Strengthening Dayak indigenous women through workshops

Down to Earth No. 58, August 2003

by Erma S. Ranik

During 2002, the West Kalimantan Indigenous Peoples Alliance (AMA Kalbar) organised a series of workshops especially for Dayak women in six districts in West Kalimantan. The workshops were aimed at greater involvement of Dayak women in various fields.

They were organised by AMA Kalbar for three reasons. First, up to now, the public role of women (especially indigenous women) has been negligible. Their involvement is still something that is 'bestowed' by men instead of being the product of women's awareness of their rights and responsibilities in organising society. The struggle to play a role in society has not been equal. Essentially, what is needed here is a process if awareness-raising about the equal rights of men and women. Second, as women are most affected by the impact of all 'development' efforts, it really is their right to fight for an improved role and position in society. At the very least, they can start this process as a first step to organise themselves. The third reason was to provide a form of political education for Dayak women.

The general aim of the workshops were:

  • to raise awareness about women's right to be involved in the management of society;
  • to enable women to be involved in the management of society;
  • to enable women to participate in criticising government policies and be involved in supervising and proposing new/changed policies.

These three aims were made clear in materials handed out at the workshops. They were based on a needs analysis of the participants in each district. The needs analyses were obtained at the beginning of the meetings by asking each participant what they wanted to get out of the workshops.

The series of workshops used participative methods. Participants were given many opportunities to present their opinions and argue things out with their peers. They were also free to express ideas. The debates that came up the most centred on the differences between women and men and whether or not Dayak customary life (Adat Dayak) discriminated against women or not.

Through the workshops, AMA Kalbar discovered three levels of women's understanding about themselves and the role that they can play in their community. First, at the village (kampung) community level where activities are mostly directed towards fulfilling basic needs and tend to be individualistic. The second level is broader, inter-village, or subdistrict level, where the understanding of women's rights has crystallised around the group struggle. The role that women want to develop here is concerned with the interests of the group. The third level is at district level, where the aim of fighting for seats in the legislature/[local assembly] came out of the awareness-raising process.

This understanding can be seen in the light of various follow-up action plans which differ according to each kampung, subdistrict and district. In several districts, women felt they needed to strengthen their own organisations before anything else. However, in other districts, women are prioritising the aim of getting involved in politics.


Action on gold mining pollution

Women are also aware of the destruction of the environment around them. During the workshop in Bengkayang district, one group of women raised the issue of river pollution by small-scale gold mining. The women realised that it was they who were most affected by this pollution because they used the river water everyday for washing clothes, bathing and cooking. They also realised that it would not be easy to stop the small-scale gold mining since a lot families make their living from this activity. Because of this, the women decided to organise. They agreed to call a big meeting, attended by 50 women from five villages located by the polluted Ledo River. They wanted to formulate a strategy together to prevent pollution of the river and also to provide alternative sources of income for the small-scale miners.

AMA Kalbar has very much welcomed the initiatives and ideas arising from the women. "This means there is an opportunity. Because women have raised awareness of the dangers of river pollution for health and environmental sustainability for future generations," said Mina Susana Setra, AMA Kalbar's executive secretary.

DTE Note: These workshops follow on from a 2001 meeting when AMA Kalbar brought together around 25 women from six districts to discuss women and natural resources management. The West Kalimantan workshops are one of the few initiatives by and for indigenous women.

(Article translated from Indonesian by DTE)