Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Indonesia: IWE-WELDD Butterfly Effect: Change for Domestic, Informal and Home-Based Female Workers

Published Date: 
Thursday, October 22, 2015

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The last post explained the concept of WeSIS and the three schools that used it to empower informal workers, domestic workers, and home-based workers. The IWE-WELDD programme in Indonesia partners with Mitra Wanita Pekerja Rumahan Indonesia (MWPRI) for home-based workers; with JALA PRT, a network of organizations promoting the fulfilment of the rights of domestic workers; and Yayasan Annisa Swasti (YASANTI) working to strengthen the capacity of female porters. Here, we bring you voices from the participants of these three workshops, all of which talk about the positive change that has been brought into their lives. 

MWPRI – Women Home Based Workers

2012 - 2013 

In 2012-2013, the early stages of MWPRI’s involvement with IWE-WELDD, leadership capacity was still low. During the introduction session at the Leadership School for Women Home-Based Workers, participants told stories about their lives.

“I started when my husband was laid off. He got sick and could not work anymore. Therefore I had to work for a Chinese businessman sewing dolls. I earn IDR 3,500 (around 50 US cents) for each doll.” (Sriwiljung)

The above worker went on to describe her struggle as the breadwinner for her family, and with a very low wage. The story reveals how women become domestic workers  because the husband is not able to fulfill the role of the financial provider. It shows how power relations at household level were still a major hurdle from self-improvement and mobilising others.

2013 – 2014

“I am Uswatun Khasanah, a housewife. During my spare time I embroider usually managing to produce one set (of clothes) if I work from the morning through to evening. I never go anywhere because my husband does not allow me to, I do what he says. But he gives me permission to attend the WDW School since I convinced him this activity is very useful.” (Uswatun) 

The women saw the school as an eye-opening safe space that embraced the values and principles of anti-violence. A number of changes occured at an individual level; for example, the participants started negotiating with their husbands about sharing the domestic work. This indicates gender sensitive awareness rising in the domestic sphere.

After attending the school we began sharing duties in my family. I used to do all of the domestic work. Now I educate my children about gender, as they will not receive such lessons from the school.” (Uswatun) 

Direct benefits for the participants included the spirit and willingness to change power relations or even defend themselves when they encountered domestic violence.

My husband used to be violent, but now I dare to fight. (Uswatun) 

At community level, there was increased capacity among the women to lead themselves and other women, particularly women home-based workers.

Now I am aware that a woman like me who only managed to accomplish primary education also can be a leader. In the past, it was difficult for me to even speak, but now I have managed to form a new group.” (Sumiati)

Apart from having capacity as a leader, they also formed new groups to fight for rights or access to work and also participate in empowerment programs run by the government. They utilised these opportunities to bring influence, particularly in making sure gender equality was taken into account in the program. In terms of skill, there is an exchange of skill and knowledge related to their job both as self-employment (SE) and in the putting-out system (POS) so that they build practical skill indirectly. This process increases alternative income besides the main livelihood and also boosts their productivity to generate quality products. Consequently, the POS workers are in a position to bargain and can negotiate income with their employer.

“I also gained new capacity through training at the school to support my work. Now I dare to talk to my employer to increase my salary, after I learned about it at the school.” (Rosidah)

At the school, women are also taught to be aware of their rights relating to health and security at work, reproductive health, the concept and practice of wellbeing, self-care and Social Solidarity Economy (SSE). These skills are useful when they conduct advocacy of local regulations relating to protection of domestic workers. They raised awareness of key stakeholders about home-based workers’ issues as a result; the government of Malang District issued a local regulation No. 12/2013 about Empowerment and Protection of Vulnerable Women Groups, which includes women home-based workers. The regulation emphasises the need for social security for the groups.

Yesterday, I was invited by the Mayor. I found that she was not really aware of WDW issues, thus I used the opportunity to introduce the Informal Workers related issues and also asked the department to support the advocacy. Now the Labour Department has provided protection to home-based workers.” (Sumiati)

“I also have gained knowledge on the health and security at work, self-care and wellbeing. Now, I no longer need massages as self-care and wellbeing are enough. Women have paid very little attention to themselves.” (Sumiati)

The women who have increased their skills now own network capital that has been further developed into alternative income-generating activities, for e.g., the production of organic products in East Java. This increasingly popular activity has received a lot of local and international media attention, including an interview at Metro TV.

“I am Sumiati, and I have started making organic spices to keep us healthy. Before joining the Women Home-based Workers’ School, I could not even speak fluently, but now I am confident when I meet people. That is one of the benefits of attending this school.” (Sumiati)


YASANTI – Empowering Women Porters

2012 – 2013

"I told my employer that we wanted to form a union/group but we were not allowed to. We faced many forms of discrimination; there is a real distance between employer and employee. Until I joined Yasanti School and IWE. Finally I changed, now I am able to read and analyse and I got selected to be part of the Collie group union." (Rubiyah)

Changes mostly occurred during the first year, starting from the very basic kinds like awareness-building on gender. Women porters were given critical perspective   in seeing the household power structure between them and their husbands and the workplace power structure. After this process, they developed capacity and awareness to get organised and join together in a porter union.

2013- 2014

"The most memorable meeting I was invited to was with IWE. We developed a curricula--it was quite a meeting. I still could not believe that I am now an activist. We know what gender, rights and advocacy are, but now the sprit is strengthening as the number of women porters is on the rise, and there is hence a greater urgency to to get organised.” (Rubiyah)

The participatory method in developing the curriculum for women porters was an essential process and a turning point for the women to build their capacity and contribute to the process of learning and teaching at the leadership school. Women also became aware of the benefits of unions, and now, there were unions in four pasars (traditional markets)-- Pasar Beringharjo, Pasar Giwangan, Pasar Gamping, dan Pasar Gamping, all in Yogyakarta. The school also gave a space for women to increase their capacity, advocate for better wages and fight for recognition and guarantees for women porters from the state.


JALA PRT – Leadership of Women Domestic Workers

Through partnership with IWE, JALA PRT increased the leadership capacity of women domestic workers by revitalising the Domestc Workers’ School that had been inactive since it was stopped in 2007. This was because of workers’ low attendance as many of them did not get permission from their employers to join the class. The women claimed the school played an important roles in providing knowledge and skills including organisational experience. The practical capacity they gained included specific skills that added value to their work, for example how to negotiate their salaries, and how to develop a work contract.

“Women Domestic Workers’ School is progressing really well. I was re-born through RTND 2009. When IWE started in 2012–2013 to support the School, many of my friends were still very shy to talk. Now they are very active and they are able to negotiate with many parties including employers, the government and legislatives.” (Aas, PRT)

Women Domestic Workers’ School also provides a safe space for women to increase their knowledge and capacity. Through the school, domestic workers become aware that the state should treat them as equal citizens, and that state schools should provide protection from discrimination and violence. The school educates them on gender, human rights and women’s rights so that they can fight for their interests.

Joining IWE brings a lot of benefits. The members of KOY union and Tunas Mulia become more solid and have collaborated in a number of initiatives. The knowledge is also transferred to other members.

This story describes benefits gained by domestic workers through the leadership program, for example a collaboration between two domestic worker unions in Yogyakarta who had not previously trusted each other. The collaboration between the two unions resulted in transferral of knowledge to the domestic workers, particularly at the community level.



This concludes our IWE-WELDD Butterfly Effect Series. We hope you have felt inspired, inspired enough to contribute change of your own. Stay tuned for more stories from our partners Shirkat Gah, in Pakistan. 

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