Collectivities: Existing and New

As discussed in subsequent sections, prior to the new or upscaled CSO support provided to village women that this study investigates, in many research sites rural village life was not void of groups and organisations in which women participate that have provided support for village women. Some of these groups certainly sought to improve women’s wellbeing, even if they were narrow in focus, small in membership numbers, or had limited reach. However, many of these groups (or significant numbers of women per se), were not necessarily included in village decision-making processes or had influence on village power structures, village development priority setting, and outcomes. Among those that were included, these groups did not necessarily represent the diversity of women’s self-determined needs and priorities or have significant influence.

district context village context collectivities collectivities pathways 1 pathways 2 pathways 3 outcomes
Supporting village women through groups in villages: Influencing village governance

Thus, the MAMPU CSO Partners examined in this study sought to provide support to village women, with the goal of improving gender inclusion and women’s empowerment, by either collaborating with existing women’s groups so as to diversify and extend the membership and focus of these groups, or by supporting village women to establish new groups (both for women or of mixed gender), among other initiatives. These groups have provided a platform for women to build relationships and in many cases undertake grassroots collective action to exercise their voice and influence change.

Table 3 below summarises the different groups that MAMPU CSO Partners supported village women to establish in the research villages, or the existing groups they collaborated with, mapped against Village Law impacts. Further information on the full scope of these Partner activities to support village women through different types of groups beyond the research sites is available in Annex 3. In all research villages, the state-corporatist PKK (Family Welfare and Empowerment organisation) and associated Posyandu (maternal and child health groups) were present, and in some villages, there were other women’s or mixed-gender groups also present at the onset, although this is not presented in the table. For reference, in Table 3 we also include prominent women’s groups in the ‘control’ sites.

Table 3: Village Groups Supported by MAMPU CSO Partners and Village Law Impacts.

In each case in the research ‘intervention’ villages presented in Table 3 these CSO-supported groups and networks involving women have significantly influenced village governance under the Village Law, and in many cases, district government structures and policies. In the two research ‘control’ villages (no CSO interventions), there was only one example of similar outcomes in funding the construction of Early Childhood Education facilities proposed by the PKK in the Gresik ‘control’ site. As mentioned in Section 3, in the Pangkep ‘control’ site, the new Village Head had appointed three women to the village government since being elected, but this was predominantly because they were family members rather than to improve gender inclusion per se. In both ‘control’ sites very few women have been involved in village governance and decision making.

The groups that CSOs supported women to establish provide a basis for activities to strengthen the opportunity for women to build networks, have a structured group for collective action, and to better exercise agency, including building the skills, knowledge, networks and gender awareness of women (discussed further below). For instance, in Bangkalan, PEKKA has sought to enhance women’s leadership by organising trainings for Pekka union members on public speaking, the building of constituent and community groups as well as developing administrative capacity (in governance and budgeting). Similarly, in Gresik, KAPAL Perempuan and its partner KPS2K have supported the Women’s School group in providing its members with trainings on public speaking, literacy skills (writing), advocacy, parenting, reproductive health, and agricultural skills. In East Lombok, BaKTI has provided paralegal training to eliminate violence against women. In Cirebon, through BSA, ‘Aisyiyah has provided women with trainings on reproductive health. The activities of these CSOs and others have been aimed to empower women and have thus targeted both the development of women’s political participation (that is: public speaking, knowledge of governance structures) and support for women to meet their social and economic needs.

Types of group

In the study, we identified different types of groups involving women through which MAMPU CSO Partners sought to support village women. These are presented in Figure 21. Each is then described below.

Figure 21: Types of Groups Supported by MAMPU CSO Partners

1. Supporting village women to establish new exclusive women’s groups

Many of MAMPU’s partners supported village women to set up new groups in villages with exclusively female membership. This includes the Women’s School groups in Pangkep and Gresik established with the support of KAPAL Perempuan at its partners, Pekka unions in Bangkalan and North Hulu Sungai, Balai Sakinah ‘Aisyiyah (BSA) women’s groups in Cirebon, and the ‘La Tansa’ women’s group established with the support of Migrant CARE and its partner, the Panca Karsa Association, in Central Lombok. The advantage of having just female participants in these groups it that it provides women with a safe space to try new activities and boost their confidence. Over time, such groups allow women to form strong networks and a culture of solidarity. Women support each other, are sensitive to each other’s needs, and become problem-solving teams, as they have often had similar experiences or face similar challenges. One example of an all-women’s group is outlined in Box 23 below.

In some instances these new groups were not entirely separate from existing groups in villages, in that such groups initially drew from the membership of existing groups at the onset as a way of building trust and confidence of villagers in new activities focused on women, such as the BSA groups established by ‘Aisyiyah and Pekka unions (see further discussion below; working with existing local women’s groups). In supporting women to create new groups that draw on other groups initially, but then expand the membership of these new groups over time, these new women’s groups have become more diverse and distinct from the initial set of members.

Box 23: Informal Women’s Schools (Sekolah Perempuan)

Two partners of KAPAL Perempuan—YKPM in Pangkep, and KPS2K in Gresik—supported village women to establish Women’s Schools as part of a KAPAL Perempuan gender mainstreaming program. The organisations aim to educate village women on a range of topics about gender and empowerment, including women’s leadership and women’s rights. They also encourage women’s active participation in monitoring government programs, particularly education, healthcare and social protection programs. Along with gender awareness classes, KPS2K and YKPM have delivered training programs to Women’s School groups on economic capacity building and poverty mapping. As the training might affect participants’ opportunities to work that day, KPS2K in Gresik adapted their schedule and now runs classes after women have returned from work.

The impact of these training programs has been significant as women have increasingly sought improvements in village development and to demand the better provision of services for the wellbeing of themselves, their families and communities. We saw in Section 4 how after the training, Juli, a member of the Women’s School group in the Pangkep research village, became very active in monitoring the attendance of her child’s teacher at school each day as they were frequently absent. Other Women’s School members protested the frequent absence of midwives in their maternal and child health clinics (Posyandu).

2. Collaborating with existing local women’s organisations/groups

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.

3. Multi-stakeholder forums (usually with mixed gender membership)

A number of CSOs supported villagers to establish multi-stakeholder groups (usually of mixed gender) to both address women’s needs and to have better representation in and influence over village decision making and development. BaKTI supported villagers to form the Maju Mele Constituent Group at the village level (see the case study of the Story of Change in East Lombok Section 4) to focus on advocacy for women. FPL and its subnational partner SPI Labuhan Batu supported villagers to establish the Community-Based Service (LBK) Forum discussed in Section 5. These groups have functioned strategically in multiple ways:

  • As a mechanism for women to develop networks with villages, social, cultural and religious leaders,
  • As a mechanism for increasing public support of village women and policy advocacy related to new Village Regulations, funding and decisions on women’s priority issues and on gender inclusion, and
  • As a bridge between CSOs and the community.

Multi-stakeholder groups and other forums are a helpful way to initiate and maintain positive relationships with existing power holders at the village level—both for village women and for the supporting CSOs. Forums that consist of a mixture of existing power holders (both state or society-related power holders), as well as other members, are helpful for connecting to the village government authorities, to give advice on planning concerning the Village Law, and for village authorities to indirectly gain support from the members of forums to guide the enactment of draft Village Regulations.

On the one hand, this approach has the potential to reduce possible resentment from male authorities in the village (especially in villages where patriarchal structures are most acute) as they are also included in the group. It also potentially minimises the risk that women’s collective action down the line is perceived to threaten power structures as relationships are built, knowledge is shared and rumours can be mitigated, especially if members are from a diverse range of different social groupings in the village. Those multi-stakeholder forums with diverse memberships also have the potential to tap diverse networks in the village for support in order to create multiple sources of pressure to lobby decision-makers for change. In the East Lombok case, members supported a new Village Head drawn from their own group and used the political skills and networks they had developed through the group to support his successful candidacy.

On the other hand, multi-stakeholder forums do entail the risk that the structure of group membership and internal group dynamics reflects patterns in which men gain group leadership positions and have the strongest voice within the group, particularly in villages with highly patriarchal structures. It also risks that female members are less willing to speak up about their preferences or are nervous about becoming group members at the onset. Section 4 illustrated precisely these challenges for women in exercising their agency within such patriarchal contexts. An additional risk is that that female members that join the group tend to be those more accustomed to having voice in the village and that more vulnerable women are excluded. In Labuhan Batu, such risks were mitigated through first supporting the establishment of women’s groups and then later establishing the multi-stakeholder forum.

4. Supporting and collaborating with a mixture of groups

In the discussion above on working with existing groups we identify how some organisations have used a mixed strategy of working with existing and new groups. DAMAR has used this strategy in working with FAKTA and other organisations in Tanggamus District, and also in setting up gender education classes for many social groups, not just women. They have also held men’s classes (Kelas Bapak), and youth classes (Kelas Remaja), though classes are separate so that each have been able to learn in their own way.

PEKKA has also sometimes used a similar strategy of working with new and existing groups. This has been particularly important in difficult contexts where they have had to navigate existing power structures in which power is held by a few influential people, interconnected through family and social-religious networks. Such powerholders tend to dominate the village government and the Village Consultative Council (BPD). Given that PEKKA’s work has targeted the female heads of families that can be in significantly vulnerable situations, in anticipating political resistance to their agenda among existing power holders they have used the mixed strategy of collaborating with existing groups, supporting the establishment of new groups and setting up multi-stakeholder forums (often at the supra-village level) to connect to these power holders so as to have a better chance of overcoming challenges. FAKTA-DAMAR has used this strategy at the district level in aiming to influence the formulation of District Regulations.

Each of the strategies outlined above on supporting women through different types of group structures had strengths and trade-offs. Exclusive women’s groups provide a safe space to build capacity and solidarity but are resource intensive and take significant time to build trust and support women to organise. Existing groups help extend membership quickly but risk following established agendas. The creation of multi-stakeholder forums assists women and supporting CSOs to build wider support, but are not necessarily a comfortable space for women, especially vulnerable women, and when they are the only group supported, risk being hijacked by elites. Supporting multiple forms of groups with some cross-membership can help mitigate the risks presented for women by each structure alone.

District Context
Village Context
Pathways of Influence: Women’s Agency & Collective Action
Pathways of Influence: Structures and Support for Women’s Groups & Agency
Pathways of Influence: Planned and Adaptive Strategies
Outcomes: Village Law