Women’s essential capacity and readiness for acting individually and collectively form the basis for fostering women’s voice, influence and empowerment. In turn, this may bring about longer-term changes in women’s own welfare in terms of women’s access to public services and programs that improve their livelihoods, as well as the participation of women in governance processes. In this research, we have considered the many ways in which CSOs have sought to support women to strengthen their capacities, particularly through groups (discussed in this section) and through other strategies (see Section 7). What is clear from the analysis is that supporting women through groups helps grow both their individual and collective agency by strengthening women’s power within, that being their sense of self-worth and confidence, the power of women to act in public realms and their power with other women to engage in collective action and exercise greater (albeit not exclusive) power over structures of decision making and village development outcomes.
Through supporting village women to establish formal groups of which they are members, or to extend the membership and focus of existing groups, women are brought together around a common interest. These groups vary in size—some are small, whereas others are larger. Irrespective of the scope, through these groups, women are able to forge connections: they build friendships and increase their social interactions, and in so doing build new networks or strengthen existing ties that support them to solve problems, gain confidence and act individually and collectively. We saw women describe the many benefits of the women’s groups in Section 4 and the ways groups and members have driven collective action in Section 5. We saw in Sections 4 and 5 that these groups strengthen social capital and collective agency over time, through multiple interacting and overlapping processes bolstered by ongoing group participation such as:
- Strengthening and diversifying networks and friendships with other women,
- Developing a sense of solidarity and understanding of the issues facing many women,
- Growing and sharing skills, access to resources, and knowledge,
- Strengthening organisational and leadership skills and experience,
- Providing support, a safe space and a source of protection,
- Building confidence and mutual support to overcome barriers and obstacles,
- Developing women’s collective strength to have wider influence, and, among others,
- Providing an organised and recognised platform for: driving women’s collective action of multiple forms, and for connecting to and collaborating with other actors and groups in villages and beyond to participate in women’s widernetworked collectives.
In supporting women to establish or strengthen groups and their diversity, MAMPU CSO Partners focused on gender inclusion and the goal of grassroots women’s empowerment in rural villages have, according to village women throughout the research ‘intervention’ areas, supported each of these processes mentioned above, many of which we return to here, particularly in terms of strengthening skills, knowledge, networks and other capacities. They have supported women in ways that helped build their internal confidence and self-belief. This was a process that took place over time, particularly through extended group participation, rather than something eventuating from one-off events, such as a training or workshop. Internal confidence and self-belief increase women’s power to shape their life worlds and their power within, that being their personal sense of self-worth and self-knowledge. This is often an important first step for women, particularly if they have experienced socio-economic marginalisation. It sets in motion various other empowerment processes, including an enhanced awareness on women’s issues and needs. It is also a basis for women to become involved, both in women’s groups and community forums at the village (and sometimes district) level and to express their interests and concerns. This then ultimately may trigger long-term changes in women’s lives.
The ways that MAMPU CSO Partners have helped bolster women’s agency through broader group participation and through specific activities identified in the research, is outlined in Figure 22 and discussed further below.
Figure 22: Strengthening Agency through Group Activities
All the CSOs included in the study sought to contribute to women’s empowerment and the propensity for exercising voice and influence by building both practical skills in the short term, and skills that built their potential to have longer-term political influence by participating in public-facing village and other decision-making forums as well as by taking up leadership and organising opportunities. Support for skills development in many cases was provided through and connected with important social activities in community life.
In many of the cases in the research sites, supporting village women through group activities focused on both types of skills—practical and intrinsic skills for political participation and public engagement—along with strengthening knowledge and awareness, was what distinguished these groups supported by MAMPU CSO Partners from most others involving women across the research sites. It was rare in the research to find a PKK, Posyandu, KWT, prayer group or economic group that focused activities on both domains of strengthening practical skills of a wide variety (as described above, activities tended to be of a narrow type and focus) and skills for participation in public decision-making forums, such as public speaking practice. Although for some of the women in these existing groups, skills in leadership and community organising developed over time through the very process of leading these existing groups.
As many women in the research villages tended to be in precarious situations, experiencing (often multiple dimensions of) significant poverty, many CSOs sought to develop skills that support women’s livelihoods and economic independence. Indeed, the Migunani (2017) study found that providing support for such practical skills development (and savings and loans activities—see below) was what encouraged group participation at the onset by providing very direct and practical benefits for women to improve their lives. This included trainings on a wide range of skills across the research sites to support livelihoods development, ranging from trainings on budgeting to workshops on organic farming, and how to set up small businesses (for example, the production and selling of cakes or other snacks).
In North Central Timor, for instance, FPL’s partner YABIKU has supported women through sewing courses, hiring out tarps and the selling of tais (a type of woven fabric specific to Timor). The revenue from these activities has supported YABIKU members financially, while at the same time developing women’s livelihood skills. In addition, the trainings have been conducted to teach women how to make coconut oil, crackers and other snacks, which they can then sell to support themselves and their families. Once women become more confident in applying these skills, this often also had a positive impact on others, as illustrated by one woman interviewed in East Lombok:
“Before we were told by the BaKTI staff that we would make taro chips with women and widows in the village. We used to have a group [that did this]. Sweet potatoes, taro, I tried to continue the work [on my own]. I used to have my own business. So, I proposed, how about if we make chips like taro?… Then I lent the equipment to the neighbours.” Husnul, East Lombok research village, 11 July 2019.
Savings and loan activities
In many villages CSOs in the study also supported women to set up savings and loans groups. Through these entities, women contribute a small amount of money monthly to a group fund. These funds can then be borrowed, with minimal interest, by other women who wish to start up their own business. For example,
“I first borrowed 250 [thousand rupiah], then 500, 1 million, and up to 5 million. I used the money for a duck livestock business. I sold duck eggs to pay off the loan, which I have now paid in full. I also saved some of the profits, so now I can either use the savings or take up more loans if needed.” Member of Pekka group, North Hulu Sungai research village, 16 July 2019.
The savings and loans groups have often provided women with an alternative way to access capital and avoid excessive debt as well as loan sharks, as was the case in Central Lombok:
“The migrant workers care group, La Tansa, was first established based on people’s needs. Before migrant workers left to go overseas, they used to borrow money from loan sharks [for the migration costs]. When they wanted to start a business, they also borrowed money from loan sharks. This is why the economic empowerment group was established. When there are issues or cases affecting migrant workers, or when there are people who want to find work, or when they return from abroad, the group members in all hamlets will report and coordinate with DESBUMI cadres.” Member of Panca Karsa, Central Lombok research village, 2 July 2019.
Other activities sought to support women in the domestic sphere, for instance by providing them with classes on child raising and communication with their husbands. This was another set of skills that women found beneficial for improving their wellbeing. In the Cirebon District research village, among the classes that ‘Aisyiyah has provided are programs on communication within the family, particularly between spouses, as well as on child-raising. Supporting women in these areas has often had a profound impact on their everyday lives in how they now share roles and manage any emerging household issues. We also saw this in other villages. In the Tanggamus research village, for instance, Mariana, a participant in DAMAR’s gender awareness training reflected on the various classes she, as well as her family members, had been involved in:
“Thank God, for me personally there have been a lot of changes. Before, in the house, my husband didn’t want to cook, or for us to share roles, such as split the cooking or the cleaning. [Now] if I come home in the afternoon, he is the one who cooks, he can sweep too. [We are] sharing roles, working together. [We are] not distinguishing what work is for women or men.”
There have been changes about how to educate my children too. Yes, before, my child didn’t want to wash his own dishes. After he participated in the young men’s activities, [he thought] yeah, he should help his mother with the work. His knowledge is very meaningful for us, and then we have shared it with friends.” Mariana, Tanggamus research village, 5 July 2019.
These initiatives, however, do need time to trigger changes over the longer-term. A member of the Women’s School in Gresik participated in similar classes to those in Tanggamus and said that:
“Like sharing roles in the house. But sometimes [he’s] still not aware of it. Sometimes it’s still me who reminds [him], I still give the reminders. Sometimes he remembers. But sometimes he is not fully conscious [of the need to continue to share roles].” Women’s School group member, Gresik, 20 February 2019.
Political participation and leadership skills
Women were also supported in the development of their skills in political participation, particularly to express their view in public decision-making forums, and to take up leadership and other public-facing roles. We have seen many examples in Section 4 and in various excerpts of village case studies of Stories of Change, in which women have described the importance of practicing public speaking and learning about governance process, not only for increasing their participation in more formal decision-making forums, but also for giving them the confidence to stand up and put their views forward or to make proposals. A common view among women in the interviews and across many different types of CSO-supported groups was that it was important to gain such confidence and public speaking skills so as to be able to participate fully in village and other decision-making forums.
“[At first] I didn’t feel confident, but now I can speak up. Now I have more knowledge, I have more confidence to speak up, to share my stories with friends. I can go to the subdistrict, which includes participating in the Musrenbang.” Farah, North Hulu Sungai research village, 13 July 2019.
In the Cirebon research village, for instance, women have received training on reproductive health and building skills including in female leadership and public speaking. Similarly, in the North Hulu Sungai research village, in their routine meetings, Pekka union members have practiced speaking in front of others, as was mentioned in Section 5. In the Women’s School groups in Gresik and Pangkep, women have also practiced public speaking.
It is important to emphasise too, that the development of such skills took place over time. This not only resulted from specific and targeted activities focused on public speaking, leadership, planning and management activities, but the broader processes of group participation, organising, and engaging both with other women and community members. We see this in Srikandi’s story below, and in the life histories of many of the women interviewed in the study (see Section 4 and Setiawan et al., 2020).
Literacy and communication skills
Women have also been supported in developing their literacy and communication skills. This was an important practical skill that helped many women to not only take up more opportunities than they had been unable to previously, but also to express their views and communicate in different ways and formats to different types of audiences.
In the North Hulu Sungai research village for instance, women were asked to write a final assignment as part of PEKKA’s Akademi Paradigta. PEKKA also publishes a bulletin including pieces from members from different villages. The women can write about PEKKA activities, but also their own life experiences. PEKKA provides editing support as well as financial incentives to encourage women to write. It is a tool to disseminate PEKKA activities to its members, partners and government officials, but also provides women with an avenue to express themselves:
“[For our activities], there was an assignment, I cried. I cried while writing [the article] because it was about my life story, including when my husband passed away … I was suffering because my husband had another wife.” Pekka group leader, North Hulu Sungai research village, 19 July 2019.
Enhancing knowledge and awareness
The aforementioned support for skills development overlaps with group activities aiming to build knowledge or enhance women’s understanding of certain issues relevant to them. All MAMPU CSO Partners examined in the study sought to enhance women’s knowledge and gender awareness through women’s group activities, and many sought to raise knowledge and gender awareness more broadly in the village. A number of MAMPU CSO Partners also engaged in sharing general information about village and district governance so that women develop more awareness of these processes, and each also shared sectoral knowledge on issues specific to the village communities in question.
Health and knowledge of other sectoral issues
Many CSOs in the study have sought to share information on women’s health, and also to enhance the quality and access of women to health services. They have done so by providing women with information on healthcare so that they are able to make informed choices about their bodies and lives. For instance, in Cirebon, BSA (Balai Sakinah ‘Aisyiyah) has provided women with information on breastfeeding and nutrition, as well as on contraception and breast and cervical cancer. As described by Srikandi (also Sri) in Box 24 below, for many women this was completely new information that is of high importance in villages where many people face health issues due to a lack of access to clean water. Srikandi recalls that initially she had very little knowledge of healthcare issues and did not understand how to respond to them. However, through her involvement with BSA she acquired a better knowledge of healthcare:
“Initially I didn’t understand, [but] then sometimes I enjoyed participating in training courses… I did not understand what cervical cancer was …. After participating in programs from ‘Aisyiyah MAMPU, then I knew that cervical cancer is very dangerous.” Srikandi, Cirebon research village, 23 February 2019.
In addition to broad gender awareness, other knowledge sharing activities have often been directly related to the primary issues faced by women in particular and villagers in general in each community. For instance, in Central Lombok, Panca Karsa has provided information about migrant work and the safety of migrant workers through its village cadres organised in the DESBUMI and the women’s group La Tansa. In Deli Serdang and Bantul, homeworker union members have gained important information about work conditions, access to health insurance and other programs. Such knowledge sharing has been helpful for women to be more aware of key rights in key sectors, and of supporting services and programs available to them as well as how to access such services and programs. They have often then shared this information with other villagers.
Gender and women’s rights
Various CSOs have also provided women with more information on gender and women’s rights. This has often represented a dramatic shift with existing knowledge, which we saw in the discussion of women’s experiences and perceptions in Section 4.
Over time, providing women with education on their rights has fostered their awareness on these issues and ability to imagine change, including female participation in political processes. One young woman who began participating in the Women’s School group in her late teens reflected:
“Oh, I just went along at the start, then we were given material about women’s rights. Then we also found out that women can actually be leaders, we were made aware at the School. So that’s when I thought maybe this is my way to learn about the government and I turned out to be right. The [knowledge on government] was interesting because we did not yet know what our rights were as women. We may have had the rights, but we did not understand what our rights were. That’s the reality.” Women’s School group member, Gresik research ‘intervention’ village, 2 March 2019.
Educating women on their rights has also enhanced their voice within the domestic sphere:
“The impact on me was that I understood that the work of women and men was the same, you know? The only difference is that we breastfeed, give birth, etc. For me personally, because maybe I am a tomboyish girl, so many people say that I can easily do men’s work. I take care of the house, [get involved] at the village meeting hall, and if I shop a lot, I still carry it myself.” DAMAR participant, Tanggamus research village, 12 July 2019.
Knowledge of governance processes
In addition, the CSOs in the study have also sought to enhance women’s awareness on governance processes. For example, PEKKA, through its Paradigta Academy education program, focuses strongly on the goal of empowering women to be able to secure vital administrative documents. This has provided women with a solid understanding of their rights and government services, but has also been a basis for personal growth:
“When I started participating in Pekka meetings, I just stayed silent. [But] I learned a lot about legality issues for women and children, and also about divorce papers. That is how I started to build my confidence from my own lived experience. Then I started to participate actively in Pekka activities, such as meetings and training sessions. I am motivated because I want to improve my knowledge and help women to become leaders. I also want to help people so that they can have identity documents such as ID cards, Family Cards, and birth certificates.” Farah, North Hulu Sungai research village, 13 July 2019.
Many other women’s groups, such as the Women’s Schools, have similarly focused on enhancing women’s awareness of governance processes. Women in the Pangkep ‘intervention’ village, for example, now have a much better understanding of social protection programs and how to access and monitor these which they share with other women. Women in the Central Lombok research village now have much better knowledge of legal processes for overseas work. Women across the research ‘intervention’ sites have also become more familiar with village planning and decision-making processes—grasping MusDes and Musrenbangdes processes has been important for understanding how they might participate in and influence the decisions made in the village.
Strengthening and extending networks
Through activities of the CSOs and the groups that they established, women were also able to strengthen or build and expand their networks, which as we have seen in Sections 4 and 5 was an important source of social capital to not only make positive changes in their lives more immediately but also for women’s collective action involving themselves and others to influence governance processes.
Network building and strengthening starts at a very basic level by expanding opportunities for initial and regular interaction with other women. They then might extend these networks beyond the group. For instance in the North Hulu Sungai District, the savings and loans cooperation established with the support of PEKKA enabled women to meet women in their own village who they didn’t know but also other women from the village and beyond. In Cirebon District, through her participation in ‘Aisyiyah programs, Sri, a BSA member, became increasingly committed to sharing the information and knowledge she gained with the community (see Box 24 below). Community knowledge grew, while Sri gained recognition from, and new networks in, the community and became more influential.
The emergence of such networks is often highly valued by women at a personal level:
“I participate [in the group] making cookies, salted eggs and handicrafts. Usually two groups join one meeting, where around 50 people attend. After that, there is often some kind of public speaking practice… With a quiz afterwards. After that, [we do] the savings and loan activities. If there is an association meeting, I am often invited to participate in meetings in other villages, so I make many new friends.” Pekka Cadre, North Hulu Sungai research village, 15 July 2019.
“[Being in Pekka], it’s like having a child. It feels like my own child. So, when my brother asked me to move to the city, I said: ‘If only I didn’t have to move, I still care for [Pekka] members. I feel sad about leaving [my Pekka group]. But, my brother wants me to move so I don’t have to work in the rice fields anymore.” Aminah, PEKKA group leader, North Hulu Sungai research village, 15 July 2019.
These groups often represent informal and safe spaces in which women can share their experiences. The potential impact of this should not be underestimated. For instance, in the Central Lombok District research village the wife of a migrant worker in Malaysia alerted the women’s group La Tansa when her husband was arrested after running away from his workplace. With the help of other members of La Tansa, the issue was brought to the attention of the DESBUMI and Panca Karsa who then assisted the family.
Multiple effects: Empowerment
Women experienced positive changes on multiple levels that saw their agency and power to effect change in their lives grow through group participation and multiple types of activities, strengthened knowledge, and new and strengthened networks. Knowledge on healthcare programs, services, and social protection for instance, have provided women with information on and access to quality care and support. By developing women’s skills in public speaking and writing, for some their literacy skills have been improved and they are now more able to express their opinions. Similarly, in the domestic sphere, trainings on gender and women’s rights have empowered women to speak up for themselves. This illustrates overall increases in women’s self-confidence. For example,
“I had no sense of confidence back then. But thank God, after speaking a lot, now little by little I am able to speak up. I’m not confident like, like a fool or something like that. Now we dare to talk, dare to confide in our friends. [Gaining] that confidence took maybe two years, three years of learning together, going forward, progressing step by step, learning to speak. If you are going lead an event by yourself this week, then you have to lead the event.” Farah, North Hulu Sungai research village, 13 July 2019.
In some cases, group participation, developing or strengthening organisational and leadership skills has led to the greater influence of many women in the villages—we saw many examples of this in Section 4. For some, this has led to direct participation and representation of women in village government. Sri’s story (see Box 24), for instance, shows the multiple effects of her participation in group activities, learning, and network strengthening, and how through her work she became increasingly recognised by the community and eventually elected—by men—as the Neighbourhood Head.
Box 24: Srikandi, ‘Aisyiyah Health Cadre, Cirebon, West Java
Srikandi is a forty-eight-year-old housewife and mother of three sons. She moved to her current neighbourhood 20 years ago when she married her husband, who works as a street vendor outside Cirebon. Sri lives in the most disadvantaged area of the research village. The community is affected by hygiene and health issues, including access to fresh water. Many villagers use the river water, although some also channel ground water from rice fields to their homes. The challenge of accessing clean water is exacerbated by the prevalence of infectious diseases, such as leprosy and tuberculosis, and non-communicable diseases such as cancer and high blood pressure.
Sri began to be interested in becoming a ‘Aisyiyah cadre in 2008 on the suggestion of the Village Head. The Village Head (Pak Kuwu), who is also a migrant from another region in Cirebon, moved to Sri’s area after marrying the cousin of Sri’s husband. He got to know her, demonstrating the importance of family networks. However, Sri’s selection was not solely due to family connections. Before she was chosen to be a village cadre in 2008, Sri was active in the Primary School Committee and photoshoots for local public health announcements.
Shortly after being selected as a maternal and child healthcare group (Posyandu) volunteer, Sri began to be involved in more community work, including the PKK and at the local health centre (Puskesmas). Sri’s family experience motivated her to be a health volunteer in her community. Sri’s father suffered with a debilitating cough for years until he died without knowing the cause of his illness. When Sri meets someone who is unwell, she often imagines that her father, herself, and her family were sick. This empathy is her primary motivating force to volunteer and to always ask and find out more about illnesses and how to treat them.
In 2014, the Village Head recommended that she become a BSA cadre. This recommendation responded to ‘Aisyiyah’s Regional Management’s request to the Village Head to identify potential village women volunteers for their program. Sri reflected that she did not initially fully understand the terms for sicknesses or treatments, nor the symptoms of illnesses and how to respond to them when she worked at the health clinics. Yet, through her involvement with ‘Aisyiyah, Sri acquired knowledge of reproductive health and healthcare:
“If I’m not wrong, ‘Aisyiyah arrived in 2014… It was reproductive health that initially I didn’t understand. After there were regular Balai Sakinah ‘Aisyiyah meetings, I also continued to ask what is ‘reproductive health’? At first, I did not understand what cervical cancer was, I only knew what I saw on television. After participating in programs from ‘Aisyiyah MAMPU, then I knew that cervical cancer is very dangerous.”
As a health volunteer without a wage or reimbursement for transport, Sri nonetheless visited patients to inform them about diseases and to encourage them to seek and maintain treatment. Sri feels that she has a moral responsibility:
“I don’t know, it is just like I feel like I have this responsibility. [If] you have an obligation, you feel it if you have not carried it out, the feeling is like curiosity… So, we are cadres, even though there are no salaries [but it feels] that means I have been chosen [so] I must be a charitable person. Cadre, it is a shortening of charitable activities.”
After Sri became a cadre, her enthusiasm for knowing about illnesses and diseases and sharing this information in the community grew. In 2016, her commitment to working as a Tuberculosis Prevention Cadre and sharing information with high-risk community members for the local health clinic resulted in her being highlighted in a video for USAID-LKNU. Sri also began contributing to many other health clinic programs, including for midwives, aged care, and men’s awareness of maternal health.
Her work with the local health clinic is closely connected with her work as an ‘Aisyiyah cadre. The knowledge she gained through ‘Aisyiyah programs made her even more committed to want to visit residents. Without an allowance for transportation, she visits unwell people in her area. Sri has become a contact person for women who have health concerns, she talks to local women, examines women who are worried about growing lumps in their breasts and encourages them to go to the local health clinic or the city hospital. Sri travels around her village every day on the mini-bus or is driven by her sons to the village’s midwifery centre (Pondok Bersalin Desa, Polindes) and the health clinic. Sri even delivers prescription medicine to local women and ensures that patients take medications in line with instructions. According to a former village midwife, Sri is a role model:
“For everyone she is the do-er who wants to care about the environment, about the groups who are around here… Let alone being a Posyandu cadre, like Mrs Sri, sometimes the people [in the research village] are really difficult, fear is great here. A feeling of fear that ‘oh no, I am not an educated person’ still exists. But as she is already used to joining gatherings in the village like that, she wants to learn and she really wants to know, so she motivates herself to be strong.” Former Village Midwife, Cirebon, March 2019.
Sri’s dedication to her work began to be increasingly recognised by her community. In 2018, unbeknownst to her, she was elected to be the chairperson of her neighbourhood (RW) in a meeting attended only by men. Sri was selected as one of sixteen inspirational women in Indonesia to the International Women’s Day event “Listening to Grassroots Women” (Mendengarkan Perempuan dari Arus Bawah),which was opened by President Joko Widodo at the State Palace in Jakarta. Sri was the sole woman representing Cirebon Regency and ‘Aisyiyah.
In addition to these changes at the level of individual women, CSO activities have also generated other changes. Sometimes their work has resulted in greater sensitivity of the male leadership to women’s issues. In other cases, the programs of CSOs were replicated to other villages, as happened with the paralegal groups established by YABIKU in Central North Timor, or with Women’s Schools in Gresik. In Central Lombok, as a result of the activities of CSOs, there has been a decline in the number of female migrant workers. This is both as a result of more information but also because people are given viable alternatives to generate an income, i.e. because their skills have been enhanced and by being able to borrow funds to start up their own businesses.