How technology is advancing women’s rights in Indonesia

Twenty-seven-year-old Juhaeirah is the leader of one of the women’s caucuses of the project | Photo: Oxfam
Twenty-seven-year-old Juhaeirah is the leader of one of the women’s caucuses of the project | Photo: Oxfam

As International Day of the Girl approaches, it got me thinking about how lucky we are. We don’t live in the same world that our grandmothers and mothers did, where choices for women were so limited.

October 10, 2018

As International Day of the Girl approaches, it got me thinking about how lucky we are. We don’t live in the same world that our grandmothers and mothers did, where choices for women were so limited.

And if you’re reading this blog, then you most likely grew up in a part of the world where you have basic civil rights. And yet, amazingly, we still live in a world where many women and girls are denied those rights.

Working as an international program officer for an organization like Oxfam, we acknowledge many days that aren’t marked on mainstream calendars. Last month was International Day of Democracy and this month is honouring girls – both play a part in putting a spotlight on women’s rights – now and in the future.

How? Let’s look at the way democracy plays out in a country like Indonesia. It’s important to point out that democracy does not only mean voting rights in a national election. A true democracy strives to achieve equality, opportunity and freedom in every aspect of life for every citizen.

Women shoulder the burden of many daily affairs in the villages of Indonesia, playing a crucial role in healthcare, agriculture, and the economy. However, they are often excluded from decision-making, including public budgeting, despite the official regulations. The result is that the use of public funds is often incompatible with the needs of women and ends up perpetuating their marginalization.

Let me draw the picture for you – in 2015 the national government of Indonesia created a $1.5 billion ’village fund’ to support development in small communities across the country. Ironically, even though one of the main objectives of the initiative is to decrease inequality, women and minorities are not having a say in how those funds are being allocated.

Women remain, to this day, largely excluded from decision-making about the allocation of funds and services important to women — including health and poverty reduction — which remain grossly underfunded. For example, care for expectant mothers and infants, is severely lacking, and as a result, Indonesia has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in Southeast Asia.

The law is there, stating clearly that village budget meetings require 30 per cent of women participation. Despite this mandate, the participation is as low as 4 per cent in some provinces.

To overcome this massive gap, Oxfam dug deep and asked – why aren’t women in the communities participating?

The law is on their side, but the predominantly patriarchal society is far from accepting. Growing up, women and girls are always taught topics like ‘budget’ are beyond their understanding and should be handled by the men. Despite having a law to support them, women never had the encouragement or even basic information to join the budget meetings in the first place.

That’s where Oxfam saw the gap and with funding from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), started the project Power Up in 2017. One of the objectives of the project is to eliminate the knowledge gap by using an e-learning platform to encourage and equip women and girls to voice their demands in their village’s budget meetings. The platform is interactive and video-based, which can be accessed on and offline and can be shared freely.

Meet the women who are helping the project put together its strategy

Siapliah's (left) experience with Power Up let her bring the voices of the women in her village forward | photo: Oxfam
Siapliah's (left) experience with Power Up let her bring the voices of the women in her village forward | photo: Oxfam

Siapliah (left) said, “I have participated in the last Musrembangdes (village level development planning meeting) but was not able to bring the needs of the women in my village forward. It is very difficult to raise my voice in a meeting full of men when I know so little about the subject matter.”

Power Up aims to prove that with the use of a simple device like a mobile phone and technology like the Internet, it is easily possible to support women like Siapliah on how to negotiate for your needs in those meetings and so much more.

Where to Start? Knowledge and Technology

While reducing the knowledge gap is a first step, it’s not going to be productive unless there is enough awareness in the community. This means it’s not just about women and girls that need to know the importance of women in the decision-making process – but also boys, men, social elites and community leaders as well. It’s one reason why Oxfam is working with local partners to form women’s caucuses and groups who can skillfully represent the women in the village meetings.

Twenty-seven-year-old Juhaeirah is the leader of one of the women’s caucuses of the project. It is inspiring to see a strong woman like her who, in spite of the pervasive social norms, is making bold steps by negotiating with village government officials and conducting meetings.

Twenty-seven-year-old Juhaeirah is the leader of one of the women’s caucuses of the project | Photo: Oxfam

When asked if this unpaid work is hard on her already busy schedule as a wife, a daughter-in-law, and mother, she smiled and replied, “This is the only time I feel enormously empowered. The women in the society of my village have so much to offer and through my caucus I will help them achieve that, hopefully in the very near future.”

Power Up will also launch a mobile-based Interactive Voice Response (IVR) assessment to collect the feedback from the women participants after each village budget is finalized and shared. And the responses would be available on a public dashboard in order for the government authority to be transparent, accountable and responsive towards their citizen.

Many countries like Indonesia have come a long way in terms of technology, democratic rights and women empowerment. However, a paradigm shift is yet to be realized. Our girls still grow up without women role models; they grow up being intimidated with technology, mathematics and leadership. Power Up aspires to break these socially induced misconceptions in a small part of NTB province, Indonesia in hopes that the future generation of girls are more confident and projecting their voices whenever needed.

Written by Shamminaz Polen, Program Officer for Oxfam Canada's International Programs