the Muslim organisations NU and Muhammadiyah, and Catholic women’s organisations. They also include the PKK (and its associated group, the Posyandu) and other state-corporatist groups.
The advantage of collaborating with existing women’s organisations is that it opens up access to village women more widely. Existing women’s groups and organisational networks often have routine programs and meet regularly. CSOs can incorporate their programs into existing activities and slowly build trust with village women, particularly when they enter villages with which they do not have established relationships. The trade-off in this approach, however, is that without careful and close attention to ensure diverse membership, there is the risk that diversity of group membership is restricted by these collaborations and diverse women’s needs are not represented, although in the case of the research ‘intervention’ sites in this study, that tended not to occur.
The strong historical presence of the PKK was evident across all research sites, although the level of engagement of the PKK in each village differed significantly. In North Hulu Sungai, for instance, the PKK in the village has depended on activities organised by the PKK in the subdistrict. This has made it more difficult for village women involved with the PKK to access these activities. In the Bangkalan research village, the PKK did not organise many activities with the exception of events on national holidays (i.e. Independence Day).
Similar to the research ‘control’ villages, PKK activities in many of the other research sites mostly focused on women’s domestic roles, for instance in offering classes on makeup, gardening, batik (dyeing cloth and other textiles in intricate forms) and cooking. In Cirebon and Tanggamus for example, the activities of PKK and Posyandu cadres focused on women’s traditional roles, such as infant care and cooking. In other villages, the activities were wider and focused on some livelihoods skills and resource sharing through savings and loans activities, although this was only found in one or two instances across all the research sites and, as was the case in the Pangkep control site, mainly elite women participated.
“I participate in PKK activities, like monthly social gatherings, savings and loans, prayer groups, competitions. There are many training sessions, such as to make cookies, basket weaving for fish. Sometimes there are monthly meetings at the subdistrict level, but only the wife of the Village Head attends. In the village, occasionally 2-3 people are invited, but the meeting takes place at the subdistrict. That’s all, just the head [of PKK] is invited, then she will distribute [information] to people.” Farah, Setia Kawan Pekka group leader, North Hulu Sungai research village, 13 July 2019.
Even when activities were focused on women’s skills, such as in North Hulu Sungai where the PKK (at the subdistrict level) has offered classes on sewing and how to make salted eggs, the organisation has not been a vehicle for women to become more politically active in influencing village governance or broader decision making and structures of power. The limitations of the PKK activities were summarised by the director of DAMAR in Tanggamus:
“Women’s participation tends to be around PKK activities, [for example] how to take care of your husband and children, how to take care of your household. They are not yet critically aware about rights and equality. So, these women are already empowered [in a way], but we want to strengthen their perspective, raise their awareness about women’s rights.” Bandar Lampung, 9 July 2019.
Another characteristic of the PKK observed in various villages was that, despite its origins as an organisation for village women, over time it evolved to be a vehicle of elite women. Both in the ‘intervention’ research villages in Bangkalan and Gresik, for instance, and in the Pangkep ‘control’ site the PKK was dominated by the wives of village officials who focused more on administrative matters rather than enhancing the agency and political influence of women. As such, the PKK in the research villages did not necessarily accurately represent diverse sets of village women or their needs, were limited in their efforts to increase women’s political influence, and rarely sought to advocate for women’s needs in village decision-making forums.
Existing religious groups
In addition, in many villages, some women were already members of groups based on religious affiliations prior to MAMPU CSO Partner support to village women, which, often to a limited extent, already formed a vehicle for a subset of village women to organise. In some cases these groups had positive benefits in addressing the needs of women, but again were less focused on the wider influence of women outside the home in village governance and structures of power. For instance, in the Bangkalan research village in which most people are affiliated with NU, women were organised in Muslimat, which organised classes for women, through which their literacy skills were improved. In Tanggamus in Lampung, while most villagers are Muslim, at the district level the Catholic church established the Jaringan Wanita Katolik (Catholic Women’s Organisation) organisation that provided women with information on healthcare and political rights—but did not have gender awareness focus nor initially support women to deeply get involved in village governance—and was also open to women from other religious backgrounds.
Despite the presence of women’s groups and in some cases positive outcomes addressing some of the needs of women in many of our research sites, in general these existing groups have had limited influence on wider women’s collective action to influence power structures in the village.
“Only men take part in discussion forums. When planning an activity, men usually make the proposal to decide [what activities will be conducted]. The women [including PKK members] do not [participate].” Ami, PKK leader, North Hulu Sungai research village, 17 July 2019.
“I don’t know what [activities are in the village]. Basically we just follow [the plans of] the village officials. Seeing them in uniforms makes us scared. Not only that, we feel reluctant to [approach] the village government. Back then it was really difficult for us. Even entering the village office is a rare thing for us to do.” Indah, Women’s School group leader, Gresik research village, 19 February 2019.
Collaborating with existing groups
At the same time however, existing women’s groups were often crucial for establishing and the success of new women’s groups that eventually were, as this study shows, able to create positive change for diverse groups of women. In a number of villages, the initial cadre of the new groups—that MAMPU CSO Partners supported village women to establish—were drawn from these existing groups.
For example, in Bangkalan, many Pekka union cadres are women from prayer groups and the PKK (and associated Posyandu). PEKKA also often involves PKK members in its Akademi Paradigta. Ati, for instance, discussed in Section 4, joined Pekka after having been an active Posyandu cadre and was a member of Muslimat with her own prayer group. She had also established a kindergarten in her hamlet. This also meant that Ati had an established network with women in the village, thereby further facilitating her activities in the village’s Pekka Union. Similarly, in Cirebon, Srikandi joined ‘Aisyiyah after having been involved in Posyandu:
“In 2008 I became a [Posyandu] cadre… The Village Head chose me. He said, it appears that I am an active person… I used to be on the school committee too [and] I was filmed [for community service announcements].” Srikandi, Cirebon research village, 23 February 2019.
Another ‘Aisyiyah cadre, Hatini, discussed in Section 4, was, like Srikandi, also involved in Posyandu and PKK. Becoming an ‘Aisyiyah cadre gave Hatini an opportunity for new experiences and expand her knowledge:
“[When I became] a cadre for TB prevention… I looked for people who were ill. Then I reported [them] to the Puskesmas… [Then I joined ‘Aisyiyah and] I liked it because I received a lot of information from ‘Aisyiyah… I am more confident now. Confident to express my opinions and ideas about anything really.” Hatini, Cirebon research village, 2 March 2019.
Thus, the experiences of these women show that while existing women’s organisations such as PKK may have initially had limited success in promoting women’s empowerment and broader influence over village governance or Village Fund allocations for women’s needs, CSO collaboration with women in these organisations meant that they were strategically placed in terms of experience and networks, thereby enhancing their likelihood to be agents of change.
However, initially targeting women with such organising backgrounds was not always the approach used by MAMPU CSO Partners. In the Gresik research ‘intervention’ village, for instance, KAPAL Perempuan’s subnational partner, KPS2K, initially asked the village government to recommend women who they felt would benefit from joining the Women’s School group. However, the village government only recommended women affiliated with the PKK, many of whom according to KPS2K did not represent the poorest women in the village, which was a core focus of its support. As such, community organisers from KPS2K decided to directly approach poor women in the village to join the Women’s School group.
Aside from working with established village groups, some CSOs supported village women to establish new groups but in doing so drew on wider established national and regional religious networks. As a women’s mass religious organisation, ‘Aisyiyah draws on its national networks with Muhammadiyah. Meanwhile, PEKKA accesses NU networks in some regions.