Letter from Jakarta

Indonesia has held a special place in my heart for many years. It’s the country of my mentor, the late Ibu Gedong Bagus Oka, who taught me so much about women’s involvement in peace processes and about the theory and practice of conflict resolution. As a member of Indonesia’s parliament and the founder of a Gandhi ashram in Candidasa and a civic world leader engaged in interfaith dialogue at the UN, she showed that you can inhabit many worlds to lead social change.

Indonesia is one of my last stops on my first tour of visiting The Asia Foundation’s country offices. My heart is drawn to the work of our Jakarta office and our local partners, and the phenomenal leadership of Sandra Hamid, The Asia Foundation’s country representative for Indonesia.

Our work in Indonesia is addressing many important issues including efforts similar to an Emily’s List approach to get more women into political office; supporting religious and faith based leaders in their approach to honor women’s human rights through their interpretation of scripture and collaborating with local partners to support indigenous and local communities to retain their stewardship of forests and territory in the face of encroachment by mining companies.

Sandra proposes we take a train ride from Jakarta to Cirebon, West Java to visit the Fahmina Institute, one of our local partners and a place that is ground central for the growing movement to open space for dialogue between religious leaders in support of women’s human rights.

K.H. Husein MuhammadI join Sandra and two feminist scholars who are longtime friends of The Asia Foundation as we board a train to travel to Cireban in West Java.

Fahmina’s approach is to develop social and religious dialogue on issues such as ending gender based violence and ending human trafficking. When Fahmina witnessed an upsurge in domestic violence its leaders encouraged the establishment of the Women’s Crisis Center.

The institute’s four strands of work include interfaith dialogue designed to influence attitudes through a close reading of Islamic texts; a school with an intentional focus on peace and conflict resolution; the institute’s work on reproductive health, and its women’s crisis center.

Fahmina has a 15-year strategic plan to contribute to a regional conversation in South East Asia (with Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand) and it has maintained a strong relationship with Imams and other religious leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.


SETAPAKLegal rights, and law of the land, takes on a different meaning in another part of Indonesia, in East Kalimantan. Some of my colleagues in The Asia Foundation’s Jakarta office are working on an environmental governance program called SETAPAK.  One of the areas the program is focused on is recognition of forest and land rights for local communities and indigenous peoples. This recognition is also crucial for sustainable forest governance, biodiversity, food security, poverty alleviation and reduction in deforestation, climate vulnerability and land forest conflicts. Local communities and indigenous peoples lay customary claim to most of the forests in Indonesia (and across Asia) however most governments have been slow in acknowledging these claims.

Even in countries which have taken important steps towards recognizing rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, the actual implementation of rights recognition has been difficult and challenging. The Indonesian government has sought to distribute land and forest to marginalized people in and around the forest, through social forestry and agrarian reform programs. In the last six months, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has provided 202,722 ha of forest to be manged by the 32,561 families, both in the form of village forest, community forest and Customary forest. The SETAPAK program has played a significant role in making this possible.

In East Kalimantan, which is one of Indonesia’s most heavily mined provinces, women who are protesting mining face death threats to themselves and their families. It’s a challenging situation where there is no reclamation of land by mining companies even though children are swimming in contaminated lakes and mud sucks (like quicksand) that have caused 28 children to drown in Kalimantan alone. Citizens have won a lawsuit against government for reclamation of land and a judge ordered the government to comply however implementation of this order is still weak.

I learn during my visit that even in the last few weeks two more young people have drowned. One mother of a child who drowned was offered USD10,000 from the mining company to be quiet but she declined. Her husband wanted her to accept but she said “I didn’t want other children to die because of my silence.” Instead, the mother traveled with her three-year old son to Indonesia to meet with the Minister for Environment and Forestry and to demand action. The government has taken some action, including revoking the permits of 11 mining companies.

SETAPAK partners have been working as a coalition of NGOs to press for improved government regulation of post-mining land reclamation and rehabilitation and the provincial government has now issued a new bylaw on post-mining cleanup in response to this advocacy.

Supporting the rights of marginalized people in Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia is essential if we’re to alleviate poverty, actively affirm dignity and see a transformed world. In this respect, getting more women into political office is essential. The Asia Foundation was part of the movement that helped ensure the adoption of a quota system of 30% women to be nominated for national election.

For the 2009 national elections in Indonesia, the foundation supported the adaptation of an approach similar to Emily’s List  with both party and community service organization lists being used to reach out to potential candidates. It proved an effective means of presenting proposed candidates to political parties. The foundation plans to develop a more comprehensive approach to support more women candidates for the next national elections in 2019.

What’s also important here is a focus on getting more women into provincial level political positions and so the foundation is working with academics and activists to make this possible. Equally important is to diversify the type of women running for national office beyond those who are privileged and who bring this mindset with them into office, so adopting an intersectional approach to this work is critical.

Influencing Indonesia’s political parties to adopt inclusive policies to ensure greater representation of women both within the party system as well as candidates for office is also vital. Tied to this is advocating for increased public funding for political parties in return for an agreement that the parties undertake recruitment based on merit and with the commitment to recruiting talented women and men.

By paying attention to political finance reform to level the political playing field there’s a genuine opportunity for diverse candidates to be elected, including more women. If this level of reform can be achieved, then it will help safeguard Indonesia’s still-young democracy from elite interests.

Back here in Sausalito I learn that the legendary Record Plant recording studio in Sausalito has been bought to restore it to a recording studio and museum. This is the place where artists including Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Prince, the Grateful Dead, Linda Ronstadt and Warren Zevon recorded and participated in a live radio program called ‘Live from the Plant’.

So, it seems the spirit of the Grateful Dead rises again in Sausalito with this new development. At a recent lunch, I was talking to a woman who works for an organ transplant organization and she told me that organ donations are the highest in the country in Marin County, where I live.

Apparently the theory for why this is the case is that the Grateful Dead’s use of body parts and skeletons in their visual imagery socialized the idea of our body parts being separate from our spirit (musical selves) and made it easier for people to imagine donating their organs to save lives. If it’s true, then it speaks to the power of the arts (and Deadheads) as a potent means for social change and changing norms.

Mr B's Emporium of Reading DelightSomething else happened while I was away, too. An independent bookstore called Book Passage opened in Sausalito after our only bookstore closed almost four years ago.
I go rushing in with a list of books and the suggestion that they do something like my favorite bookshop in the world, Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights located in Bath in the UK, where they have a book spa, a bibliotherapy room and so much more. There’s a renaissance going on – of books and ideas and movement building and I’m so glad to be part of it.

In the morning, I wake to a rosy dawn after a tumbling night on my boat weathering stormy weather and seas. Now the sea is calm again and, as I’m watching the glow of a new day, I see a rumbling in the water and then presto! the face of a sea lion – bright black eyes, whiskery and aware. We look at each other and then, just as suddenly, that face dives deep and I’m left with the buzz of momentary connection.

The now-ness of now evokes e.e. cummings and his leaping greenly spirits and blue true dream of sky (‘and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes’). Whatever I experience in my work in the world, my touchstone remains my boat, the natural world and my own continuing songs.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) / it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.
~ e. e. cummings

Jane Sloane
San Francisco


Letter From Indonesia #2

I’m just back from a Women and Climate Change convening at Green Camp in Bali.  Some 100 women grass roots leaders together with representatives from grantmaking organizations, women’s funds and environmental agencies, converged from across the globe for a highly significant convening.

When we were invited to attend we were also asked to bring something from our own culture that symbolized our connection to place and identity. I thought about my own sense of being an Australian and what grounded and affirmed me as a touchstone for my identity.  When I really thought about it, the campaign to save the Franklin River from being dammed in Tasmania is what came to mind.

I was out camping near a river with friends from school when I first heard the band Goanna and their debut album, ‘Spirit of Place’. When I heard their music I felt turned around in my whole body and spirit.  I really felt like I’d broken free of something in my mind, and I experienced expansiveness in myself and connection to country in a new way. Music was the great translator – and so too were other forms of art, as I was to discover.

In 1978, the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Commission announced its intention to build a dam to flood the Franklin River, a plan that polarized the Tasmanian community.  A protest movement formed, led by activist Bob Brown and others.  Then a photograph of Rock Island Bend along the Franklin River taken by Peter Dombrovskis ignited an Australia wide movement to save the dam. Over 30,000 letters of support were sent and a march attracted over 10,000 people, fueled by a film called The Last Wild River that was shown on Tasmania’s two commercial television stations.  Art and activism were playing their part.

 photograph of Rock Island Bend along the Franklin River taken by Peter Dombrovskis
Rock Island Bend along the Franklin River taken by Peter Dombrovskis

Concerned citizens formed a blockade of the dam site that would begin on 14 December 1982. On the day the blockade of the dam site began, the UNESCO committee in Paris listed the Tasmanian wild rivers as a World Heritage site.  Protestors at the dam site were arrested and when Bob Brown was freed 19 days later he was successfully nominated for a seat in the Tasmanian Assembly, and later went on to lead the formation of the Australian Greens Party.

A national print campaign that included Dombrovskis’ compelling image of what was at stake resulted in over 20,000 people writing ‘NO DAMS’ on their electorate form and helped Bob Hawke, a new Labor leader, win the Federal election in 1983.  As the new Prime Minister, Hawke committed to stopping the dam from being built. A legal battle between the federal government and Tasmanian state government followed, resulting in a landmark High Court ruling in the federal government’s favor that effectively stopped the Franklin from being dammed. Resistance to the protestors had been strong and yet those fighting the dam’s construction stayed united, and their efforts were captured by Goanna and its lead singer, Shane Howard, in a video and song that became an unofficial anthem for environmental justice.  That song is called  ‘Let the Franklin Flow.’

Watching this video today, and listening to (and singing, dancing to ) this song, continues to affect and affirm me deeply in this connection to those Australians who were brave, provocative, spirited, visionary and determined in their commitment to save our beautiful, precious river.  When I see these images of those who were at the front line of environmental activism for the Franklin, I also know that battles such as these are being fought by women’s human rights defenders across the globe.

Many grass roots women’s leaders shared their own stories of campaigns fought and sustained at the Women and Climate Change conference.  This gathering was organized by International Network of Women’s Funds (INWF) and Global Green Grants, and it was funded by the Ford Foundation.  The conference venue, Green Camp, was inspiring for its approach to environmental experiential learning and sharing. Some of us discussed with the Camp’s director the idea of creating a women’s human rights defenders leadership program at Green Camp and it seems now that this is an initiative the center will pursue.

The goals of the conference included learning more about how to support grassroots women’s responses to climate change, in recognition that women who are poor and dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods are most severely impacted by the consequences of climate change.  Most importantly, the convening was intended to capture grass roots women’s stories and strategies of how women are working to mitigate and adapt to climate change and also to identify opportunities to increase funding and advocacy for these women’s groups, and to strengthen movements for change.  The conference was also designed to build greater collaboration between women’s funds and agencies and environmental groups.

For women, the struggle in relation to the impact of climate change is often deeply personal. It’s about bodies, economies and territories; women, land and territories; politics of place; body as locus of struggle; body as territory; spiritual security; spiritual protection and identity – and so it’s more than just the protection of home, community and place.

Women are at the frontline of climate change impact and, for this reason, they are also in a position to know what needs to be done to protect lands and communities and to adapt to the impact of climate change. There are stories of flooding (Pacific) and of desertification (Mongolia), struggles for statehood and sovereignty over land and water.  And there are stories of strength and unity winning the day, as was the case with the Mongolian Women’s Fund which supported a group of women who were able to close down an illegal mine once women in the community learnt they had the power to make this happen.

Environmental effects of mining and extractive industries were a constant theme during the conference. There were many questions on how to address the corporate sector and how best to engage with corporate players.  Particularly given the stories of criminal gangs working in alliance with corporations and concern over World Bank policies and approaches, such as attempting to remove safeguards for people to protect their land and making it easier for companies to acquire land in developing countries.  There were hopeful stories too of corporations that have worked effectively with environmental agencies to change their supply chain policies and procurement practices in recognition of effects.

Berta Caceres Flores was one of the extraordinary activists present from Honduras who spoke:

“We need to think about a process of liberation that goes beyond patriarchy, capitalism, racism – the very things that hold communities back – and to focus on the intersectionality of our work. We are fighting for land, culture, spiritual rights. We are fighting against nepotism, extractivism, patriarchy and racism.

Our country is divided into enclaves – exploitation of banana plantations and other fruits; mining; energy; paramilitarism; privatization of our rivers; mercenaries, including young children; demands that we give up our sovereignty. We’re fighting these enclaves on multiple fronts. 30% of our country is given in mining concessions and there are over 300 mining contracts currently in place.

Honduras is the most violent country in the world. Donors are leaving us as they face threats by being aligned with women’s human rights defenders and they are concerned about the impact and ramifications.”

“Women suffer the most – women’s struggles based on cultural beliefs and stories carried from ancestors re sacred land and forests.  In Honduras we have already seen 17 rivers illegally made into dams, with the IMC and European banks involved in financing exploitative development.  Many people have been assassinated as a result of trying to stop corruption and violence in all its forms – physical, verbal and cyber-attacks.”

Elisabeth from Bolivia agreed.

“Some women who have participated in protests to save our natural environment have lost children to abortion due to violence and rape.  Women who are raped are accused of prostitution and then ostracized in their community, leading to increased poverty and isolation. Body and territory are intertwined as women place themselves at the front line. Women protesting expansion of palm oil are exhausted and need emotional as much as financial support to sustain their efforts.”

Ursula Rakova, an activist from the Carteret Islands in the South Pacific, who led her community to a new home in Bougainville as a result of rising sea levels, said

“When our natural resources are lost, our legs are cut off and we cannot stand.”

“We can’t talk about food security any more as our Carteret Islands have flooded over with salty water. We cannot hold back the sea. It is doing its job, it is displacing us. Many of our children no longer go to school since schools often close for months and so there is a very low rate of literacy. Trying to get donors to pay for housing in Bougainville as part of our relocation there has been very difficult.

Donors are often unwilling to pay for ‘infrastructure’, especially as cost per house is USD10,000 since we want our homes to be sustainable and not erode in a year or two. They need to be made of bamboo and iron. Our creation of Bougainville Cocoa Limited with support from a German donor has also opened the way for export of dried cocoa leaves to Germany, as facilitated by the donor. Our farmers are now undergoing certification process to become fair trade farmers. Secure livelihoods are critical.”

Mama Aleta Baun

Mama Aleta, an activist from West Timor, said: “When we have security of place, we have access to our other rights.  We can sell our handicrafts but we cannot sell our rocks, our water, and our land.”

Aleta Baun (Mama Aleta) is someone whose love of the forests, soil and water in her country of Timor catalyzed her activism. She led her community in a fight to close down the mining companies that were excavating the sacred stone in their mountains without the people’s consent and, in the process, destroying both environment and identity.  Mama Aleta’s organizing of hundreds of Indigenous people to oppose the marble mines in the form of peaceful and sustained protests led to death threats and a price on Mama Aleta’s head. This resulted in her fleeing to the forest with her children and, at one stage, she was hacked by a machete.  After over 10 years of struggle and solidarity the movement sparked and sustained by Mama Aleta and her supporters resulting in four mines closing for good in the area.  And of course the struggle continues.

At this Women and Climate Change conference, we were also reminded of some key facts including that 50% of women and children in developing countries are anemic; women produce more than 50% of the food worldwide; consumers will control $15 trillion by 2014. By 2028 women will be responsible for two thirds of consumer spending worldwide.

Grassroots women were clear that they want access to learning exchanges where women leaders from affected regions can go and learn from women’s groups in other regions where they’re dealing with climate change impact. “Let’s make partnership and networking a reality,”  they said. They also want to connect with other women who were solution builders. Women who were sustaining seed banks, creating climate change health kits, establishing water taxi networks to reduce carbon emissions; singing climate change messages in mosques and temples; practicing ‘panna panna’ – the practice of shared hand and reciprocity in spirit of mutual assistance such as shared planting, house construction, farming, fishing.

Instead of trying to be responsible for all the problems in the world, we should take on what we love and care about. Then we honor both our inner world and the outer world at the same time. There’s no separation between the two, and there is no hesitation, no self-doubt. This will help us develop great faith that others are taking care of their piece. People who don’t know the details about climate change may care deeply about the forests, the animals, and the children.
~ Paul Hawken

The potential for highly relevant responses to climate change led by women leaders and women’s groups, and the stark reality of a low level of engagement of women and gender inclusive responses to climate change mitigation and adaptation, must be urgently addressed.

One of the best examples of this disconnect is the climate financing mechanisms created by governments across the globe.  Climate finance funds are those funds derived from governments, or agencies acting on their behalf, including national budgetary contributions and innovative financing sources e.g. auctioning of emission permits, taxes, levies.  Governments commit these funds on a voluntary basis and they are intended to be new and additional funds, as stipulated by the Bali Action Plan 2008.  These funds are also intended as north to south funds to be delivered as grants and not loans.  One of these funds is the New Green Climate Fund established in 2012 as a multilateral climate fund and with heavy World Bank involvement.

Almost 70% of climate finance pledged to date is for mitigation and thus there is little money to help communities such as those in small island states to adapt to climate change.  No gender analysis, gender budgeting or gender inclusive approach has been applied to the conception or application of climate financing in dealing with issues of inequality, women’s participation and leadership around climate finance dialogue.  Most National Action Plans don’t include the voices of women, with the exception (sometimes) of disaster response — and a major focus seems to be on women as victims rather than women as innovators, leaders and forces for change. Women are still too often depicted as instruments of change rather than advocacy for women to realize their rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While gender equality was not an original consideration when these funds were established, the imperative of this as a stand-alone outcome is now gaining ground. This includes embracing gender budgets;  sex disaggregated data; gender balance; gender expertise; women as stakeholders; regular gender audits; best practice set of social, gender and environmental safeguards; independent evaluation and recourse mechanisms; input and participation of women as stakeholders and beneficiaries.


When I recall this convening, and the depth of sharing in terms of stories, strategies and solutions, I also remember the time I spent with a truly beautiful woman from Tanzania, Loyce Lema, who is the Executive Director of Envirocare.  As part of our time together we joined a personal tour of Green Camp with the Director of the camp and, as we walked along the track and saw the river, Loyce grabbed my arm and said “I haven’t seen a river flowing for a long, long, long time.”  As we walked onto the bridge with the river below us, Loyce stopped again and said “close your eyes, Jane. This is the sound that I have missed in my heart.  The sound of a river running free.”

oh Tasmania
the hardest heart could understand
just to feel your wilderness
your silence sings to me

let the Franklin flow
let the wild lands be
the wilderness should be strong and free
from Kuta Kina to the south-west shore
has to be something worth fighting for

we fell the forests and we scar the land
has to be something worth fighting for
and desecrate it with greedy hands
destroy the beauty that nature planned

a thousand people arrested and bailed
has to be something worth fighting for
voices crying in the wilderness
saying this is something worth fighting for

oh Tasmania
the hardest heart could understand
just to feel your wilderness
your silence sings to me

A song by Shane Howard  ©1983 Shane Howard

Jane Sloane

Letter From Indonesia #1

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.
I say,
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
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me. 

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. 

TEDxUbud - Lian Gogali - Indonesian Women's Empowerment in a Post-Conflict SocietyLian 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 Gogali - Peace Protest - PosoLian’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:

Deep Peace
of the running wave to you
Deep Peace
of the flowing air to you
Deep Peace
of the quiet earth to you
Deep Peace
of the shining stars to you
Deep Peace
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.
Wislawa Szymborska 

Jane Sloane – Indonesia

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