Pathways of Influence: CSO Structures & Support for Grassroots Women’s Groups & Agency

Formal and informal groups 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.
Building women’s skills, knowledge, networks and capacity for exercising voice and influence

After speaking a lot, now little by little I am able to speak up. Now we dare to talk, dare to confide in our friends. [Gaining] that confidence took maybe 2 years, 3 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… Now in front of the District head, she can already speak up. 

district context village context collectivities collectivities pathways 1 pathways 2 pathways 3 outcomes

Many of the forms of women’s grassroots collective action described in the previous chapter were backed, and partly shaped by the ways CSOs provided support for rural women in the research villages, particularly in the ‘intervention’ sites.Given that the research draws from a sample of sites where CSOs have sought to support village women (as well as ‘control’ sites where no such support is provided), it is important to point out the common approach used by these MAMPU Partner CSOs—working with and through grassroots groups alongside broader advocacy to promote gender inclusion, with the goal of empowering women. This is a particular type of CSO intervention. Other CSOs may use a different approach or be less focused on the goal of gender inclusion and empowerment, which may have implications for women’s collective action that are not explored here.

The findings in this and the next section are nonetheless helpful for all audiences (not just CSOs) in understanding how grassroots women’s collective action might be supported by group structures of different kinds that involve women, and how, or via what mechanisms, external actors might help bolster women’s influence in villages and beyond. That is, even if not working with CSOs as partners in initiatives to bolster gender-inclusion and women’s influence in governance and other power structures, some of the features of the ways CSOs have supported women in the research sites to facilitate or augment their agency certainly constitute important learning for other settings, actors and agencies concerned with gender-inclusive governance, structures of power, and socio-economic development.

This section first examines the groups established or supported by the CSOs involved in the study, again with reference to the Village Law and wider governance impacts. We also explore the ways working with and through groups has facilitated and boosted village women’s agency and influence. Even though the MAMPU CSO Partners have in common that they have worked with and though grassroots groups in the research villages, they are nonetheless varied in many other ways, from their sectoral focus, to their organisational structure and other aspects of their models of support for village women. Thus, second, this section also examines the underlying organisational structures of the CSOs involved in the study and variation in the models and structures of support they provided to village women and other village and district-level actors, organisations and networks. We identify the advantages and trade-offs of these approaches. The core content of this section is laid out in Figure 20 below.

Figure 20: Structure and Key Content of Section 6

Supporting village women through groups in villages: Influencing village governance

As mentioned, 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.

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.

Conducive contexts:

Research VillageWomen’s collective action groups and CSO supportGovernance/Village Law Outcome
Tanggamus (Lampung)The DAMAR Women’s Advocacy Institute has worked with its district partner FAKTA (the forum established by the Catholic Church to share health information)in Tanggamus to provide community education on the elimination of gender-based violence to men and women of different ages (teenage boys and girls, and married men and women). DAMAR is a part of the PERMAMPU Consortium of women’s groups in Sumatra. Training has been conducted with different groups separately. The DAMAR-FAKTA partnership made connections with village women in the Tanggamus research village via members of legacy state-corporatist organisations such as the PKK and Posyandu, which are predominantly made up of women.• District Regulations
• Village Taskforce and Post (for Women’s Protection)
• Village Head Decision, Village Fund allocation
• Better access to the district-level Integrated Service Unit
Bantul (Yogakarta)Yasanti (the Annisa Swasti Foundation) has helped homeworkers to unionise in Bantul and has worked with these women’s groups to successfully advocate to village and district authorities for formal recognition of these unions through regulations. The homeworker unions have been registered and together, these unions and Yasanti have worked with other villagers to develop new ratified regulations to support homeworkers in the research village. • Homeworkers Union established, registered and recognised by Village/District Regulations/Decisions
• Village Fund allocation to support homeworkers activities
North Hulu Sunghai (Kalimantan)PEKKA (the Female-Headed Families Foundation), through its branch structure and community organisers, has helped village women to establish women’s groups (Pekka unions) for femae-headed families, which together form a larger network of Pekka union members. Further, through PEKKA’s Akademi Paradigta program, women have been trained to become paralegals to help identify problems related to the administration of the population at the village level. Participants in Akademi Paradigta, particularly early on, have often but not always been drawn from women active in state-corporatist women’s organisations such as the PKK. Those women who complete the Akademi Paradigta have, among others, been supported to implement PEKKA’s ‘KLIK’ program in their villages. The KLIK program assists people to obtain vital records to increase their legibility as citizens, such as birth and marriage certificates, as well as identity and family cards. In turn, this provides people with access to a wide range of social services and the protection of their rights. In the North Hulu Sungai research village, Pekka union groups were initially organised around social gatherings such as prayer meetings, and maternal early childhood education and health groups (Posyandu, Integrated Health Post).• Citizen legibility and increased access to government services for the poor through KLIK
• New Village Regulation
• New welfare based village-owned enterprise (BUMDes) in progress
• Village Head Decision—gender inclusive decision-making meetings
• District Regulations


Moderately difficult contexts

Gresik (East Java) and North Lombok (NBT)KAPAL Perempuan (The Institute for Women’s Alternative Education) through its network of sub-national organisational partners—such as its local partner in Gresik, KPS2K (Women’s Groups and Sources of Life organisation)—has supported village women to establish Women’s School (Sekolah Perempuan) groups to help empower poor women through education and skills development and strengthening the leadership capacity of its members. Members of the Women’s Schools established in many villages in the Gresik District (and in every village in North Lombok), have over time gone on to participate in Musrenbangdes and special development planning meetings for women (Musrenbang Perempuan) in districts, garnering support from the district government to fund and support the scale up and replication of this initiative.• Village Fund allocation
• Increased involvement of women in MusDes and district decision-making forums
• Replication of Women’s Schools with funding from districts
• New District Regulations
• Special District Women’s Musrenbang
Cirebon (West Java)‘Aisyiyah has supported village women to establish women’s groups, known as Balai Sakinah ‘Aisyiyah (BSA) at the grassroots level. It has supported group members through many different skills development and information sharing initiatives and also trained a subset of these members as cadres, or village-level organisers. These cadres are usually members of ‘Aisyiyah that are given additional training to facilitate activities and grow group membership. About a fifth of these cadres have been involved in village development planning meetings.• New Village/ District/Subdistrict Regulations
• Village Fund allocation
• Changed times of MusDes
• Improved village-level health services
• Nutrition garden
East Lombok (NTB)BaKTI (The Eastern Indonesia Knowledge Exchange Foundation) has established ‘Constituent Groups’ to advocate for the rights of women and other vulnerable groups, and, in particular, reducing violence against women. These are multi-stakeholder forums in villages that include both men and women. These Constituent Groups have been brought together with local parliamentarians through the Participatory Recess initiative (first discussed in Section 3) in order to ensure community concerns are included in policy, legislation and regional development planning (MAMPU, n.d.).• New Village/District Regulations
• Village Fund allocation
• Women vote to elect former Constituent Group head (male) as Village Head
• Formal recognition of Constituent Group in Village Regulations
• Increased inclusion of women in village and district decision-making forums
• Slowly changing norms on intimate partner violence
Pangkajene and Islands (Pangkep) control village, South SulawesiThe Pangkep control village had no evidence of CSO interventions, but did have some prior experience of KDP/PNPM. The former Village Head was female (who was replaced by her nephew in the subsequent Village Head election). State-corporatist groups such as the Women Farmers Groups (KWT) and the PKK (as well as the PKK-associated Posyandu, a PKK-organised sewing group, and a PKK savings and loans group; all of which have the same few members as the PKK) were the women’s groups/associations identified in this village. Few women were invited to and attend village decision-making forums (one invited representative from each of the PKK, Posyandu, and KWT).• No Village Fund allocation for women’s initiatives
• No Village Regulations related to women’s priorities
• Few women attend MusDes—one invited representative from each of the PKK, Posyandu, KWT
• No evidence of new Village Regulations or Village Fund allocations based on proposals put forward by women’s groups
Central Lombok (NTB)Migrant CARE has supported the establishment multi-stakeholder organisations in villages known as DESBUMI (Villages that Care for Migrant Workers), which have provided village-based services for both female and male migrant workers before, during and after migration in a number of villages throughout Indonesia. In the Central Lombok research village, Migrant CARE and its local partner the Panca Karsa Association helped villagers to establish a DESBUMI, which was formalised by the village government in 2015. From this group, the women’s-only group ‘La Tansa’ was also formed to support former female migrant workers and their families.• New Village/District Regulations
• Village Fund allocation
• New migrant worker integrated service centre—district/village
• Some increased involvement of women in MusDes
• Slowly changing social norms on child marriage
Deli Serdang (North Sumatra) BITRA (Indonesian Foundation for Rural Capacity Building) helped village women to establish women’s homeworker unions so that homeworkers could connect to other village union groups and collectively advocate for their rights. The provincial government now recognises these unions and homeworkers are also included on the list for government provided free healthcare from which they were previously excluded. BITRA also facilitated the establishment of a Credit Union for homeworkers and a ‘School’ for Increasing Women’s Homeworkers Capacity.• Homeworkers Union established and recognised by government at different levels
• Inclusion of homeworkers on the list of recipients for free healthcare through the National Health Care schemes (BPJS)


Highly difficult contexts

Pangkajene dan Kepulauan—Desa intervensi di Pangkep, 
Sulawesi Selatan 
KAPAL Perempuan bekerja dengan mitra daerahnya di Pangkep, yaitu YKPM (Yayasan Kajian dan Pemberdayaan Masyarakat) untuk membantu perempuan desa membangun kelompok Sekolah Perempuan untuk mendukung pemberdayaan perempuan miskin dan mengembangkan kapasitas kepemimpinan anggotanya. Anggota Sekolah Perempuan yang didirikan di banyak desa di Kabupaten Kepulauan Pangkep, kemudian berpartisipasi dalam Musyawarah Perencanaan Pembangunan Khusus untuk Perempuan (Musrenbang Perempuan) di tingkat kabupaten, dengan inklusi yang lebih tinggi dalam pengambilan keputusan berdasarkan UU Desa. Di Pangkep, Pemerintah Kabupaten menyediakan dana untuk mendukung perluasan dan replikasi inisiatif ini. • Dana Desa untuk Sekolah Perempuan 
• Peningkatan keterlibatan perempuan dalam forum pengambilan keputusan kabupaten dan awalnya di Musdes 
• Replikasi Sekolah Perempuan dengan dana dari kabupaten 
• Peraturan Bupati baru 
• Dukungan dan dana untuk membangun fasilitas dasar—air bersih, sanitasi, dan listrik tenaga surya 
Timor Tengah Utara—TTU (NTT) FPL (Forum Pengada Layanan) dan mitra konsorsiumnya YABIKU (Yayasan Amnaut Bife Kuan) bekerja sama dengan kelompok perempuan korporasi negara seperti PKK dan kelompok tani perempuan (KWT) untuk mengorganisir perempuan dan melakukan aksi kolektif untuk mengurangi kekerasan dalam rumah tangga dan mengubah jenis sanksi adat kekerasan perempuan agar tidak merugikan perempuan. YABIKU juga membentuk kelompok paralegal yang menangani kasus-kasus kekerasan terhadap perempuan dan anak dan telah melobi pemerintah desa untuk mengeluarkan Peraturan Desa baru tentang Perlindungan Perempuan dan Anak dari Kekerasan, meskipun masih dalam tahap perancangan pada saat penelitian. • (Rancangan) Peraturan Desa baru 
• Peraturan Daerah baru 
• Beberapa kendala dalam kasus KDRT dan akses ke paralegal untuk korban KDRT 
• Perubahan secara perlahan terkait praktik adat dalam menyelesaikan perselisihan rumah tangga agar lebih responsif terhadap kebutuhan perempuan 
• Alokasi Dana Desa— stunting (atas instruksi dari Kabupaten) 
Labuhan Batu (Sumatera Utara)FPL (Forum Forum Pengada Layanan) dan mitra konsorsiumnya di Kabupaten Labuhan Batu, SPI (Serikat Perempuan Independen), telah mendukung perempuan desa melalui kelompok ‘serikat perempuan independen’ di tingkat desa. Mereka juga mendukung warga desa untuk membentuk forum multi-pihak dengan gender campuran (Layanan Berbasis Komunitas-LBK) di sejumlah desa di Sumatera Utara. • Peraturan Desa baru 
• Mendirikan Posko bagi Perempuan 
• Mendirikan Layanan Berbasis Komunitas (LBK) multi-pihak untuk melindungi perempuan & anak 
• Alokasi Dana Desa (sudah disahkan tapi belum dicairkan) 
Bangkalan (Madura, Jawa Timur) PEKKA juga mendukung perempuan desa untuk membentuk kelompok perempuan Serikat Pekka di desa penelitian Bangkalan dengan menggunakan program serupa yang dijelaskan di atas dalam kolom Hulu Sungai Utara. Selain Layanan KLIK, inisiatif itsbat nikah dan pencatatan penikahan agama, PEKKA dan kelompok Pekka di desa juga berupaya mendukung perubahan norma sosial yang berkaitan dengan perkawinan anak. • Peraturan Desa baru 
• Alokasi dana APBDes 
• Legalitas identitas kependudukan dan peningkatan akses layanan pemerintah bagi masyarakat miskin melalui KLIK 
• Norma sosial yang perlahan berubah tentang pernikahan anak
desa ‘kontrol’ (Jawa Timur) 
Di desa ‘kontrol’ di Gresik, terdapat PKK tetapi tidak terlalu aktif, yang mana hanya ketua PKK dan terkadang sekretaris dan bendahara yang menghadiri Musdes (dalam lima tahun, mereka hanya sekali mengajukan proposal untuk alokasi Dana Desa yakni untuk PAUD). Struktur organisasi lain yang mungkin terkait dengan perempuan hanyalah pengadaan layanan yakni Posyandu, atau organisasi keagamaan (Fatayat), seperti yang ditemukan di kebanyakan desa lain di Indonesia. • Hanya sedikit perempuan yang menghadiri rapat pengambilan keputusan desa (hanya pimpinan PKK yang diundang) 
• Satu proyek infrastruktur (gedung PAUD) diusulkan oleh PKK 

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.

Agency: Strengthening women’s skills, knowledge, networks and capacity for exercising voice and influence

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

Building skills

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.

Livelihood skills

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.

Life skills

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.

CSO organisational structures for reaching village women

A range of different CSO organisational structures were encountered during the study, which also has implications for shaping the choices made in how CSOs have supported village women. This section discusses the types of CSO internal structures and approaches used to support village women beyond supporting the establishment of groups or collaborating with existing groups as was discussed above. This includes the ways that national CSOs and mass women’s organisations focused on gender inclusion and the goal of women’s empowerment connect with communities through branch structures, or in partnership and through networks with other organisations in district localities so as to have on-the-ground impacts. It also includes the different ways CSOs staff and partners connect to villagers (through direct staff engagement, community organisers, cadres, or a combination).

In 2016, MAMPU commissioned a study undertaken by a group of researchers at Migunani (2017), to investigate the types of national MAMPU CSOs Partners, how they were structured and how they sought to reach village women. The Migunani study identified three types of structures among MAMPU’s partners based on their internal structures and relationships with other organisations, which are outlined in the box below. These structures, according to the 2017 study, influence the nature of group membership and group identity, the model of engagement, and the style or nature of support and facilitation.

Box 25: Migunani (2017) Typology of CSO Structure and Form of Engagement

Type A – multi-level vertical structure in which “The national partner connects to local groups through a mix of provincial, district or subdistrict representation. The identity of the local group mirrors that of the national partner and has a similar form in each location” (2017, 11). The structure of these organisations, such as PEKKA, ‘Aisyiyah, and the Indonesian Women’s Coalition (Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia – KPI) mirrors a branch structure.

Type B – sub-partner engagement: “The national partner forms partnerships with civil society organisations (CSOs) at different levels working on similar issues. These sub-partners then establish or support collective action groups or activities related to shared issues. The identity of the group is more individual and the role of the sub-partner is prominent” (2017, 11). Examples of such partnership structures involving national organisations such as Migrant CARE and KAPAL Perempuan nationally, and their partners in Indonesian provinces and districts such as Panca Karsa in Central Lombok (with Migrant CARE), and KPS2K in Gresik, and YKPM in the Pangkajene Islands District, which are both in partnership with KAPAL Perempuan.

Type C – multi-stakeholder activity: “This is catalysed by the national partner at different levels, and this multi-stakeholder activity is the collective action, and members are organisations rather than individuals” (2017, 11). This structure tends to reflect consortiums and networks, as we find with the network of FPL/Women’s Crisis Centres throughout the archipelago but with a small team in Jakarta, and the regional consortiums such as PERMAMPU (affiliated, for example with DAMAR) in Sumatra, and BaKTI in Eastern Indonesia (affiliated, for example, with LSPDM).

These arrangements were largely reflected in the findings of this research, although this study did not focus on the degree to which the identity of local branches, partners, and consortium member organisations varied significantly from the identity of national MAMPU partners as this was beyond the scope of the research.

We did, however, observe that for Type B, there was further variation among the sub-national partners of national organisations. We discuss these variations further below. We also identified that one of MAMPU’s partners, BaKTI, that was unable to participate in the Migunani (2017) study had a slightly different structure to the three types mentioned, constituting a regional foundation model. As such, we identify five models of engagement that include Type A, two sub-types for Type B, variable models of engagement for Type C, and an additional model for BaKTI in Type D.

Types of CSO structures and models for connecting to village women

Across the research sites, how CSOs interacted with village women involved different approaches to engagement on the ground. This partly reflects the types of CSO internal organisational structures mentioned above as identified by Migunani (2017)—the branch structure, sub-national partner model, or consortium model—but also the different ways CSO partners organised their staff, community organisers, and cadres (collectively the human resources of the CSO) so as to reach, support and engage with village women and their communities. Each structure and model of support has advantages for the ways these organisations connect to villages, adapt to local conditions, and provide support to village women. Each model also has trade-offs, for which CSOs had to make difficult decisions, particularly in terms of resourcing. In this section, we identify each of the broad organisational structures and staffing approaches. In later sections, we also look at the advantages and trade-offs of choices made for staffing, community engagement, and organising, which were not always specific to any one organisational structure, so as to inform broader learning.

1. Type-A: Multi-level branch structure organisations

Most Type-A branch structure organisations in the study supported village women via some combination of a paid staff from subnational branches (and periodic visits from staff at higher levels) and a system of village women cadres that helped organise and support village women’s groups. In this model, through the branch structure, the CSO-assigned community organisers (who are first recruited as members of the organisation) recruited and then supported local village cadres embedded in villages, who in turn mobilised the support of other village women to establish village women’s groups and also help grow group/organisational membership. Many of the village cadres invited to participate by CSOs at the onset tended to (but not always) have had at least some organising experience from participating in other groups or activities (e.g. the Posyandu). Out of pocket expenses were covered but village cadres were generally not paid for time, unless they travelled or undertook activities outside of the village on behalf of the organisation.

PEKKA used this strategy in the Bangkalan research village in Madura, East Java, and in the North Hulu Sungai research village in South Kalimantan (During the fieldwork, PEKKA was in the midst of restructuring its branches in Kalimantan and the PEKKA staff member for North Hulu Sungai District had just resigned. In the interim, this position was being covered by a staff member based Pontianak, West Kalimantan). In most cases, PEKKA branch staff are based in districts and are paid from national funds. In the research sites, they established a district-level Pekka union (Serikat Pekka) and then went on to recruit the first set of village-level cadres who supported village women to form groups. Such groups selected their own coordinator from the membership, with key members also forming an extended set of village cadre in charge of the daily activities of the PEKKA program in that village.

‘Aisyiyah also used this strategy in the Cirebon research village in West Java. Women’s group activities in villages are supported by paid staff in its branch structure, stretching from the national level to the provincial, district, subdistrict, and village levels. The organising mechanisms of ‘Aisyiyah entail:

  • District-level Committees (Pimpinan Daerah),
  • Subdistrict-level Branch Committees (Pimpinan Cabang), and
  • Village-level Sub-Branch Committees (Pimpinan Ranting).

In the research site, the sub-branch committee invited village women to become cadres who then invited other village women to join. These village-level cadres were then engaged in the daily activities of the ‘Aisyiyah program.

One advantage of Type-A organisational models and cadre structures is that there is fairly strong engagement in villages through cadres who are often known and trusted by other village women. This is just one strategy that facilitates national organisations to adapt their programs to very local conditions, particularly when they are unfamiliar with a particular region. Significant resources are required to staff branch offices, and to support village cadres to overcome challenges in their villages. Indeed, across the five types of challenges in building women’s empowerment experienced and reported by all MAMPU CSO Partners across 27 provinces, those with a multi-level branch structure were most likely to encounter implementation challenges related to village-level skills and capacity to overcome challenges in villages (about one third of instances), particularly among cadres.

2. Sub-Type-B1: Sub-national partnerships (Local CSO partners of national organisations have both paid staff and village cadres)

In some of the Type-B sub-national partnership structures in the study, the staff of subnational CSOs (in partnership with the national CSO) were based in the district headquarters, regularly visited the program villages, and also used a cadre model, inviting and training village cadres who were residents of the villages who then invited other members to join group activities. National-subnational organisational structures that also use a cadre model we label as Sub-Type-B1 model.

One example of this type of engagement with villages was evident in the partnership between the national organisation Migrant CARE and its regional partner the Panca Karsa Association in Mataram in Central Lombok. Panca Karsa was established in the region in the 1980s and had long worked on migrant worker issues through a network of organisations in the district, prior to forming a strong partnership with the national Migrant CARE. Migrant CARE focuses on migrant worker issues and supporting the establishment of DESBUMI groups in villages that have provided integrated services for migrant workers and their families.

In Central Lombok, Panca Karsa supported villagers to form a mixed-gender DESBUMI group. The DESBUMI and Panca Karsa also supported village women to establish the ‘La Tansa’ women’s group (an Arabic word meaning “Never Forget”), for migrant worker returnees and their families. The difference between DESBUMI and La Tansa is that the first has focused on socialising ways to undertake safe migration for work. The DESBUMI has also become a formal partner of the village government, which is underpinned by a Village Regulation. La Tansa in contrast, has focused on migrant worker returnees and economic activities to support them and does not have a formal connection with the village government. However, when the village government has organised trainings, such as in baking, La Tansa members have usually participated.

While Panca Karsa staff were based in its district headquarters, they regularly visited the research village nearby. They trained and paid two village cadres with MAMPU support to help run activities for the program, who are villagers based in and from the village of the DESBUMI.

Supporting the establishment of DESBUMI in Indonesia is, in many ways, is a very intensive program of sectoral work that has required gaining support for setting up integrated service centres and networks at multiple levels (international, national, district, and in villages) to support safe, legal migration for work. As with Type-A models, significant resources are required to work with and through subnational partners—that, similar to branch structures, require support for funding staff to support community organising, technical knowledge transfer, and to provide support to village cadres and group members—while also maintaining international networks to support migrant workers encountering challenges overseas, and for policy advocacy and support nationally to ensure legislative frameworks are relevant to the needs of migrant workers. At the same time, felt impacts for villagers were evident as more than 17,000 people in Central Lombok, including the vast majority in the research village, were registered and able to use safer migration pathways for overseas work (see Section 3).

3. Sub-Type-B2: Subnational partnerships (Local CSOs have paid community organisers who live-in or nearby villages but no cadres)

Some Type-B subnational partnership structures involved partnerships between a national and subnational CSO that did not use a cadre system, but provided support for village women via paid community organisers who were direct staff of CSOs. Such community organisers tend to live in or very near target villages for a period of time, particularly when establishing a new program of activities and providing support for village women to establish women’s groups in villages where there was little prior work. We label this the Sub-Type-B2 model. This type varies from the former type in the ways that CSO staff live in or near villages and the CSO staff themselves form different types of direct interpersonal relationships with villagers through intensive direct engagement. Villagers become very familiar with these CSO staff who are community organisers.

This has tended to be a model employed in by CSOs in this research in which the national organisation sought to help strengthen its subnational partners to expand their activities into new regions and villages and sometimes with a new focus, such as the Women’s Schools promoted by KAPAL Perempuan and its subnational partners. KAPAL Perempuan has tended to work with sub-national partners who share their ideology. They have also sought to intensively support subnational partners not only to implement programs but also to strengthen their organisational capacity.

In South Sulawesi, KAPAL Perempuan’s partner YKPM (Community Empowerment and Assessment Foundation) has its base in the capital, Makassar and, at the time of the research, was active in Pangkep. The YKPM community organiser for Pangkep visited the Pangkep research village and stayed for 3-4 weeks every 2 months. Similarly, in Gresik District in East Java, the office of KAPAL’s partner, KPS2K (Women’s Groups and Sources of Life organisation) is located in the neighbouring Sidoarjo District, more than an hour away. As a result, community organisers also stayed in target villages.

This type of structure is resource intensive in that it invests significant resources in paid community organisers, but these staff also have a high degree of engagement with villagers that is helpful in places where village women encounter deeply restrictive norms on gender roles, and where women’s group activities and advocacy challenge social norms, and politico-economic power structures. Community organisers are able to provide significant support to these village women to navigate emerging challenges.

Like branch models, replicating this model in other places has implications for the CSO resources needed to invest in CSO staff able to undertake deep community organising work in villages. Whether such work is necessary would depend on the length of time the CSO has had an established presence in the district (discussed further in the next section) as well as the degree of difficult for village women in countering context challenges. Stronger and direct support of village women from community organisers is especially important when gender inclusion and empowerment agendas challenge especially patriarchal social norms or seek to tackle politico-economic power structures.

4. Type-C: Network consortium partnership models (with varied mixes of paid CSO staff and cadres)

Network models involve consortiums of organisations working together rather than more singular partnerships between a national and subnational partner. In this model, regional or national networks of organisations have inputs into network goals and structures and also operate at multiple levels, such as across a whole geographic region (e.g. all of Sumatra as in the case of PERMAMPU). Members of these networks are organisations rather than individuals. This often means (and was certainly the case in this research) that villagers are most familiar with the organisation in the network that is most closely located to them (such as a district-based organisation). Provincial organisations in the network often also work in partnership with other district organisations (both those initially in or outside of the network) to support village women in different ways, such as to establish new groups, or they collaborate with existing groups. National or regional network offices usually perform a network coordinating function, providing support to partners for national programs to the extent that their staff resources permit.

In the research sites, there was a high degree of variation among consortium partners in the way they executed projects and engaged with women in villages. For FPL whose local network partners are SPI (the Serikat Perempuan Independen—the Independent Women’s Union) in Labuhan Batu District in North Sumatra, and YABIKU in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), there was variation in the approaches used by each subnational consortium partner to support village women, sometimes via their own organisational partners. Some used cadre systems, some collaborated with existing women’s groups, some supported village women to establish new groups, and some undertook all three strategies. SPI in Labuhan Batu supported women to establish village women’s ‘independent unions’ and worked with village cadres who then carried out SPI programs. Cadres sometimes covered other villages in addition to the village where they reside.

YABIKU, as an FPL partner, directly assigned its staff to undertake activities in the TTU research village rather than working with cadres. YABIKU’s staff visited the village regularly to implement its program. These regular visits (as with the Panca Karsa Association in Type-B1 above) were feasible due to the village’s close proximity to the capital city. The staff also sometimes stayed overnight in the village depending on the needs of the program. Women in the village connected directly to and became very familiar with YABIKU staff.

PERMAMPU, the regional consortium of women’s organisations in Sumatra, covers Lampung Province. One of its founding members, the DAMAR Women’s Advocacy Institute (see Section 3 and Section 5) has provincial-wide coverage. DAMAR formed a partnership with FAKTA in Tanggamus District known as the FAKTA-DAMAR network. As mentioned in Section 3, FAKTA is an organisation that the local Catholic Church established aiming to educate women who are members of the Catholic Church on health issues. DAMAR supported FAKTA to extend its focus and approach to include reproductive health and gender awareness.

In the Tanggamus research village, DAMAR through FAKTA initially connected to village women via existing women’s groups and organisations. The Head of FAKTA-DAMAR acted as a community organiser and, at the time of the research, was been deeply embedded in village life. DAMAR staff visited the village once a month from Lampung Province’s capital, Bandar Lampung, which is located an hour’s drive away. Given this situation, the head of FAKTA was the person village women were most familiar with and DAMAR staff played more of a coordinating role across the district for network activities, in addition to its district advocacy work.

The advantage of the consortium model is that either consortium organisational members or their own district partners tend to have a good understanding of district conditions, and often have contacts in districts and villages. Through these contacts they can connect to village women, particularly for new engagement work and to support women through activities in villages where they haven’t conducted programs before. In addition, the model allows for larger networks to grow and to have wider reach for building gender inclusion and women’s empowerment across the archipelago. The variation explored above also shows how consortium models provide spaces for their regional partners to adapt any organisational structure to village conditions using their existing networks.

On the other hand, how well each consortium partner (particularly district partners) is able to engage with and support village women is similar to other models described above and below in that it is contingent on:

  • Available resources,
  • The relationships that community organisers and/or village cadres build with village women, and
  • The extent to whether they have a deep understanding of the village context, can build trust and support village women overcome obstacles and develop strategies to circumvent problems.

Thus, each approach to gender inclusiveness and sets of on-the-ground initiatives in these consortium models would need to be assessed on their own merits.

At the same time, such variation in the models of engagement among consortium partners in districts, and that they tend to have varied capacities, strategies and resources, can create implementation challenges in supporting village women and their collective action. Indeed, across the five types of challenges experienced and reported by all MAMPU CSO Partners across 27 provinces to October 2019, those with a network consortium structure were most likely to encounter advocacy and operational challenges more than any other type of structure (around one fifth of instances). This was due to the stretched resources of the network coordinating organisations that need to work at scale but also accommodate the varied needs and approaches of their partner. Network models no doubt benefit from:

  • The network investing significant resources in monitoring activities, identifying obstacles early, and supporting partners to develop strategies to overcome these, and
  • Allocated resources for programs earmarked for engagement but customised to the structure of each district partner.
5. Type-D: Regional foundation models where a network organiser directly implements programs

BaKTI (The Eastern Indonesia Knowledge Exchange Foundation), both coordinates various initiatives among CSOs in Eastern Indonesia, invests its own staff to directly implement programs in districts and villages (although not through a branch structure) and sometimes works with district partners. At the time of this research, in East Lombok District, BaKTI’s main program focused on improving parliamentary engagement through its Reses Partisipatif (Participatory Recess) program (see Section 7) and supporting villagers to form the Constituent Groups discussed previously (see the case study of a Story of Change in Section 4) that also connect to these parliamentary members.

In East Lombok, BaKTI assigned one of its staff, a popular CSO community organiser initially from another organisation, to assist and monitor the establishment of Constituent Groups as well as BaKTI programs.[1] After the Constituent Group was established, the community organiser drew on her extensive networks to help Constituent Group members connect to village government leaders, and to the heads of the relevant offices in East Lombok Government. This community organiser visited the village fairly regularly and was well known by Group members. Given this mixed model, considerations for advantages and trade-offs for specific endeavours would be similar to those mentioned in other models above depending on which approach is used.

[1] BaKTI initially used a partnership model with a CSO in Lombok island for its programs, but implementation and accountability challenges resulted in a switch to direct implementation. BaKTI set up a sub-office in West Nusa Tenggara covering two areas: Mataram City and East Lombok District.

CSO choices in models of support for village women: Advantages and trade-offs

One of the most important aspects across all these different models used by CSOs (or other agencies and facilitators) to reach, engage with, and support village women, is the degree to which there is regular support for and trust developed with women in villages. This is especially important in situations where village women’s efforts to build groups and networks and to improve gender inclusion and women’s influence in governance and development rub up against strong social norms that run counter to such agendas. It was evident in the research sites that the more embedded the staff or community organisers (or other facilitators and agencies that may not be structured as CSOs) were in the everyday life of the women (either directly or in collaboration with cadres), the better they understood village women’s daily challenges, and if needed could discuss and support these women to develop solutions to any challenges they encountered.

Below we identify and discuss further the advantages and trade-offs of key dimensions of organisational approaches to grassroots engagement to support gender inclusion in structures of power and decision making, which have emerged in the research sites. These are based on analysis of ways the MAMPU CSO Partners have supported village women. We aim to identify key lessons that might be applicable to other contexts and structures of support. We do not disaggregate the analysis by the specific types of higher-level organisational structures mentioned above, as many aspects of the models of support for village women have been present across types of multiple organisational structures. Instead, we explore the advantages and challenges of the choices made across these models, such as using cadre systems, the relevance of the length of time a CSO has been in the village, and the investment in high engagement with village women from community organisers. We also discuss the advantages and trade-offs of ‘do it for them’ (versus ‘do it with them’) approaches and sequencing, wider CSO support when group members undertake new forms collective action in public forums, connections to mass organisations and different types of membership (see Figure 23).

Figure 23: Choices in Models of Support for Village Women

Village cadres

‘Cadres’ here refers to the women in villages who are invited and if they agree, are recruited by CSOs to not only invite other women to join new or established groups, but to also (at least initially) lead activities or organise programs supported by the organisation in the village (or multiple villages) or to be a point of contact for a CSO program in villages. For example, if village women have questions, need clarification, or when they are too shy to even ask questions to CSO staff, they go to cadres. As discussed above, many CSOs use this cadre system.


There are several advantages of the cadre structure, examples of which were found in each type of CSO organisational structure mentioned above. First, CSOs can support cadres to build or strengthen their organising skills, knowledge and other capacities, which remain in the village beyond the life of the program (These skills can also be built in other women’s group members, but cadres take on some of the organisational functions of the CSO). Cadres can then share these skills and knowledge with other women’s group members. In their organising and program roles for the CSOs, cadres can use these skills to build networks within and beyond the village through their work with the CSO. This has other implications for advocacy and women’s representation down the track as cadres become an important part of the broader network of women for wider advocacy on gender inclusion and women’s empowerment.

Second, a cadre system is also a way for CSOs to connect with and build trust in village communities, support women to increase group membership, and create an avenue through which CSOs can have very frequent and close contact between the organisation and villagers. Cadres form a ‘bridge’ between CSOs and village women. This is a helpful for CSOs (or other institutions using a cadre structure) embarking on new programs in villages where they don’t have existing relationships or a strong presence. Third, if cadres have or develop close relationships with state and non-state authority figures in the village, then this can help open doors for strengthening gender inclusion and women’s empowerment through the collective force of the cadres, as was the case in the Bangkalan research village (see Box 26). This also helps build sustainability beyond the life of a particular CSO program, particularly if they can gain government support.

Box 26: Building Trust in Bangkalan

In the Bangkalan research village, political power is concentrated in one extended family. The family is highly respected with strong religious leadership roles within the society. In the region, the dominant religious social institutions intersect with the village government leadership, creating a monolithic political structure. The family owns and run a local Islamic boarding school. Within this village power structure, PEKKA initially invited a number of village women who had connections to this family to become cadres, so as to simultaneously fulfil two goals at once: to access and garner support from the village government and to access the religious organisational networks in the village to connect to other village women. PEKKA staff explained that the region and the village was known as a ‘difficult’ area, as far as social norms around gender is concerned. Villagers, and in particular the leadership, are very conservative in their reaction to ideas of gender inclusion and women’s empowerment, especially in relation to village governance. Accessing cadres in this way smoothed the process of garnering support to establish the Pekka union in the village and made it easier for other women to join.

Connecting to existing power structures of both the village government and dominant social groups helped PEKKA via cadres establish trust with villagers in a community where they had not previously supported village women. They shared information and aspects of their program for 15 minutes during the religious gatherings that most women attend (absence from such gatherings usually incurs social sanctions).


Aside from requiring significant resources needed to establish and support a cadre structure together with the branch staff of organisations, the cadre system comes with its own challenges that may impact on women’s influence. First, how well activities go can be interrelated with the capacity of cadres, which can vary. Second, it is hard to avoid cadres being ingrained in the everyday relationships, politics, and dynamics of village life. Cadres are often members of the villages in which they support programs and mobilise women to join groups. As with most villagers, they are deeply embedded in community life and usually rely on these communities for their own opportunities for support and wellbeing. This presents opportunities for building women’s groups and sharing program or knowledge and support from the organisations for which they are cadres with other women and community members. It also presents opportunities in garnering support from the village communities and leadership for women’s group activities.

If, however, cadres are closely associated with particular leaders within the village—which is almost unavoidable through their advocacy work—or with particular sets of village elites, this may open doors, but it can also close doors at other points in time. Changes in village leadership and other critical junctures can possibly see cadres sidelined from future decision-making forums and other opportunities if they are deemed by the new leadership to have close relationships with former leaders, as was explained by one woman in West Java (Box 27). These risks were certainly evident in the Labuhan Batu research village in North Sumatra. Union members of SPI who are also cadres for the district SPI explained that they depend on their close relations with influential village leaders. If the power shifts in the village-level structures to new actors, they lose their political protectors.

Further, if opposition factions want to destabilise the village leadership in office, they can undertake efforts to sideline cadres, thereby discrediting them and the CSOs or programs that support them, so as to attribute stalled programs to the failures of the village leadership who support such activities. Such situations also raise risks for the wellbeing of the cadres in their everyday interactions with villagers and in accessing networks and opportunities in communities that they rely on for their own socio-economic welfare. These risks are similar for other community facilitators in development programs who also reside in and depend on the village.

Box 27: CSO Cadres in Cirebon

In many places in Cirebon District, vote buying and corruption have created partisan politics. There has been a tendency in the region to prioritise campaign team members in key positions and to sideline organisations and members (or cadre) who were not supportive of the winning candidate.

“This is what is bad here, sometimes not all Kuwu [Village Heads] are supportive. Sometimes when the Kuwu changes, all cadres are replaced too…If the cadre [of an organisation] is not part of the successful campaign team, she’s finished. For example, in our other partner village we don’t have any more cadre because they voted for another candidate, so now they [the winning Kuwu] does not want to work with MAMPU.” Head of PD ‘Aisyiyah Cirebon, 21 February 2019.

The implications are that the cadre system needs to be always ready to adapt quickly to the changing landscape of village politics, which happens at least at the times of elections each six years, but also when relationships change between the village government and the BPD and other influential actors. The cadre system may pose less of a risk in villages with more narrow, monolithic structures that rarely change such as in the research village in Bangkalan discussed above (see Box 26).

With this in mind, for those organisations with village cadres across all the different types of CSO structures, it is clear that developing strategies to mitigate these risks for cadres, while benefiting from the opportunities this structure present are important. This includes:

  • Identifying indicators of when cadres come under stress from village dynamics,
  • CSO staff providing back up and support to these cadres,
  • Developing strategies to bridge village factions and gain support for gender inclusion and empowerment programs over time, and
  • Planning for the ruptures introduced with village elections or other critical junctures well in advance.

Length of time in the district/village

Regardless of the CSO structure, the length of time CSOs had worked with, or had programs in, villages was also relevant for the nature of the support provided to village women and the speed at which CSOs could engage with or upscale such support. In places where relationships with villages were long established and displayed a high degree of trust, it was easier to undertake new types of activities and bolster women’s collective action.

This was certainly a strong feature of the consortium approaches and subnational partnership models examined, as the main subnational partner or consortium member organisation (which sometimes had its own CSO partners) undertaking direct village-level engagement were often district-level CSOs that have had a longer presence in the region and existing connections with villagers. They had often undertaken activities in villages before, or villagers may have heard of the activities undertaken elsewhere. This would be similar too in the case of organisations with long established branches in target regions.

Even in those villages where new activities and relationships were established without such prior presence, it was also evident how problem solving became easier over time as CSOs began to be trusted by communities and village leaders. This is the case in the North Hulu Sungai research village in South Kalimantan Province where PEKKA has supported village women. Unlike other nearby provinces such as West Kalimantan where CSOs are vibrant and active, in South Kalimantan, and in North Hulu Sungai District, at the time of the research, there had been very little CSO activity in the research region, except for CSOs working on environmental issues. Thus, in the research village, CSO activities were relatively foreign for the village government and village citizens. At the same time, the community was not closed off to CSO activities—when PEKKA approached the Village Head, they were made very welcome. As trust was developed over time, relationships between PEKKA and the village, subdistrict and district government strengthened, but establishing the program, supporting women to establish women’s groups, and getting activities off the ground took longer than in those places with an established program presence.

High engagement of community organisers and CSO staff

Many of the organisations in the study displayed a high degree of direct engagement of CSO staff with villagers through regular visits (for those organisations with established, trusted relationships in villages) or through live in or live nearby approaches (for those seeking to establish new relationships). This enhanced the collective action capacity for village women’s groups, particularly in more difficult contexts.


The more frequently they visit or even stay in villages, the more intensive interaction the between the women and the community organisers, which energises collective action activities among the women themselves, particularly in villages where CSOs have not collaborated before. Understanding the distinct challenges encountered by women in each village in comprehensive ways influences the way the women (facilitated by the organisers) come up with solutions in facing the challenges, and ultimately on influencing village decision makers and even accessing village funds.


At the same time, such an approach requires a significant investment of resources in staff, which may not be as necessary in places where there are already indicators of a conducive environment to women’s empowerment. However, efforts could be rolled back over time after an initial intensive investment. CSOs that partner with local CSOs and have community organisers that stay in villages for extended periods (as was the case with KAPAL Perempuan’s partner YKPM), or visit the village every day (as was the case with YABIKU in TTU and Panca Karsa in Central Lombok), can both establish strong direct connections with women in villages, but require significant staff and resources to do so.

‘Do it for them’ and ‘do it with them’ approaches: Sequencing


One of the goals of many CSOs is to try and make sure the impacts of their programs are sustainable beyond the life of these programs. To do this, one of their strategies is to support village women and the village government to establish Village Regulations that incorporate women’s concerns or seek to bolster gender inclusiveness (discussed further in Section 7). This is an overarching and long-term strategy deployed alongside the day-to-day running of the program, and requires distinctive technical skills to help villagers and their leadership draft the content. This is usually a strength of CSOs who have significant knowledge in specific sectors. In some cases, CSOs draft Village Regulations and propose these to the Village Head or other supportive leaders/government members. In others they might provide support on the architecture of the regulation, but they instead support village women to lead the drafting or to have significant input into content along with the village government, providing advice. In both cases CSOs help to fill important knowledge gaps, but each approach takes a different degree of time and investment.


‘Do it with them’ approaches take longer and require greater resource investments to support villages, but result in better understanding of the content and how to carry through with implementation over the long term. Intensive support for collectively lobbying for and drafting regulations in ‘do it with them’ approaches is best done early in CSO village support, not only so villagers can learn and take ownership of the change, but so the CSO can follow up with more on-the-ground support in implementing the regulation, as has been the case in many of the research villages in this study.

‘Do it for them’ approaches are often faster to implement and result in more technically sophisticated content in the regulation, but this does not necessarily mean that villagers are well equipped to implement the regulation, or are committed to or understand its goals. Sequencing and the approach used in such CSOs activities is critical. If CSOs take a ‘do it for them’ approach, then it is helpful if efforts are made to transfer knowledge and ownership of the regulation.

If an approach of ‘do it for them’ is undertaken without skills-transfer, this has the potential to limit sustainability after programs to support women cease. Further, where new regulations are introduced late in programs, or without support to villagers to traverse changes in leadership, or without strategies to support the implementation of new regulations, then there is the risk of challenges for village women down the track. Changing regulations can challenge social norms, shake-up power structures and established ways of doing, the effects of which are sometimes not apparent until such regulations begin to be implemented. This can have implications for village women over longer-term time horizons, including political backlash in the extreme case, amendments to regulations in subsequent administrations, or simply ignoring/under-funding the regulations. Sequencing support is key to managing these risks.

Wider CSO support when group members undertake new forms of collective action in public forums

In the early phases of programs, as members of village women’s groups grow their skills and confidence from their internal group activities, new opportunities to collectively influence decision making may arise. However, as we saw in Section 4, this can be a frightening experience for some, and filled with obstacles such as community push back and threats from the village leadership in others. Many women in this study described how important it was when they first began to advocate for attending or actually did participate in decision-making forums that they were accompanied by CSO staff (or in some cases cadre) to support them on this journey, particularly during the early phases and in villages where women have previously been excluded from being involved in village decision making and other public-facing roles. Often as their access to public forums grew, they became excited to attend and confident in their public speaking capacity.


Across all research sites it was evident that, at the very least during early phases, CSO support through cadres or staff accompanying village women to public meetings and covering transportation costs was important for improving the likelihood that women not only attend, but also speak up or convey their views. In North Hulu Sungai District, the head of the Pekka group in the village frequently attended meetings on establishing the village-owned enterprise, and PEKKA branch staff and cadres supported her in this process. Similarly, when group leaders and members of the women’s group in the research sites in Pangkep took up their frequent invites to meetings at the district level or from other CSOs in the region, YKPM and ‘Aisyiyah (which also has a program in the district) paid their travel costs and accompanied them. This has amplified village women’s engagement with, and influence in, district structures.


However, again, this requires additional program resources, planning and a strong investment in community organisers and staff to support collective action and accompany women to such meetings, particularly at the onset.

Connection to mass organisations

Whether the CSOs and mass women’s organisations had connections to other networks, CSOs, or mass organisations also had a role in how they established programs and supported village women. For example, ‘Aisyiyah’s connection to Muhammadiyah meant it required specific strategies to build trust in villages that are the stronghold of other mass organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

Advantages and trade-offs

Connections to mass organisations can facilitate access to villages, expand reach, provide an initial entry point to establish women’s groups and provide a bigger resource base for activities. However, such organisations carry with them a brand or philosophy that can be interpreted in different ways by communities and leaders, over which local branches or CSO partners in the broader network have little control. In such situations this can form a barrier to advocacy and support to village women unless careful strategies are used to build trust in other ways. In the Cirebon research village (a village in which most support NU), ‘Aisyiyah was careful to focus on building trust with the village leadership and involving them in multiple activities and collaborations to help mitigate potential misunderstandings in their work to support women to grow their knowledge of reproductive health and nutrition and other gender inclusion activities.

Diversity of group membership

In the discussion on different types of groups, we identified the benefits from each type of structure of group membership. Within all-female groups, there are benefits of having diverse membership so as to connect the group to more vulnerable women. However, in promoting an inclusive membership, it was evident in the research sites that there are often also women who join that have strong social and familial networks and relationships with the village leadership and other influential actors. Some also come from more elite backgrounds or are more accustomed to exercising their voice or leading initiatives. It is important in such situations to ensure that other members also have opportunities to express their preferences, so as not to create internal structures that privilege a small few. Mixed-gender groups have similar benefits and trade-offs—if group leaders are men, social norms may privilege their views and risk not representing the broader interests of women in collective action. In working with established groups, there are opportunities for access and rapid membership growth, but depending on how CSOs manage the group, there are risks that the connections with the established power structures have implications that the forum can be captured by these interests or not strong enough to circumvent norms and interests to favour women’s choices.

Key features of CSO approaches to grassroots support for women to bolster gender inclusion and women’s influence

Drawing on the analysis in Section 5 and Section 6, Figure 24 below outlines the key features of the types of support provided by CSOs to bolster women’s collective action and empowerment across the research sites as well as the scale or intensity of this support in different contexts. It indicates the kinds of program priorities that would be important in different contexts for new programs seeking to influence women’s collective action and influence on the Village Law and village governance more widely.

Figure 24: Activities and Approach to Strengthen Women’s Individual and Collective Agency

District Context
Village Context
Collectivities: Existing & New
Pathways of Influence: Women’s Agency & Collective Action
Pathways of Influence: Planned and Adaptive Strategies
Outcomes: Village Law