Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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Indonesia: Leadership Interview: Puspa Dewi from Solidaritas Perempuan

Published Date: 
Monday, December 14, 2015

Originally in Bahasa on Perempuan Memimpin

Original transcript (in Bahasa) can be found here, and the video here.

The following is a translated interview with a feminist leader in Indonesia, conducted by WELDD partner organisation IWE. Puspa Dewi works for Solidaritas Perempuan, an IWE partner. 


My name Puspa Dewi. I work as the Programme Coordinator at Solidaritas Perempuan (Women’s Solidarity). I joined SP about 7 years ago in 2005. During my time here, I have discovered many things, especially how to become a leader as a program coordinator and to work with grass roots women. I develop strategies and discuss how to build good management in the organization, and most importantly, how to maintain and sustain women’s movement in the grassroots level.

As a leader, my responsibility is to manage programs and develop strategies with my co-workers on how grass roots woman can express their rights. There are two things that have become my development focus: first, how to manage organizational programmes and see the potential of other staff members who can help me as part of the board. Second, creating strategies with other co-workers on how to develop grass roots movements for women.

Solidaritas Perempuan is my first organization—before this, I had never seriously been involved with any. I was briefly involved in a student organization but it wasn’t too intense because we weren't focused on political issues. With Solidaritas Perempuan I found many new angles, especially on women’s rights issues. Now I understand injustice, and understand how much it permeates my surroundings, and has in fact even impacted me. As I mentioned, Solidaritas Perempuan is my first organization and I’m still devoted to them because I have seen how the values, ideology and principle of SP are the same as when they started, and I stand for them until now.

There are many things I learned when I become a leader in Solidaritas Perempuan. I learned about conflict management, and the dynamic of conflict as Solidaritas Perempuan is a big organisation with many members, and this challenged me. Second, I learned how to study and understand each individuals’ characters. Through knowing each character, we can find a way to deal with them, developing their capacity while exploring our own, and solving problems within the organisation. These are lessons that I wouldn’t forget in addition to managing and developing programs.

I first learned about how to manage conflicts that had already been there for quite a while. At first, when I became a leader in the organization, there were arguments and  differences in opinions. I felt underconfident at the time, because I didn’t fully know how to deal with these problems. But I tried to mediate these arguments while organizing local women, and in the process, learned a lot.

Yes, this problem happened between 2 women’s groups in the grass roots community concerning micro-financing programmes. We were dealing with borrowers who didn't want to refund the money they had taken. I tried to ease the two groups; we explored the problems, and in the forum, we learned how to be open with each other. The way I tried to fix the problem was to mediate the two and make them express their opinions face to face. I find that when both parties are able to express their opinions, we will be able to find common ground on why these problems happens in such groups.  Knowing someone’s emotion, psychology and character is very important when resolving conflict.

There are very important lessons on resolving conflict. One is to know the steps—there are steps that we need to take. Starting from how we identified individuals ready to join, and creating space for them to meet with each other. This meeting teaches us how to be open minded, and have a culture of democracy and free expression of opinion. Even till today, these steps remain my building blocks in my learning process. So far, I have applied this knowledge when dealing with conflict in various aspect of my work and I will not forget it. To me as a leader, these things are really important—knowing someone’s character and to resolving problems in the organization. We can’t avoid the fact that every organization has its own dynamic. These things are very important for a leader to understand so that we can make the right decision.

The current challenge we face right now is regeneration. Which means there are not enough young activists ready to become leaders. This is the challenge we face these days. In addition, there is the internal conflict for the woman. External problems are ever present, as many women activist choose to work with private companies as consultants or with organizations that give better salaries.  These are the challenges we face. Secondly, the problem of “transferring knowledge”. When someone has been a leader for quite a while, they gain sufficient knowledge, but when someone succeeds their place, all this knowledge is lost. We keep rebuilding again and again. Meanwhile, the older leader, with many years of experience, is gone without transferring their knowledge to strengthen the new leader. These are other things that become our challenge.

Yes, the key concern is sustainability of leaders. Why? Because of lack of regeneration. These days it is really difficult for us to find a leader with good capacities, or a capacity to manage an organisation with all its conflicts and dynamics. Also, knowing how to develop organizational strategies to strengthen women’s movements is important. Today that is our key concern. Our sustainability also depends on other organizations.  We see how changes of leadership in other organizations are slow.  The problems they always point out include the difficulty in finding people to fill out these positions. This is becoming a concern within Solidaritas Perempuan as well as other organizations. That’s what I’ve observed. When there is a new leader, it’s someone who’s not new but someone who’s been a leader in other organizations. This means it’s the same old thing; there is no new leader.

One of the challenges is also the difficulty in finding new women leaders in the organization. That is our concern. This includes the concern of leadership responsibility, ideology, organizational management, all of that. The problem is the external challenge. I feel we have already discussed this in the past three days. That also becomes a factor behind why women are scared to be a leader, and also involves their internal problems. I have personally seen and heard stories of those problems. It takes self-confidence to be a leader. Some we encourage and tell them that being a leader is part of learning process. Sometimes, people expect that to be leader we should all be ready but the fact is that being a leader is a tough. I see this from my own experience, because the first time I become a leader I didn't understand what to do. But, learning by doing is very important. We first have to experience it, and then learn how to manage and organize people and so on. This is the thing I feel everybody needs to know. Being a leader isn’t an instant process; it’s tough. Most importantly, it has to be what you want. Leadership is about desire. As long people have motivation and desire that “I can be a leader”. This is what most women lack: confidence. To be confident she should say “I’m a leader”. That also become a problem. 

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