District Context

Dimensions of Context: Constraining and Enabling Women’s Influence

Each of Indonesia’s provinces, districts and villages display a significant degree of diversity in terms of their social, politico-economic and institutional contexts. This has implications for how decisions are made, priorities are set, and needs are determined, how programs are funded, how socio-cultural norms evolve and are expressed, how power and voice is exercised, and ultimately people’s perceptions and experiences. This section discusses the ways these different aspects of context, together, create an environment that enables or constrains women’s influence, women’s collective action, and civil society efforts to support gender inclusiveness so as to improve women’s social, political and economic well-being.

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Dimensions of Context: Constraining and Enabling Women’s Influence

Context dynamics inform women’s choices, collective action pathways, and the (varied) approaches that CSOs take to support village women and to try and effect change in the policy environment, either by design or in reaction to each district’s politico-economic and social realities. Context dynamics also affect the nature of (and variation in) the on-the-ground initiatives developed by women, villages, government, supporting CSOs or a collaboration of all three, to strengthen the capacity, resources, and forms of influence that women exercise to meet their needs. Finally, context dynamics also affect the challenges women face and the forms and targets of women’s grassroots collective action. This then has implications for the degree to which women can influence village governance, including the implementation of the Village Law, so as to contribute to their efforts to improve their wellbeing.

It was clear from the research that both the district and village contexts and the interaction between them affect the opportunities and constraints for gender inclusiveness and the ways that women might individually and collectively influence the Village Law’s implementation. Below, we review the key features of district and village contexts that shape variation in the enabling environment for women’s influence and gender inclusiveness. We also identify the opportunities and challenges this creates for women’s collective action and the grassroots support provided by CSOs to bolster empowerment. We use this discussion to draw together a framework for understanding variation in contexts so as to be able to later analyse:

  • How women individually and collectively seek to exercise voice and influence the implementation of the Village Law in these different contexts,
  • The approaches that CSOs take to support village women in different contexts, and
  • The strategies that CSOs deploy to navigate these contexts to greater or lesser degrees in planned and unplanned ways.
Variation in district contexts

Each district has different topography, available infrastructure, geography, population densities and spread, and levels of education and health. Each of these factors affect access to population centres and access to, demand for, and the provision of public services. Each region too has different salient identity groupings (e.g. cultural, customary, religious, ethnic), social institutions with significant moral authority and influence (such as mosques, churches and customary and tradition organisations), and social organisations that structure social life and social activities. The institutional environment—including the policies, programs and services provided by government and other organisations, and how government institutions are structured and funded to support on-the-ground initiatives, and how other organisations influence government—also has implications for women’s involvement in decision making and initiatives to promote inclusion that are supported and implemented by government, CSOs and other organisations.

Below we discuss key features of district contexts that shape the enabling and constraining conditions for the ways women exercise voice and influence. This includes:

  • The key features of the institutional environment that signal more or less conducive enabling conditions for women’s influence and empowerment, as well as how these change over time.
  • The ways the political economy may constrain gender inclusion.
  • Existing political will of district leaders support gender inclusion.
  • The degree of alignment between the existing development needs, gaps, priorities and political interests, and the key concerns of village women and CSOs, which can constrain or enhance gender inclusion agendas.
  • Considerations for regions with multiple donor-funded programs.

Figure 6: Key Features of District contexts—Shaping Constraints and Opportunities for Women’s Influence on Structures of Power and Decision Making

Institutional Environment: Degree of existing government and other support for gender inclusion

The institutional environments in districts vary in terms of their legislative, regulatory and policy frameworks and programs, functional capacity and resources (budgets, staff and skills) to deliver these programs, and opportunities to create revenues from taxes and levies on economic activities (known as Pendapatan Asli Daerah – PAD) to further fund these programs. Districts also vary in terms of their length of establishment—in some places, new districts have been carved out from larger jurisdictions under decentralisation and have more recently created their offices of government and policy frameworks. In each region too, there are scarcer or more abundant resources for livelihoods, wealth creation and business opportunities. These in turn have implications for employment and livelihood options in communities, as well as for PAD and other budget revenues that fund development initiatives in communities.

When MAMPU began its program, in some regions there was fertile ground for women’s collective action and new or scaled up CSO initiatives to take hold. Analysis found that when there were already some efforts to accommodate women’s self-determined priorities in district development, women’s influence on policy and rural development through collective action was likely to more quickly take hold and have significant impacts further down the track. Such efforts were also helped by emerging governance arrangements in districts (and provinces) that had already begun to support gender-inclusive decision making. This is because in these regions, there were already some opportunities for women to exercise their voices and for civil society organisations—and the smaller women’s groups they support—to advocate for the rights, needs and empowerment of women. This tended to be the case in places where regulations, policies and programs were already beginning to prioritise the needs of women. Indicators of emerging gender inclusiveness were (among others):

  • District and provincial regulations (Perda, Peraturan Daerah) or Governor/District Head decisions that enacted policies concerned with women’s empowerment, women’s self-determined priorities, and/or gender representation in decision-making forums,
  • Functioning and funded/staffed agencies and programs focused on women’s priorities and concerns, and/or
  • Growing representation of women in district power structures such as the regional parliaments and in other leadership positions.

While many of the districts did not have fully developed institutional frameworks for ensuring women were included in decision-making forums, it was clear that in those places where women’s rights and priorities were already or beginning to be recognised by government and other stakeholders, there was already a conducive environment for (increasing) women’s influence on decision making and upscaling gender inclusion and empowerment programs to varying degrees. The institutional features of the districts ultimately had some influence on the implementation of the Village Law within these districts and helped reduce the barriers to women’s empowerment at the village level.

For example, in Lampung Province, in the first decade of Indonesia’s reform era, advocacy work for improving the position of women gained momentum through the work of the DAMAR Women’s Advocacy Institute (Lembaga Advokasi Perempuan DAMAR) and its network of partner organisations in the Lampung districts, which preceded the support provided by MAMPU for DAMAR and its partners. Between 2000-2010, DAMAR recorded 2326 cases of violence against women from local media reporting (DAMAR, 2019). Given the high rate of such violence in Lampung Province, DAMAR initially focused its advocacy on preventing violence against women. Their early advocacy resulted in the formation of an Integrated Service Unit for victims with the support of government, the local hospital and other institutions. Several provincial government regulations were enacted by government to support the Unit (see below). The charismatic Chair of DAMAR later became the Chair of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) from 2013-2014, and a member of Komnas HAM from 2012-2017. This helped provide strong links between DAMAR and other members of the consortium of women’s organisations in Sumatra of which it was one of the founding members—PERMAMPU—and national advocacy organisations and policy makers.

Box 5: The DAMAR Women’s Advocacy Institute

Following a phase of strategic planning, ELSAPA (Lembaga Studi Advokasi Perempuan dan Anak—Institute for Study and Advocacy for Women and Children) in Lampung re-structured to form the DAMAR Women’s Advocacy Institute with a network of partner organisations in the districts in Lampung Province. It was also a founding member of the wider consortium of women’s organisations in Sumatra called PERMAMPU in 2012. In its initial 10-year strategic plan, DAMAR focused on broader advocacy for women but also specifically on protecting victims of violence, especially domestic violence, and advocating for the prevention of violence against women. It established an MOU with the Lampung Provincial Government, the police, military and civil courts, and the regional hospital in 2002 to form an Integrated Service Unit (Unit Pelayanan Terpadu – UPT) located in the hospital to provide free services to women who were victims of violence. It also was able to sufficiently influence policy makers to establish several Provincial Regulations—such as No. 6/2006 on Services for Women and Child Victims of Domestic Violence, and No. 4/2006 on the Prevention of Trafficking of Women and Children. It not only works to help protect women and child victims of domestic violence, but also undertakes research and monitoring work.

Between 2000-2010, DAMAR was able to support 563 women both in litigation and through other services. While also monitoring trends, DAMAR extended its program to include helping women access sexual and reproductive services, counselling for male perpetrators of domestic violence, and more broadly on supporting the recognition and fulfilment of women’s rights, raising gender awareness among both men and women, and tackling gender-based violence.

In 2010, DAMAR extended its strategic plan to focus on championing women’s rights (including health, education, and legal rights) and the representation of women in politics (Interview, DAMAR leader, 18 July 2019). While continuing its advocacy on the prevention of violence against women, it extended its focus for a number of reasons: high maternal mortality rates, limited access to health services, limited knowledge among women of their own bodies and reproductive health, and the low representation of women in leadership and influential policy and decision-making forums.

As is clear, Lampung CSOs had long lobbied the provincial government and worked with provincial and district decision makers to improve attention to women’s needs and issues in the region. Over time, they were able to institutionalise some of their initiatives, building on earlier groundwork and the networks established throughout districts. This meant that when MAMPU provided support to DAMAR to scale up its work in 2013, there were already indicators of a supportive institutional environment in the region and it was not commencing from scratch. In other cases, the institutional environment and nature of influential actors in a particular sector also had some bearing on the operational environment of a MAMPU-supported partner at the onset. For example, in North Sumatra, the long history of an active labour movement and advocacy, albeit not explicitly focused on strengthening policy attention to gender issues across the board, provided fertile ground for building support for minimum wage advocacy in the informal sector and to improve the work conditions of homeworkers.

In other cases, institutional support and political openness to establishing more gender-inclusive institutional settings and policies grew alongside, often interacting with, the MAMPU Partner initiatives. This certainly occurred in the Pangkajene and Islands (Pangkep) District, in which leaders in the District Development Planning Agency (Bappeda) were undertaking a number of steps to strengthen gender-inclusiveness in district agencies, policies and programs.

If we compare the situation in Tanggamus District in Lampung, with that in Bangkalan District in East Java Province, the situation is very different. Prior to MAMPU Partner PEKKA (Pemberdayaan Perempuan Kepala Keluarga—the Female-Headed Families Empowerment Foundation) beginning its advocacy and grassroots support for women in the region, there were few women’s groups outside of religious institutions or active CSOs. There were also no government regulations concerned with gender inclusion or women’s empowerment and child protection, no integrated services for supporting victims of domestic violence, and certainly no champions for empowerment associated with Komnas HAM. As is outlined below, poverty levels are at 21% for Bangkalan, compared with 13.5% in Tanggamus District (BPS Tanggamus, 2019). It is within this environment that PEKKA sought to support women through what are known as Pekka groups and unions (community-based village women’s groups that are distinct from the PEKKA Foundation and program itself), which are explored later in this report.

Box 6: Bangkalan district

Bangkalan District is located on Madura island off the north-east coast of Java. The population is 98% Muslim and predominantly made up of Madurese people (BPS Kabupaten Bangkalan, 2019). Most of the population have strong Islamic values and follow Madurese traditional norms, in which men tend to occupy leadership roles and dominate public life. Political structures are intertwined with the strong network of pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) in the region— there are some 220 pesantren across the district alone.

Interviewees detailed how local leadership positions in the executive and legislature are secured through having strong religious knowledge and religious institutional ties, rather than secured through strong ties with political parties, although to run candidates must have party support. Every district head in the region during the past two decades has been a male descendent from Syaikhona Kholil (1820-1925)—a charismatic leader who spread Islam to the region and educated the founder of Indonesia’s largest mass organisation Nahdlatul Ulama—indicating both familial and religious networks shape social and political structures. In the district legislature for 2014-2019, there were only two women among 50 members and both were temporary members of the Gerindra party.

People from Bangkalan tend to prioritise sending children to pesantren, rather than state schools due to strong religious and traditional norms. In the Long-Term Bangkalan District Development Plan from (2005–2025), the regional government emphasises education through pesantren and madrasah (institutions of Islamic instruction) that tend to be administered individually and by foundations, rather than state schools (Kabupaten Bangkalan Government, 2019). There are very few CSOs in the district beyond religious institutions and foundations with religious affiliations. Most livelihoods are dependent on agriculture or small businesses. People live in small clusters of houses near their fields that they cultivate and tend to have close familial relationships.

Some 21.3% of the people also live below the poverty line (BPS Kabupaten Bangkalan, 2019). Prior to PEKKA undertaking advocacy in the district with MAMPU support, there were no distinct regulations focused on gender inclusion, women’s empowerment or protection. The district government did have some programs related to women in rural areas, primarily giving a small amount of support to the long-established state corporatist organisation, the Family Welfare and Empowerment organisation (PKK—See Section 5), and a small degree of support to village maternal and child health groups (Posyandu), similar to the support found in many districts. The wife of the District Head was given the authority to develop programs associated with these organisations with minimal budget allocations. The government office responsible for the protection of women and children is allocated less than one percent of the district budget.

Ultimately, in regions where the institutional environment was more conducive to supporting gender inclusion in decision making and women’s empowerment initiatives (either at the onset, or through changes over time that largely resulted from advocacy efforts), there was a greater likelihood that women were able to collectively act to influence the policy environment and implementation of the Village Law. Key indicators of what this research identified and frames as conduciveness included:

  • Developing and implementing gender inclusion regulations,
  • Clearly designated programs for gender inclusion and women’s empowerment with appropriate budgets,
  • Efforts to include women in decision making (see further discussion below), and in policy and program design processes,
  • Providing spaces for women to voice their needs in forums of influence, and
  • Giving attention to women’s self-identified needs in policy priorities.

In other words, key indicators included both ‘processes’, such as women’s participation in decision making, and enabling frameworks such as policies that may shape inclusive outcomes for women or support women’s empowerment initiatives. It is important to note that the depth of women’s influence reflected the extent to which women self-identified their needs through participating in decision-making forums and were able to voice these needs and exercise influence on policy and program design and implementation. In some cases, women were more the passive recipients of policies that others determined had ‘met’ their needs. For example, in some places, there was a tendency to label attention to health or children in policies and budget allocations as having ‘met’ women’s needs, even when this was not as a result of including women in processes where they could determine priorities for women.

Political Economy: Restricting women’s influence and gender inclusion

A key constraint in districts for women’s collective action and advocacy efforts is the degree to which increasing women’s influence and gender inclusiveness threatens existing power structures in the broader district political economy, including economic interests and how political or policy decisions are made. In such situations, it is more difficult for women’s collective action and/or supporting CSO advocacy efforts to have influence—where there is resistance to these advocacy efforts or progress is slower, special strategies are required to overcome these constraints (see Section 7).

Strategic economic sectors

For example, in Central Lombok District (see below), many powerful business people and state actors have an interest in sending migrant workers overseas with few restraints on this practice. Migrant worker remittances bolster the economy and provide revenue streams to businesses that facilitate placements for migrant workers overseas, both legally and illicitly. There are strong ties between influential state and economic actors in the migrant work sector, which has implications for policy and political decisions. It is thus difficult to challenge established agendas, policy and practices so as to support women and improve migrant worker protection.

Box 7: The Political Economy of Migrant Worker Remittances in Central Lombok

In Central Lombok District in West Nusa Tenggara Province (Nusa Tenggara Barat—NTB) in the eastern part of Indonesia, the highest level of education achieved by the majority of people aged 7-24 years is primary school (BPS Kabupaten Lombok, 2019). 85% of the population gain limited incomes from livelihoods from the agricultural and plantation sectors (BPS Kabupaten Lombok, 2019), with few other opportunities available until more recently. The tourism industry is growing, particularly since the new international airport was built in the district, and the ‘Special Economic Zone’ was declared in 2017. This has increased district revenues from taxes and levies in the tourism sector six-fold in the last two years (District government interviewees, 4 July 2019).

With low education levels, poor wages in the plantation and agricultural sectors, and opportunities in tourism and the Special Economic Zone only recently beginning to take effect, Central Lombok residents have sought work and supplementary income elsewhere, particularly as overseas migrant workers. Men tend to work in the formal sector as contract labourers, mostly in Malaysia. Female migrant workers tend to work in the informal sector as domestic workers in places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, but also in places in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia—although the Indonesian government has introduced a moratorium on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia (unless very strict formal, large-scale, contract conditions are met) given various violations in the past. Some, nonetheless, either travelled before the moratorium was in place or have been placed there through illicit channels.

In NTB, Central Lombok District has the second largest number of migrant workers that undertake temporary employment overseas after East Lombok. Central Lombok is also the eighth largest source of migrant workers in all of Indonesia after the top sending districts: Indramayu, Cirebon, East Lombok, Cilacap, Ponorogo, Blitar, and Malang.

Given the high number of migrant workers in the region, migrant work generates significant remittances that bolster the district economy and migrant worker welfare is a key issue of public interest. However, interviewees explained that some district office heads and local legislature members were resistant to introducing regulations to protect migrant workers because such regulations would constrain efforts to send migrant workers abroad. Many state actors are closely tied to large companies that send migrant workers overseas.

There was significant variation across the district research sites in terms of economic interests and coalitions of actors that have power and control decision making, which affects women’s roles and opportunities to ultimately gain political positions. Similar to Central Lombok, in Pangkep District, South Sulawesi Province, according to interviewees, coalitions of elite politico-economic actors have a strong grip on both the fishing industry, other industries and on politics. Interviewees explained that the introduction of any initiatives that might threaten these interests would be met with strong resistance—we certainly see this at the village level in later analysis of Pangkep dynamics, however, over time, the Pangkep district government grew to be fairly supportive of the initiatives to increase women’s voice and influence in decision making (see Section 7). In some districts, there is an overlap between political, economic and social power, with long-established practices of actors from the same networks (and sometimes families and social institutions) making political decisions and policies. For example, in Bangkalan (See Box 6), decisions have long been made by a narrow set of leaders from a small set of political parties and aligned Muslim clerics from pesantren. There are few women in the district parliament, appointed as heads of sectoral agencies, or who occupy other influential positions. When women do hold such office in the research sites for this study, they tend to be the wives and daughters of political figures from powerful families and networks. These kinds of dynamics in both districts and villages can constrain efforts to improve gender inclusion in decision-making structures, and are particularly acute when they are pervasive at both levels.

Structures of formal power—gender inclusive political representation and policy decision making

The configuration of formal political power in districts and villages varies significantly across the archipelago. Political parties and the executive leadership (the District Head, the Deputy District Head, and the heads of government agencies/departments), shape politics and policies when in office and have the potential to constrain or enable opportunities and outcomes for women. This includes the representation of and opportunities for women in political structures, leadership and other positions in public office, the priorities for and nature of policies and programs, and the degree of resourcing for (and access to) state sponsored on-the-ground initiatives.

Overall, there was significant variation across the qualitative research districts in terms of women’s representation in formal, state based decision-making structures, both at the onset of the MAMPU program and over time. If we return to the comparison between Tanggamus District and Bangkalan District, among the members of the district parliaments (in office to 2018), Tanggamus had nine female members of parliament, while Bangkalan had two. Tanggamus recently saw the election of a female District Head in 2018 (albeit the wife of the former District Head) who introduced a series of programs popular in local communities. Meanwhile, all the District Heads in Bangkalan during the past two decades were male descendants from a well-known religious leader who brought Islam to the region and was the teacher of the founder of Nahdlatul Ulama (see Box 6). Advocacy work to improve women’s representation in district government and parties has been slow in this region. Political representation of women in parliament has been similarly slow in Central Lombok, where only four of 50 parliamentarians are women. To a degree, the achievements made in the migrant workers sector are because both genders benefit.

These findings resonate with that from recent research on female parliamentarians and gender quotas by Pratiwi (2019) and others (see Box 8), which highlight that the barriers to entry in politics are particularly acute for women. Those that make it through tend to be from wealthier backgrounds or have ties to families already in politics, or what are known as political dynasties. While confirming these findings on the benefits for female candidates from ties to powerful dynasties, other work from Aspinall et al. (2021, forthcoming) on the 2019 elections and female candidates highlights that there are a growing number of exceptions on women in subnational regions making it into politics when, for example, female candidates persevere over successive electoral cycles and become well known, when they draw on associational networks such as those of NU, Muhammadiyah and CSOs for support, and when they run campaigns on women’s issues.

Box 8: Gender and Election Candidates

While the gender quota of 30% for political party nominations of candidates for elections (mandated in Law No. 31/2002 and Law No. 12/2003) has fast-tracked women’s representation in Indonesian politics—the effects of which were particularly evident in the 2019 elections—a number of studies have shown that women’s political presence is still constrained. This is due to high costs of running for office, the patriarchal nature of political parties, and a lack of political will to promote women’s political participation (Bessel, 2010; Pratiwi, 2019; Prihatini, 2019b). Pratiwi (2019) highlights that the expense involved in running for office has led to political domination by economic elites and those from political dynasties (see also Aspinall et al. 2021). Such ‘money politics’ has tended to constrain women candidates with strong track records in the women’s movement (Pratiwi, 2019). A study by Prihatini (2019b) indicates that the open-list proportional representation electoral system has been associated with higher uncertainty and higher campaign costs, creating practical barriers for women to be successfully elected. Such political institutional aspects tend to only benefit those with strong economic resources.

While women’s participation has moved tentatively but progressively towards meeting gender quotas, the above research suggests that issues of regional equality, as well as quality, remain. Prihatini (2019a) analysed the demographic profiles of candidates and elected MPs. Her findings suggest that having experience in political office, age, and higher list position on the ballot sheets are strongly associated with women winning office. Moreover, a majority of elected female lawmakers represent higher socioeconomic classes and often have kinship ties to political dynasties. For example, almost half of the elected women in the 2014 elections were related to political dynasties, in which women tended to be married to or were a blood relation of male political leaders (Prihatini, 2019a).

What is clear is that by 2013 when MAMPU began to establish its program, more than a decade after Indonesia overhauled its political system and institutions, there was significant variation across the districts in the institutional and political environment for supporting gender inclusion in the structures of political decision making. Some institutional and political environments were more conducive to building empowerment agendas than others.

Political will and support from district leadership: Opportunities to advance gender inclusion

The difficulty of the work to strengthen women’s influence in districts was also contingent on the degree to which there was political will among district decision makers—be it the executive, the legislature, political party leaders, or public figures outside of government—to take up the gender inclusion and women’s empowerment agenda. This is interrelated with the conduciveness of the institutional environment discussed above, but is more concerned with the nature of leaders driving the policy agenda, determining policy and funding priorities, and contributing to and influencing public discourse. Key figures who have considerable political influence in districts include (but are not limited to):

  • The District Head (Bupati)/Mayor (Wali Kota) and his/her Deputy, who, as the head of the bureaucracy, can issue regulations and decisions and determine budget priorities.
  • The Speaker of the District Legislature (DPRD), or the leader of the dominant political party in the district, who can push legislation supportive of gender inclusion and women’s empowerment through the house.
  • The heads of powerful government sectoral agencies that can also issue regulations and decisions, have significant budget control or influence over other sectoral agencies such as the District Development Planning Agency (Bappeda), or the wealthy sectoral agencies (depending on the resource endowments in each district).
  • Influential leaders of social institutions—religious, customary, ethnic, or other large organisations with many members—who either help shape local discourse and social norms or are sufficiently able to lobby state actors to development gender-sensitive policies.

In those regions were there were indicators of some existing political will to support gender inclusion and the empowerment agenda, the district context was more conducive to women’s collective action and CSO efforts to influence the political and policy context. This also had implications for the forms and targets of women’s grassroots collective action (see Section 5) and the kinds of strategies and advocacy efforts that MAMPU Partners undertook to advocate for new policies and regulations to improve women’s voice and influence in decision making processes (see Section 7).

For example, in Central Lombok, CSOs had long advocated for policy attention to women’s needs, in particular those of migrant workers at risk of exploitation. This includes the Panca Karsa Association, which had worked to influence the district government to bolster migrant worker protection for more than a decade before it partnered with Migrant CARE and MAMPU to develop a more comprehensive program on gender inclusion and supporting village women. At the onset of Migrant CARE/Panca Karsa’s new MAMPU-supported program, there was some existing political will among the District Head, select parliamentarians and other leaders to develop new policies, programs and initiatives to address some of the difficulties encountered by migrant workers, although this had not culminated in clear, wide-reaching policies and programs. Such political will was partly due to public interest in the issue and national and local media coverage of female migrant workers who had died in destination countries (see also further discussion in Section 7 on champions and popular public interest issues). Compared to some districts in the study, these leaders were open to collaborating with stakeholders concerned with addressing migrant worker needs, which includes providing economic opportunities for returned migrant workers.

Box 9: Political Will to Change Policies in Central Lombok

The Central Lombok District Head, his Deputy, the First Assistant District Secretary and the several Heads of the District Offices as well as some members of the district legislature, together with CSOs in the district concerned with migrant worker protections, advocated to push through a District Government Regulation on Migrant Worker Protection in 2017. One interviewee in Central Lombok described how:

“We were relieved when the First Assistant Secretary gave his support [for protecting migrant workers]. Why did he support the agenda? Because he had real experiences which he had witnessed himself. He has an adopted child whose mother was a migrant worker [that disappeared]. From the time his adopted child was born, to now when he is a teenager, his child has had no idea where his birth mother is. It’s a really emotional issue for the First Assistant Secretary because this happened in front of his eyes. So he considered this issue as truly important and conveyed as much when he summoned the Head of the Office [that should have introduced the regulation]—he didn’t want what happened to his adopted child to happen again to other children.”

Between 1 January 2017 – 30 June 2019, 17,198 Central Lombok migrant workers completed their registration (of which 9.6% were women) and the registration for 7,143 was in process (of which 13.43% were women) (National Migrant Worker Placement and Protection Agency, 2019).

Champions that might support gender inclusion and at least a degree of existing political will made for a more conducive district context for gender inclusion. This was important for overcoming constraints in the political economy of the district institutional and political environment. Across the research districts, there were several empirical indicators of political will among the district leadership to support gender inclusion and the broader women’s empowerment agenda. This included indicators that leaders were either already taking the following actions, or had begun to take these actions, often but not always as a result of advocacy from other stakeholders, particularly social institutions and CSOs:

  • Drawing attention to issues deemed priorities for women in political campaigns,
  • Establishing forums, such as working groups, to identify policies and programs to tackle challenges faced by women,
  • Demonstrating willingness to collaborate with other stakeholders concerned with gender inclusion and women’s empowerment,
  • Endorsing or advocating for new policies and regulations relevant for gender inclusion,
  • Encouraging public discussions on issues affecting women, even when they touch on taboos such as domestic violence or reproductive health,
  • Appointing women or champions of the empowerment agenda to influential positions in parties, government offices or other leadership positions,
  • Introducing or endorsing decision making mechanisms which ensure women are included in agenda setting and decision-making forums, and
  • Allocating budget to policies and programs which women determine as priorities.

Important in these indicators was that policies and frameworks were translated into real and demonstrated commitments from the political leadership, rather than nominal on-paper frameworks that were not translated into action.

Existing needs, gaps and priorities for women: Degree of alignment with political and policy priorities

Every district in the qualitative research sample faced different pressures on resources. They had different economic environments, geography, population size, degree of vulnerability to disaster, level of health and education and level of poverty. They also had different existing policy priorities, different popular interest issues, different challenges faced by women, and different broad social norms and cultural taboos, each of which made for a more conducive or challenging environment for gender inclusion, the potential influence of collective action and for the challenges of new women’s empowerment initiatives.

Variation in challenges encountered by women

In addition to broad challenges of reducing poverty, which was more acute in some regions and among female-headed families, the research confirmed that the CSO/MAMPU Partnership priority issues were indeed key challenges in the research areas. Often women encountered additional challenges in each research area too, which compounded poverty and multiple dimensions of vulnerability. A few illustrative examples of the variation in the concerns for women in the research sites are provided below, as well as those issues that were more pervasive across research areas in addition to broader higher poverty levels among the women who participated in the research and especially for female-headed families.

Sometimes these focus areas were aligned with the political and policy priorities of decision-makers in districts which again made for a conducive environment for building gender inclusiveness and women’s empowerment and implementing programs. In others, special strategies were required to navigate the political environment through grassroots collective action and CSO support for women and advocacy to overcome resistance to, and garner support for increasing women’s voice and influence.

Box 10: District Variation in the Needs and Challenges Encountered by Women

Migrant worker protection: In regions such the Central Lombok and East Lombok Districts in West Nusa Tenggara, as well as places such as the North Hulu Sungai District in Kalimantan where migrant workers were located, some of the poorest men and women in these villages were vulnerable to recruitment by middle-men. These middle-men tend use illicit channels to facilitate migrant worker departures overseas, and organise contracts that pay lower wages than might otherwise be the case for migrant workers departing via formal channels. Migrant workers departing via illicit channels lack the stronger protections provided by formal registration, both in terms of wage levels and the option of seeking government support if anything goes wrong while they are overseas

Livelihoods opportunities: This was a challenge for women in more remote regions where there were few natural resource endowments that might create livelihood options. This was the case in the North Hulu Sungai District in Kalimantan, Pangkep District in Sulawesi, TTU District in NTT Province, and in earthquake-affected North Lombok District (while deep fieldwork was not conducted in this area, it was a key issue affecting much of the island and brief field visits to North Lombok were made), among others. In these places many people, in particular women, have sought to etch out a living from very small-scale agriculture or as farm labourers.

Legibility: Citizen legibility—obtained through possessing appropriate birth and marriage certificates, family cards, identity cards and other documents recognised by the state—is necessary to be able to access government support, as well as for many other functions in Indonesian society. Accessing such documents was an obstacle for many villagers, particularly the poorest of the poor. Women in particular tended to lack knowledge of government administrative processes, or the resources/geographic proximity needed to access the documentation services. Village residents face great difficulties in accessing government programs, services and targeted social protection programs without such documents. This affected both genders, but was a particular problem for female-headed families generally, and especially in many of the poorer and more isolated research areas such as the Bangkalan District in East Java, and in the North Hulu Sungai District in Kalimantan. Female headed families are much more likely to live below the poverty line and encounter other dimensions of poverty such as low education, poor health outcomes, limited livelihoods options, unemployment and risks of exploitation such as trafficking.

Violence against women: This was a problem in many districts in the study, although not always a focus of the research. It was a key problem in the research sites in the Labuhan Batu District and Lampung Province in Sumatra, in TTU District in NTT, and East Lombok District in NTB.

Child marriage prevention: Child marriage as a means of responding to poverty by sharing the burden of dependents, intertwined with social norms that render these early marriages acceptable, was a particular challenge identified in the Bangkalan District in East Java, and in Central and East Lombok in NTB.

Reproductive health and health knowledge: In many regions, there was limited knowledge of women’s reproductive health, including issues such as understanding of the importance of early identification of cancer risks (through cervical cancer screening), sexual health, and many other health issues. The burden for family health tends to fall on women who are often primary care givers for children and the elderly. Improving such knowledge is a challenge in regions where sharing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health encounters strong cultural taboos.

Social protection, in particular accessing health, education and poverty reduction services and programs: Accessing health, education and other social protection services tended to be a particular challenge in more remote areas such as in North Hulu Sungai District in Kalimantan, parts of the Pangkep District (particularly in the small islands off shore), but also in the poorer areas of East Java, such as both Bangkalan and Gresik Districts, and on Lombok island such as in East Lombok and in parts of NTT.

Gender awareness and gender-sensitive decision making: Most regions in the study encountered challenges in gender awareness of rights and responsibilities, and ensuring women were represented in decision-making forums and priority settings, which in turn underpinned many of the other issues mentioned above.

Variation in district resources and development priorities and opportunities: Agenda alignment

When women’s interests and needs were aligned with district government development priorities (and gaps identified) or popular interest issues of some concern to decision-makers (but often without appropriate mechanisms to tackle such challenges), this made for a more conducive environment for women’s collective action and advocacy to have influence on policies and programs.

For example, migrant worker issues in Central Lombok have long been well covered in the media. Media reports have detailed the risks, abuses, and exploitation encountered by some migrant workers, both in Lombok and in Indonesia more widely. Such challenges tend to have been experienced by migrant workers recruited by middle-men who organise workers’ overseas employment, administrative documentation, travel, and often wage levels and payments, some of which is not in accordance with the appropriate processes. On the promise of a better standard of living and lucrative benefits, such migrant workers have experienced their passports being withheld by employers, underpayment or withheld wages, other illicit payments to middle-men, and, among other issues, domestic violence and sexual abuse in the households or other workplaces.

Given this media coverage and the challenges experienced by migrant workers, this issue already had the attention of policy makers at the onset of Migrant CARE and Panca Karsa’s MAMPU-supported initiatives in the region, even if they had not yet introduced systems to address these risks. Public concern about protections for migrant workers provided entry points for migrant worker protection initiatives introduced by Migrant CARE/Panca Karsa. While it was nonetheless challenging to influence policy, this did bolster political will to support efforts to improve migrant worker protections.

When the challenges encountered by women were less aligned with these issues of public concern or government priorities, when women’s priorities created significant new pressure on budgets, or when key women’s issues traversed cultural taboos (discussed further in the Village Context section, although equally relevant for district contexts), then the environment was less conducive to women’s advocacy efforts and influence. This has particularly been the case when district governments prioritise district infrastructure or industry support, rather than other issues. Indeed, during President Joko Widodo’s first term from 2014-2019, infrastructure in particular was one of the main pillars of his administration’s economic development policies, which was then also reflected in district priorities.

Other programs and donor presence

One final condition in the onset environments in districts that influenced efforts to bolster women’s collective action, both at the grassroots and in the advocacy and program work of MAMPU CSO Partners, was the presence of, and extent to which, development programs and other organisations concerned with gender inclusiveness and community empowerment were active in the district. It was easier to build on prior experience, foundational advocacy and policy work, and to tap into existing networks. This made it possible to share resources for targeted support of advocacy work and women’s empowerment programs. However, this proved challenging when CSOs and other organisations had competing or overlapping agendas, significantly different values and ideologies, or when grassroots initiatives in villages had competing or overlapping support from multiple donors that were working with different, or sometimes the same, supporting organisations. Such dynamics introduced a degree of complexity into the district operating environment for programs. In some cases, different donors offered different benefits to CSO partners or villagers through their development programs, with unintended consequences of generating tensions among villages or CSOs.

This was certainly the case in the Pangkep District, which has been targeted by a number of development programs, funding structures, and overlapping priorities—sometimes these programs were complementary with each program tackling a different dimension of poverty reduction, development and women’s empowerment so as to be mutually constitutive. In other cases, programs competed for staff, resourcing and attribution of successes on the ground. This created tensions between CSO staff that were encountered in the research not just at the district level, but also in villages where different programs were operating with different budgets, costs covered, and direct financial benefits for villages. In other cases, the dimensions of empowerment advocated by a particular CSO ran counter to that of a different CSO seeking to support women to tackle the same issue.

While this is not discussed further at length in this report, when these programs were able to communicate, coordinate and synergise their agendas, programs, and the ways they supported villages then complexity was reduced. In such instances, multi-stakeholder forums tended to work well for coordinating initiatives, identifying overlaps and gaps, and communicating emerging challenges so that programs could be mutually supportive in the goal of supporting gender-inclusive development. It is therefore important to determine at the onset before introducing new initiatives whether there is a crowded space in terms of support for women, development projects, the nature and type of advocacy organisations and if they have differing and competing agendas, and whether there are coordinating mechanisms that can help reduce the complexity in such district environments.

Equally, where different programs are able to synergise their efforts—with each addressing different aspects of the institutional, social, political and economic environment, or different sectors, or different groups of beneficiaries—then there is the potential for greater improvements in that context and for the wellbeing of the poor, and for women more widely. This has certainly been the case in NTT where there is a strong presence of programs, local and international agencies, and CSOs focusing on a number of issues, including those of concern to women such as maternal and infant health and mortality.

Village Context
Collectivities: Existing & New
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