To varied degrees and with changes over time, village women exercised formal forms of collective action where they directly focused on formal leadership and governance participation. There were several forms of formal collective action undertaken by rural village women, as representatives of, or through, groups, associations and collectivities. These main forms include, among others:
- Participation in, and the running of, elections, and/or strategically and collectively using votes to support particular candidates who are known to be inclusive of women,
- Participation in the decision-making meetings of government and other forums (both village and district-level forums),
- Participation in taskforces, associational networks and program development and implementation initiatives, and
- Providing input into regulations and policies in ways that are of benefit to them.
Formal forms of collective action constitute a form of exercising power to shapepolitical and policy decisions that affect women’s wellbeing, as well as to shift social norms that may constrain their choices and participation in public realms. In finding common ground among people with different interests and building collective strength through participation in the groups discussed above, women have found power with other group members in the mutual support they provide to each other (See Section 2), and with other actors, groups and associations in shaping the decisions of authoritative structures so as to be more gender inclusive. Each of these forms of collective action is discussed further below.
 As was discussed in Section 2, VeneKlasen and Miller (2002, 39) identify different types of power: Power over—The most commonly recognised form of power, power over, has many negative associations for people, such as repression, wealth, force, coercion, discrimination, corruption, and abuse. Power is seen as a win-lose relationship.Power with—to do with finding common ground among different interests and building collective strength.Power to—refers to the unique potential of every person to shape his or her life and world.Power within—has to do with a person’s sense of self-worth and self-knowledge.
Participation in village decision making
Women’s participation in decision-making meetings such as MusDes and Musrenbangdes allows them to bring issues relevant to women’s needs to the attention of the village government and to influence the decisions made (i.e. expressing their power togetherwith others to shape political and policy decisions). Such participation varied across the research villages—it was rare in the ‘control’ sites and in a number of the other research villages, although in the case of the latter this improved over time.
In some villages, women’s groups had to first ensure that women were able to participate in these meetings. In the Cirebon research village, for instance, initially there was no women’s participation in the Musrenbangdes and rarely in MusDes. As was illustrated in Section 3 in the Story of Change in the Cirebon research village, meetings were held in the evenings and social norms in the village forbid women to be outside the house at night. Women’s group cadres lobbied the Village Head to change the time of the Musrenbangdes. The Musrenbangdes was then moved to Sunday afternoon, creating better opportunities for women to participate. They then advocated for funding for a number of women’s initiatives and a new Village Regulation.
Once women had better opportunities to participate in these forums, their confidence grew each time they participated to exercise voice and put forward proposals (see also Section 6). In the North Hulu Sungai research village, in their routine Pekka union meetings, members practiced public speaking, which increased their confidence to then voice their interest in village meetings:
“Our self-confidence perhaps [increased] after two or three years because of being invited to meetings a lot. Together we learned to speak in the front of the group, one by one… and how to take turns in leading meetings.” Head of Pekka group, North Hulu Sungai research village, 13 July 2019.
They then advocated for the improvement for health services in the village by recommending purchase of equipment for the village Posyandu using the Village Fund.
Similarly in East Lombok, the ability of women to raise issues that matter to them in these forums led to an allocation of funding. The chair of the Posyandu, who is also a member of the Constituent Group, was invited to participate in the Musrenbangdes:
“[I was] invited because I am a Posyandu cadre, and also a member of the Constituent Group. [In the meeting] I made recommendations to buy equipment for the Posyandu, [these were] collective recommendations. We made list of what we needed and the village [government] allocated some funds.” Chair of Posyandu and Constituent Group cadre, East Lombok research village, 8 July 2019.
Women’s active participation in village meetings also had a ripple effect on their position in the domestic sphere. For instance, in North Hulu Sungai, Pekka members started to participate in the Musrenbangdes where they advocated for the improvement of health services and for training on economic skills to enhance women’s ability to generate an income. In being able to generate more income, women also enhanced their bargaining position at home.
Participation in district-level forums so as to influence political and policy decisions
During the research we found many examples in which village women not only participated in governance processes at the village level, but also at the district level to express their power together with others so as to shape processes and outcomes, particularly (but not always) after they were able to demonstrate the benefits of their collective action and initiatives in villages.
For example, in Gresik, Women’s School members made recommendations to influential district actors to make greater investments in women’s health issues as well as education extension programs for women. In Central Lombok, village women have been involved in providing inputs to district-level initiatives to support migrant worker registration and to help respond to challenges that migrant workers encounter. We provide other examples in later sections.
Participation in taskforces, associational networks and program design, and development program and implementation initiatives
Participating in initiatives that contribute to village and district development and service delivery are a way to influence the design and delivery of these initiatives so as to benefit both women and others, to exercise power to shape processes and outcomes, often together with others. Participating in these initiatives is also a way for women to build their public profile and legitimacy as influential and authoritative actors who can exert further power in the future. This is particularly helpful for those women unaccustomed to engaging in public-facing activities, especially in places where gender norms confine women to the home.
For example, in Bangkalan in Section 4, we saw the way women like Ati, Nurul and Indah participated in the Village Consultation and Information and Service Clinics (KLIK). This not only augmented their learning and knowledge, it also helped them develop relationships and a public profile in which they became increasingly well-known and trusted. They then used this experience to lobby for further support for verifying and registering religious marriages through government processes. In Labuhan Batu (see Box 21 below), SPI women were active in the multi-stakeholder forum to provide services and support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, which then augmented their influence over and input into the design of the Village Regulation to bolster support for violence prevention.
Village women in case studies in multiple sites also participated in the district taskforces and other forums for the design and delivery of other initiatives and services in health (Cirebon), gender mainstreaming and Women’s School replication (Gresik, Pangkep), violence prevention (TTU, Tanggamus, East Lombok), changing customary dispute resolution practices (TTU), migrant worker protection (Central Lombok), and many others.
Taking these kinds (and others) of public-facing roles also provides role models for other women and helps break down what might be community perceptions in some villages that women’s primary role and skills pertain to managing households—we saw how Mita in Bangkalan, Gita in Central Lombok (see also Section 4) and many other women found ways to pursue both publicly oriented active roles while also having families, with part of their goal being to be role models for others.
However, without the support and back up of groups (that is, power with others), it is difficult for women to advocate and take on leadership roles alone, especially when this is not the norm. We found two influential women in the Gresik research ‘control’ site. Whenever villagers were asked if there were any female leaders or influential women in the village, these were consistently the two to whom they would refer. One, the head of the PKK, was generally well respected by men and women in the village—which led to but was also a result of her position in the PKK and the women’s religious organisation Fatayat—and had managed to have some, albeit limited influence on Village Law implementation via one proposal for village funding. The other, as people thought back, was a woman who took on the role as the first female Neighbourhood Head in 1999 (and is one of less than a handful of women to have ever held such a role) who didn’t have such group support. Villagers struggled to find other examples.
Few questioned the integrity of the PKK Head, particularly given that this particular PKK was made up of a small group of elite women in the village and tended to conform to the gender norms of women as wives and mothers. However, the former Neighbourhood Head had struggled to counter gender norms of the day—many interviewees said that women simply didn’t have the capacity to be leaders. She consequently had to work twice as hard to gain trust and respect on her own, without others to help counter these views. Villagers in Gresik explained:
“Yeah, early on there were people that would say that women [didn’t have the capacity to be a leader]…I was quite young back then… I heard my neighbour say, ‘what would this Female Neighbourhood Head possibly be able to do?’…but there was no need to listen to that, because in the end it turned out she could do the work.” Female villager, Gresik research ‘control’ village, 9 November 2019.
“Yeah, we only knew women could become leaders because Ibu Mafiroh became the Neighbourhood Head. I now know that, and in fact, they are more agile and work faster than the male Neighbourhood Heads do.” Male villager, Gresik research ‘control’ village, 14 November 2019.
“Before, we women were doubtful yeah…[we thought] can we or not?…You know, now that we have seen that she could do it, I know women, you know, even me (!), I could do that work.” Female villager, Gresik research ‘control’ village, 10 November 2019.
“What’s the word for it?… Inspiration for us women here”. Female villager, Gresik research ‘control’ village, 12 November 2019.
These examples highlight the importance of group support for women who begin to emerge as leaders to help overcome the barriers they often encounter.
Influencing the content and enactment of regulations
Women have also engaged in collective action by influencing the content of regulations, again to exercise their power to shape policies and outcomes, often with others. For instance, in Cirebon the passing of the 2017 Village Regulation on the Management of Reproductive Health was a result of negotiation between ‘Aisyiyah cadres and the village government. The cadres, who at the provincial level had been assisted by academics, took part in focus group discussion meetings to write the regulation:
“Apart from [the information] that was gathered by cadres in the first FGD forum, there were additions, consolidation [of the draft], rebuttals [on some clauses] from participants in the second FGD … Once [the draft was] developed, a village government team conducted a public consultation, where they invited the people of the village [to give inputs], because not everyone had participated in the development [of the regulation]. We explained the draft, read out [the clauses] one by one, and asked whether there was any disagreement or rebuttals. After we finished that process, we went on to formalise the regulation. So, yes, these are all the processes involved.” Head Regional Officer, ‘Aisyiyah in West Java, 28 February 2019.
In East Lombok, the Constituent Group was also instrumental in the passing of a 2018 Village Regulation on the Protection of Women and Children. Similarly, in Central Lombok, DESBUMI (Villages that Care for Migrant Workers) cadres were involved in the drafting of the Village Regulation No. 4/2015 on the Protection for Indonesian Migrant Workers from the Village. For this, DESBUMI heavily relied on the survey it conducted earlier:
“From the results of the survey we decided what points needed to be incorporated in the [new] Village Regulation. For instance, how to process [migrant worker] documents, from the beginning to departure. That is the main point of the Village Regulation. So, after we gathered all of the materials, we made the draft [of the Village Regulation].” Village Secretary, 5 July 2019.
The example from East Lombok also illustrates how various forms of collective action support and strengthen each other—from participatory data collection to formulating the content of regulations.