Indigenous Women decision-makers

PEREMPUAN AMAN national training in Toraja. (PEREMPUAN AMAN)

DTE 99-100, October 2013

Too often indigenous women are prevented from making key decision for themselves, leaving them powerless to ensure gender-related injustices which directly affect them, their families and their communities are understood and addressed. The empowerment of indigenous women in Indonesia is a complex task, which PEREMPUAN AMAN, Indonesia’s indigenous women’s organisation, is keen to tackle - starting with training for decision-making. The following article is compiled by DTE from information by PEREMPUAN AMAN published in Indonesian on AMAN’s website. It has been edited and reviewed by PEREMPUAN AMAN.

Training indigenous women to play their part in decision-making – within their communities as well as in the broader public sphere - is a top priority for the indigenous women’s organisation, PEREMPUAN AMAN. A programme of training sessions in different locations across Indonesia has been underway since April 2013. These Training of Trainer (‘ToT’) sessions are aimed at creating a strong cohort of women trainers who will go on to hold training sessions for indigenous women in their own communities and regions.

Men and women are equal, but on the road to equality, women are still subordinate, says PEREMPUAN AMAN.

“From the home, to the public sphere... women are often still considered second in line, meaning that government policies don’t value women enough, resulting in women and men not being equal...In every decision taken, you can be certain that only a small minority of women will have dared to put forward their ideas.”[1]

Hence PEREMPUAN AMAN’s focus is on improving indigenous women’s confidence and capacity to step up their participation in decision-making. The sessions began with a two-part, six-day ToT session in April 2013 and May for women from the AMAN membership regions of Java, Sumatra, Bali-Nusa Tenggara, Kalimantan, Maluku, Papua and Sulawesi. The training on indigenous women and national-level decision-making, was guided by Mia Siscawati from Sajogyo Institute,[2] Nur Amalia from APIK, Devi Anggraini from Sajogyo Institute, and Rena Herdiyani from Kalyanamitra, with the first part held in Ciptamulya, Sukabumi (West Java) and the second in Toraja, South Sulawesi, in May.

This national-level training was attended by PEREMPUAN AMAN members and board members from 7 regions, with more than 30 participants plus several participants from the Kasepuhan Ciptamulya community. The training did not fully involve men, although the opening ceremony was attended by the [male] customary leader of Kasepuhan Ciptamulya, and the village head.

A follow-up plan for training sessions at regional level was produced so that the trainers could continue the capacity-building work in their own regions.

These were held for Java-Bali-Nusa Tenggara in June 2013, Kalimantan and Sumatra (both in July 2013), Sulawesi (December 2013), Maluku (February 2014) and Papua (May 2014).

The aims of the series of training sessions were:

  • building the capacity and confidence of indigenous women so they can get involved in all decision-making;
  • training 30 indigenous women as trainers who can train indigenous women in their own regions
  • training 75 indigenous women as trainers who can train indigenous women in their customary territories and at community level.[3]

Maluku training

One of the regional training sessions took place over three days in Februay 2014, in Maluku. It was attended by 27 participants from 10 hoana (one, two or several kampongs, or hamlets, which make up an indigenous community) in North Maluku and Maluku provinces. Welcoming the participants, Jois Duan, who is head of AMAN’s regional council in North Maluku, hoped the training and knowledge shared at the session would be put to good use afterward. “Men and women have the same potential, strength and energy. It’s up to each of us, if we want to develop these or not.”

We should also now be preparing for the elections, she said:  “indigenous women must be able to decide who to vote for without anyone intervening”.[4]

PEREMPUAN AMAN – two years on

DTE’s Clare McVeigh was lucky enough to attend the April 2012 meeting in Tobelo, on Halmahera Island, Maluku, where PEREMPUAN AMAN was formally established.[5] On its board is the prominent indigenous leader and Goldman prizewinner Aleta Baun from Molo, West Timor. The organisation is now over two years old.

Of course, indigenous women had been meeting and organising for many years before that to discuss and address the particular challenges faced by indigenous women, including at AMAN’s first congress in 1999.[6] An account of the development of the indigenous women’s movement by PEREMPUAN AMAN, describes how an organisation called the Indigenous Women’s Alliance of the Archipelago (APAN) was set up in 2001. When this failed to thrive, in 2007 at AMAN’s third congress, a directorate for the empowerment of women was established. This third congress also provided the mandate to form two new wings of AMAN, for youth and women, with the intention that they would help AMAN to train and build the capacity of women and youth through the archipelago.

Indigenous women delegates from seven AMAN membership regions gathered in Bogor in May 2011 to review all processes involving indigenous women in AMAN. They agreed that they needed a separate space for learning and consolidating the work to address the many ways that women fall behind men, and decided that working within the main organisation wasn’t enough. This then led to PEREMPUAN AMAN being set up as a separate wing of AMAN the following year, in Tobelo.

“Indigenous women are often on the receiving end of ill-treatment from the authorities, and from government policy-makers. There are many examples experienced by indigenous women, including intimidation by the authorities, as was experienced by Ibu Afrida, who was arrested when leading her community in a protest action to blockade the entrance to the PT NHM[7] gold mine on 24th November 2012. She, along with 31 indigenous Pagu community members were harassed by police officers – shouted at and deprived of their means of communication, before eventually being taken by truck to the North Halmahera police station, even though their protest had been peaceful and they were released.”[8]

Addressing cases of violence against indigenous women

Indigenous women suffer multiple discrimination because they are women and also because they are indigenous.

“They cover up abuse, because they consider it normal, a woman’s lot. They don’t want people to know about it, and this allows discrimination and violence against women to continue, because women aren’t aware enough of their rights.” [9]

These were the words of Romba Marannu Sombolinggi’, head of PEREMPUAN AMAN’s board, opening a national consultation on addressing violence against indigenous women, in Jakarta. The meeting was attended by Aleta Baun, the Perempuan AMAN leadership and representatives of civil society organisations, The National Commission for Women (Komnas Perempuan) and was facilitated by Nur Amalia of Friends of the Earth Indonesia.

The meeting discussed how violence against indigenous women is often ignored by the authorities and how women suffer not just from physical violence but also from psychological violence.

The meeting was called to formulate a strategy to resolve cases of violence experienced by indigenous women and to divide roles for advocacy on this issue at local, national and international level.


The draft indigenous peoples’ law, MK35, climate change and more


Will the draft law on the Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (RUU PPHMA) address women’s needs within adat communities as well as men’s?

The RUU PPHMA that AMAN is campaigning for won’t fully accommodate the needs of indigenous women, unless the inputs resulting from the National Indigenous Women’s Consultation on the RUU PPHMA are accommodated within it. For example, one of the inputs was regarding the definition of the “masyarakat adat” (indigenous people), where the addition was “a group of people consisting of men and women”. Another point was added in the bill regarding restitution.

Does adat need to be adapted or to develop to accommodate the needs of increased participation for women in decision-making? What are Perempuan AMAN’s ideas about how to address this?

Adat isn’t static, it is developing too, so customary rules that are not relevant to developments today, and customary rules that violate women’s rights, those rules are considered not any longer to apply.

How are men included or informed about women’s empowerment issues; do they get an opportunity to join workshops/and or have discussions about the challenges they face as men? How does AMAN get information about PEREMPUAN AMAN’s activities?

Based on experience to date, men can easily get information about women’s empowerment, as men tend to access information more quickly than women. On several occasions PEREMPUAN AMAN has discussed freely with AMAN’s leadership, at national as well as regional level, about women’s empowerment issues, including economic empowerment.

All activities carried out by PEREMPUAN AMAN are known about by AMAN due to the organisational set-up of PEREMPUAN AMAN as a wing of AMAN. Basically, the parent organisation has to know about all activities of the wing.

How will MK35 affect women in particular? Is there a discussion about how follow-up may affect men and women differently?

Since the MK35 decision was issued in 2012, there hasn’t yet been a significant positive impact for indigenous women. However, in several indigenous communities groups of indigenous women have carried out ‘plangisasi’ activities (reclaiming customary forests by putting up signs).

AMAN supported ‘Jokowi’ [Joko Widodo]  for President – what do you think of his policies on women or attitude towards women compared to other candidates?

AMAN supported Jokowi’s presidential campaign because it saw that the interests of indigenous peoples (including indigenous women) were accommodated in his mission statement. AMAN didn’t see this mission, which is the same thing that AMAN is campaigning for, in any of the other candidates’ statements, so that’s why AMAN decided to fully support Jokowi. 

Is it easy to get funding for your initiatives?

It’s quite difficult, because PEREMPUAN AMAN has various limitations with communications with external parties, especially communicating in English, so that several programme plans on women’s empowerment and strengthening capacity for indigenous women have not been communicated as well or as widely as they could have been.

Has PEREMPUAN AMAN looked at the impacts of climate change on indigenous women or how indigenous women are positioned to adapt to climate change?

Indigenous women feel the impacts of climate change most. They can no longer predict the planting and harvesting seasons because the weather is erratic. Many endemic plants (including medicinal plants) have become extinct due to extreme weather changes where the plants are not able to adapt.

However, indigenous women always have ways of overcoming climate change by planting crops that can withstand extreme weather and crops for food reserves.

How do you get messages across or reach illiterate women?

The intensive communication between PEREMPUAN AMAN, its board and members is through mobile phone and email. Most often it is by phone because a lot of members and board members of PEREMPUAN AMAN have no internet access.

[1] ‘Perempuan Adat dan Perkembangannya’, April 16, 2013, by Surti Handayani, Executive Secretary, PEREMPUAN AMAN. Published on AMAN website

[2] A contributor to this newsletter.

[3] ‘Perempuan Adat dan Pengambilan Keputusan’, AMAN, April 2, 2013,

[4] ‘Pelatiham Perempuan Adat Kep. Maluku untuk Pengambilan Keputusan’, AMAN, February 12, 2014,

[6] See, for example, report of the women’s workshop at AMAN’s Third Congress in 2007, which was attended by DTE:, and our report of the women’s workshop at the inaugural Congress in 1999 at

[7] Nusa Halmahera Minerals

[8] ‘Perempuan Adat dan Perkembangannya’, April 16, 2013, by Surti Handayani, Executive Secretary, PEREMPUAN AMAN. Published on AMAN website

[9] ‘Penyelesaian Kasus Kekerasan Terhadap Perempuan Adat’, May 31, AMAN website,