9. Maximise opportunities for women to influence use of Village Fund in COVID-19 responses.
It is now widely recognised around the world, that the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting on women and men differently.[i] This occurs across areas of health, social and economic wellbeing, and women’s participation. Women face high health risks as they make up 70% of all health and social services staff around the world[ii] – and 67% of health and services staff in Indonesia.[iii]
There is also the potential indirect health crisis as resources are diverted away from usual maternal and women’s health services, something that was documented during the Ebola crisis.[iv] Women are also disproportionately impacted by care giving responsibilities during the crisis with women around the world performing three times more unpaid caregiving than men.[v] Domestic violence has increased in some middle-income contexts[vi], as it did during the Ebola crisis.[vii]
As women are more likely to be in informal and vulnerable employment, the negative economic impact of COVID-19 responses will likely disproportionately affect women. Further, in crisis, women and girls are often excluded from grassroots decision-making forums which further weakens women’s participation in responses.
The COVID-19 response in Indonesia
The Government of Indonesia has initiated a number of innovative responses to the COVID-19 crisis. These are across several sectors including health, industry support, social safety nets (including basic food assistance and cash assistance) and economic recovery programs.
International and United Nations agencies have also initiated a number of responses. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have approved financing and loans for the Government of Indonesia to respond to COVID-19. Several United Nations agencies in Indonesia, including WHO, UNICEF and UNDP have developed action plans related to the COVID-19 response with UN Women in particular supporting women and girls leading and participating in COVID-19 response planning and decision-making from local to national levels. Many bilateral donors, including Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have redirected support toward the COVID-19 response.
The Village Law and the COVID-19 response
Of most interest in this policy brief is the use of the Village Fund (Dana Desa) in the COVID-19 response. Minister of Villages, Development of Disadvantaged Regions, and Transmigration Regulation No. 6/2020 (enacted on 13 April) specifically allows for Indonesian villages to respond to COVID-19 pandemic using the Village Fund.
Under the new regulation, the Village Fund can be used for a wide range of COVID-19 response activities, such as the maintenance of neighbourhood facilities, including rehabilitation facilities to isolate COVID-19 victims, personal protective equipment, neighbourhood cleaning and other activities to prevent the spread of the virus, including provision of information and training.
The regulation also allows for the Village Fund to be used for direct cash transfers (BLT-Dana Desa) for those losing their livelihoods, those excluded from other social protection programs and those who have family members with chronic illnesses, requiring three people to verify that recipients are indeed poor and have not been included in other programs. Decisions on village responses under the Law are within the authority of the Village Government and decided through musyawarah desa (MusDes, village consultative forums).
The regulation provides scope for the establishment of COVID-19 Village Volunteer Teams (or what is known as the village COVID-19 Taskforces), headed by the Village Head and with members from various village organisations, local public figures and authorities. The regulation does not specify requirements for general women’s participation in these taskforces, nevertheless the team structure includes volunteers from village facilitators, village midwives, and Family Welfare and Empowerment organisation (PKK), which are often women-led but do not necessarily represent women’s diversity and needs. Village COVID-19 Taskforces are central to decision making on who receives cash transfers.
Lessons from this study for the COVID-19 response
Learning from this study of Women’s Collective Action and the Village Law, the COVID-19 crisis represents a rupture in the status quo of women’s participation in grassroots decision making around the Village Law. This presents both opportunities and threats for women’s voice and influence. The women’s organisations involved in this study report that in areas where significant community organising had already taken place through women’s groups, unions, networks, informal spaces and support for women, women in many instances were the first to move in the COVID-19 response in communities.
In these places, women have often taken on leadership roles in the COVID-19 response while also managing the challenges for themselves and their families brought on by the crisis. It is timely for agencies to further support the organisations that have helped position these women to move quickly.
Some groups are also particularly vulnerable. Partner organisations in this study report that this is particularly the case for returned migrant workers, female-headed families —who often experience the highest levels of impoverishment and are not well captured in other social protection initiatives—homeworkers (as the factories and businesses they supply shut down), and for women creating livelihoods in the informal sector, among others.
In some areas where homeworkers and other women were already organised based on prior CSO support, homeworkers in villages have quickly developed their own small businesses, providing, for example, creatively decorated personal protective equipment such as material face masks, which are in high demand. Female-headed families have managed to be reached in the cash transfer program mentioned above, again particularly in areas where such women were members of groups.[viii] Other regions could learn from these experiences of the importance of community organising through women’s groups of different kinds. Applying the findings of this study to the current context of responses to COVID-19, there are specific ways in which government and non-government agencies can support women to maximise opportunities for participation in Village Fund decision making.
- Working with CSOs focused on gender inclusion as partners, or other agencies, organisations and sets of actors (such as facilitators) that are trusted by and support local women, is important to counter possible gender exclusion. Many CSOs have already been actively supporting women to take on leadership roles in COVID-19 responses and to give additional support to the most vulnerable groups.
This study has highlighted the importance of CSO or other actors that are trusted by women in facilitating an increase in the decision-making power of women and women’s groups. While the COVID-19 response presents significant challenges to the usual operation of CSOs they are highly adaptive—it is crucial that CSOs continue to be resourced in their work on women’s collective action and influence.
- Continued support for wide-reaching, cross-cutting gender inclusion and development initiatives can augment the impacts of the COVID-19 response. Partner organisations for this study have identified the risks of pivoting all support from development partners for CSOs and from other development initiatives to the COVID-19 response.Some of the organisations working in critical healthcare and education, reproductive health education, community organising, skills development and education of the most vulnerable women, have reported that these groups are particularly vulnerable to the health risks and other pandemic affects, but funding for their wider programs has been reduced or cancelled, leaving swathes of women at greater risk. There are benefits for both wider development and the COVID-19 response by continuing to support wider-reaching, cross-cutting gender inclusion and development initiatives.
[i] Haneef, C. & A. Kalyanpur. 2020. ‘Global Rapid Gender Analysis For COVID-19’. CARE and the International Rescue Committee. Available at: https://www.rescue.org/report/global-rapid-gender-analysis-covid-19.
[ii] Linde, A. & A. González Laya. 2020. ‘What the COVID-19 Pandemic Tells Us About Gender Equality’. World Economic Forum. Available at https://www.weforum.org/covid-action-platform/articles/what-the-covid-19-pandemic-tells-us-about-gender-equality
[iii] Prospera 2019, cited in MAMPU COVID-19 newsletter May 2020.
[iv] Sochas, L., A.A. Channon, & S. Nam. 2017. ‘Counting Indirect Crisis-Related Deaths in the Context of a Low-resilience Health System: The Case of Maternal and Neonatal Health During the Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone’. Health Policy Plan; 32 (suppl 3): iii32–39.
[v] International Labour Organisation (ILO). 2018. ‘Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work’. Available at: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_633135.pdf.
[vi] Mutavati, A., M. Zaman, & D. Olajide. 2020. ‘Fighting the ‘Shadow Pandemic’ of Violence Against Women & Children during COVID-19’. African Renewal. Available at: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/web-features/coronavirus/fighting-%E2%80%98shadow-pandemic%E2%80%99-violence-against-women-children-during-covid-19
[vii] Onyango, M.A. 2020. ‘Sexual and Gender-based Violence during COVID-19: Lessons from Ebola’ The Conversation, May 10. Available at https://theconversation.com/sexual-and-gender-based-violence-during-covid-19-lessons-from-ebola-137541
[viii] The Minster for Villages, Transmigration and Disadvantaged Areas Development announced to the national parliament at the end of June 2020 that 27% of the cash transfers made to date had been to female-headed families.
10. Design risk mitigation strategies for the unintended consequences of the COVID-19 response itself.
Women’s representation in decision making in COVD-19 responses is critical. While some areas have a prior history of women’s groups that have diverse, skilled, vocal and influential women, this is not uniformly the case across Indonesia, with many areas reflecting the features of the ‘control’ research sites in which women have long been excluded from development decision making and priorities. In these areas there is a greater likelihood that women are underrepresented in COVID-19 responses, Village Fund allocations, and in the village-level Taskforces coordinating the response. Learning from the experience of this study, even those women-led organisations that have been represented on village Taskforces may not have diverse female membership.
The role of MusDes and COVID-19 Village Volunteer Teams is crucial in Village Fund decision making in response to COVID-19, and yet to date, there have been no specific guidelines about women’s involvement. Gender inclusion can be bolstered by:
- Shifting the guidelines and maximising women’s participation in these forums, especially considering the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women (e.g. increased risk of domestic violence, loss of income, and greater burden of care).
- Higher gender representation on village and other Taskforces. This would help ensure women’s needs are taken into account in the response, any unintentional risks emerging from the response itself are identified, and give women the opportunity to provide inputs on how to mitigate these risks. This includes the risks for women responsible for sustaining households (e.g. through visiting village markets), supporting ill family members, and who need to undertake other activities that may increase their encounters with community security and monitoring posts set up or strengthened by the COVID-19 response.
For many women such encounters can be frightening and negative. Higher gender representation on Taskforces will help plan for risks and to develop tailored responses, especially regarding any increases in household tensions arising with stay-at-home orders.