Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
These last lines in Maya Angelou’s poem, ‘Phenomenal Woman’ were scrawled on the inside of a bathroom I entered when I was in Jakarta and I thought how apt it was given my meetings with some of the Global Fund for Women’s grantees and their brave and brilliant work.
Lian Gogali, founder of Institute Mosintuwu in Indonesia, told me about interviewing hundreds of women from refugee camps after the violence in 1998 when President Suharto stepped down and when the media weren’t reporting on
“One conversation with an older woman changed my life. I was telling her that I was recording these stories of the women so that they had a chance to speak about their experiences and she said to me, “yes, but what about after you write about us? So what?” My heart went to pieces, I could not answer her. It made me think all the time and changed my perspective on what I needed to do to make a meaningful difference.”what was happening in the camps. “I wanted their stories to be heard,” Lian said.
“Later, when I was working in Poso, a young man picked me up and told me that a group needed me to explain what I did with my research. He took me to a local Jihad place where no Christians are allowed.” (Lian is Christian, her father is a Minister).
“At this place there were a group of local Muslim men, militia trained who had come from a Muslim base camp. They asked me what I was doing with my interviews and research and then they asked many questions about Christianity such as ‘what is the concept of the trilogy?’ I told the
m that I respected the Prophet Mohammed as a great spiritual and religious leader and then started talking to these men about the fact that this conflict in Poso wasn’t a religious conflict, between Christians and Muslims, that this was just a tool. Instead, it was about access to resources, a deadly play for power over natural resources such as hydro-power, and now Palm Oil.”
Lian was doing this work after her family had asked her to leave as they did not accept her as a single mother. As she says, “Even the women’s rights activists in my community asked me to leave. I’m an educated woman and yet it’s been very difficult. I can only imagine what the thousands of women who are not educated go through in their daily struggle just to survive in a patriarchal system. I strongly believe that education is the key to empowering women. That is what led me to establish the Women’s School.”
Lian conceived the idea of a Women’s School and last year she decided to resign from her job so that she could make this school a reality, initially using her own funds. She shared her idea with a Dutch woman she met, who helped her to secure seed funding from a Dutch NGO for the school. “After that, I developed a curriculum with the women in the community — with academics, with ac
tivists and with religious and cultural leaders. Our curriculum has eight streams: peace and tolerance; interfaith movement; religious dialogue; gender awareness; women and culture; women and politics; public speaking; women’s rights in society and in social institutions; economic and political rights and economic community.”
Around 200 women from low socio-economic backgrounds are involved in the Women’s School and Lian hopes to apply to the Global Fund to help establish an interfaith initiative that comprises both the school as well as a safe house and economic and political community training for the women students. “We’re also encouraging women to stand for election and, as a result of their going to the school, some are already considering this option. W
e’d also love to link the educational focus with the financial security focus so that women could access small loans and learn financial literacy too,” Lian says.
Poso, the location of the Women’s School, is also the place where a conflict over natural resources is playing out, with devastating consequences. It’s mobilizing the military and the police in a drawn out conflict that is engaging powerful multinationals. Men in families have apparently been encouraged to sell their land to corporations without really thinking through the economic consequences of this loss of land, and women are not engaged in these negotiations. In other cases, corporations and government will apparently just commandeer the land without even negotiating with the owners.
According to women living in Poso, “the hydro-power companies are the worst, and are also the biggest players. The Vice President of Bukaka disguises his role as peacemaker and benefactor (‘this is a gift for your community’) when all the resources are being drained out of Poso, while Poso struggles with no power, no water.Indonesian companies such as Sinar Mas and Astra involved in Palm Oil extraction are using similar tactics. The police and military are taking sides in terms of the companies they choose to align with and benefit from, and therefore protect.”
Lian’s women’s school is a counterpoint to this situation due to its focus on building women’s social and economic community in a place being stripped of its social and economic assets, as well as its sense of culture, identity and community. Lian shared with me one such story of non-violent protest by these women in solidarity. “We brought together 50 Christian and Muslim women in a peaceful protest – we all held hands saying ‘This is political and economic – this is not religious’ – and these are all housewives who have never done anything like this before. One woman said ‘If I die, I will feel like I have done something in the name of peace.'”
Following Lian on this journey over the last two years has been Sue Useem, a documentary filmmaker based in Bali who has produced an 80 minute film of Lian’s story that will be released in the US early next year. “I was looking for a focus for a new film and I was introduced to Lian in Poso and when she told me what she intended to do I thought this was really interesting. I followed Lian from the beginning as she found her feet and navigated being a single mother as well as founder of the Women’s School, securing the funds to support its operation. I also followed a number of her students through their progress and it was incredible to see their transformation. The culmination of the film is Lian accepting the Co-Exist Prize last year in Washington for her work.“
Education is seen by many to be the key to addressing violence. Yet, some women who are qualified to make a direct contribution tell me that they are held back by the corruption rampant within the educational system. In Candidasa, Dina, who has a degree in education, says “I would need at least $US20,000 (bribery) payment to secure a position as a teacher in a State school.” Her associate, Uki, agrees: “In order to address the issues of school attendance, especially for girls, we need to pay attention to some key issues. We need to educate parents about the value of their children being educated, and specially focus on girls getting educated. We also need to help parents to identify ways to offset the expenses of their children getting educated; and we also need to address the isolation factors, such as transport, that remain a persistent barrier to more girls going to school.”
While elementary school is free, all the associated costs (uniforms, books, transport) are not and so only about 40% of children in rural villages get an elementary education and the rest are required to work, largely at manual labor in the fields. This attendance figure drops off dramatically for secondary school where the cost to a parent is three million rupiah. Thus there is a need to support a scholarship fund as well as women’s access to micro-loans in order to begin to turn around the situation for families in rural and remote communities.
As Uki explained, “Women don’t have a place to gather in most villages and so we see the opportunity to also organize gathering spaces to encourage women to be advocates for children’s education – and especially girls’ education since girls are still treated as secondary after the boys in the family. We’d also like to encourage them to be community leaders to address other issues such as the increasing incidence of HIV and AIDS (exacerbated by the high number of tourists) and address violence against women.”
Violence against women is increasing. As Uki says, “Men and women marry young and then men often turn to drink due to lack of work and then start abusing their wives and sleeping with other women. Women don’t have the confidence or collective support from meeting in a shared space to either know their rights or to imagine a different future for themselves. Showing them that education is the key for their daughters is some of the most important work we can do, coupled with ensuring that trained teachers are available to teach in rural as well as urban communities.”
Pundi Perempuan was formed as the first Women’s Fund in Indonesia as a result of the violence that erupted after President Soeharto left office. Anik Wusari, the Executive Director, says that the National Commission to End Violence Against Women recognized that it needed an organization to mobilize resources using the policy and research data sourced by the Commission. In 2011 there were 119,107 cases of violence against women, in which 95 percent were domestic violence. In many areas of the country, social and cultural values justify such violence as normal. “Microfinance support for women would also be fantastic so that women can access small loans,” says Anik. It would also help us to consolidate our work as a women’s fund and give those women who have been experiencing violence the opportunity to rebuild their lives and focus on new opportunities. Individuals and communities could end the social and cultural acceptance of violence by saying ‘no’ to violence and saying ‘yes’ to women realizing their rights and thus their potential.”
Of course, political will is also crucial to advancing the rights of women in Indonesia. According to a report quoted in the Jakarta Post this week, as of August this year, 282 regulations issued by various state institutions were discriminatory toward women, making it more difficult for them to obtain their rights on economic, social and political issues.
After listening to these women of courage and commitment, I spent time embracing the natural world. From my perch, I looked out on a Balinese paddy field, watching roosters and ducks crow and quack as they jostled for their own space and did some kind of bird shuffle. Nearby were blue winged birds, flying skyward. There was a hush all around and I felt Thoreau’s wild ‘yes’ to life. Being close to nature brings with it a sense of equanimity and peace, a reminder of the beauty of silence.
Earlier, driving to meet Uki and Dina, I’d seen families bathing, exuberant under the spray of a waterfall flowing into a river. Those moments were like still images in a film capturing a common humanity. Click. Click. Click. That evening, in a small outdoor cafe under a night sky, I watched a young girl and her brother play the gamelan with their musical gongs. The sounds washed over me like a rippling stream. The two played with a lightness and joy that was lovely to observe.
When they finished I applauded and they turned around and smiled.
Komang, the girl, did a little whirl while her brother, Kadek, pointed to the sky and looked at me. “Yes,” I nodded, “very beautiful.”
I leaned back. Gamelan music under quiverful of stars. Komang brought me a flower and placed it behind my ear. A moment later Kadek stood in front of me. “Shanti,” he said, lightly bringing his hands together. “Yes, Peace,” I said, nodding my head.
Then those two gorgeous souls flowed out of that space, their laughter and movement as musical as their playing.
Their words, their spirit, reminded me of that Gaelic blessing:
of the running wave to you
of the flowing air to you
of the quiet earth to you
of the shining stars to you
of the gentle night to you,
moon and stars
pour their healing light on you
Deep Peace to you
and the last strands of a poem –
Keep up the good work, if only for a while, if only for the twinkling of a tiny galaxy.
Jane Sloane – Indonesia