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Leader of Innovative Ecomonic Alternatives For Women Receives Prestigious Award

  • JASS

JASS is proud to announce that Nani Zulminarni, a key member of our network and founding Regional Director of JASS Southeast Asia will be presented with The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Leadership Award alongside Mohammed Yunus, Nobel Prize Winner, in New York on June 18, 2014. The award honors Nani’s leadership of PEKKA, an extraordinary movement of women-headed households organized since 2002 through the creation of independent savings and loan cooperatives that enable women to mobilize for rights and dignity. Today, 25,000 women, previously deemed “poorest of the poor” participate in 800 cooperatives in 700 communities that have improved lives, created new opportunities for young people, changed laws, fielded and elected candidates and above all, challenged discrimination and prejudice to be able to be treated with dignity and respect.   

The Story of PEKKA

How do you support poor women in their struggles for dignity when survival is a daily battle? Rights and public participation can seem like abstract ideas when food and employment are uncertain. But for JASS and like-minded activists, holistic approaches are crucial. Organizing around practical needs can be a stepping stone to steadier livelihoods and eventually to taking action. A movement to empower single-women household heads in Indonesia demonstrates this concept in action. Building one small cooperative at time, JASS ally, PEKKA is forging a large-scale movement across half the provinces of Indonesia, from village centers to the capital city.

“We were all just laborers before but now we know how to create our own business.”~Sarilah, cooperative treasurer

Over the last ten years, the number of women-headed households in Indonesia (a country of some 250 million) has increased to around nine million, the majority of whom live in extreme poverty. With its grassroots economic and political organizing strategy, PEKKA works to transform the lives of women heads of households through a combination of feminist popular education, leadership development, community organizing, income generation, and cooperatives. While the women benefit from much-needed access to cash, the ultimate goal of PEKKA is more ambitious: to build a grassroots movement of women-led economic cooperatives that empower women individually and collectively, to transform their lives and their communities, and to challenge the structures and belief systems that breed discrimination and poverty. This movement and the cooperatives embody an alternative solidarity-based economic and political culture, which members promote in their families and communities.

Since 2002, PEKKA’s Women-Headed Households Empowerment Program has organized more than 20,000 divorced and widowed women into more than 800 savings and loan co-ops and community teams in 495 villages throughout 18 of the country’s 33 provinces. Overcoming social isolation and stigma that widows and divorced women experience in Indonesia, these women lead productive and engaged economic, social, and political lives.

Start with What You Have

PEKKA offers a compelling alternative to microcredit, as PEKKA founder, Nani Zulminarni explains.

“We start from zero, talking one by one with each woman to find out her priority concerns. Women always start with the problem of money. So we begin with a group savings project as a practical way to bring women together, but also to seed a strategy to resist consumerism and debt. At first they tell us they have no money, but then discover that, with the coins they spend occasionally on candy for their children or sweet drinks, they could have a bit of savings. Sometimes they gather and sell coconuts. Pooling these small savings, women are able to invest in joint economic endeavors that generate a growing profit over time, if they are frugal and work hard. They control their own income, which is not owed to anyone. The more women have cash in hand, the more they can bargain with brothers or partners. Individually, they become more independent and as a group, they begin to understand the potential of their economic and political power.

“By setting up democratic cooperatives or credit unions, women also practice new leadership, decision-making, and democracy: one women, one vote, equal rights. This leads to more practical and emotional independence. Of course, it takes lots of consciousness raising and capacity building. That’s an appropriate role for NGOs, we feel—not bringing in the money and making profit off the interest that individual women have to pay.

Participatory democracy and leadership does, inevitably, create clashes and internal conflict—people always resist doing things differently. Some want to take control, which is why we have a leadership change every three years. That’s our role as organizers in PEKKA—supporting this growing grassroots movement of women—to develop and support new kinds of leadership and to build women’s capacity to manage conflict, basic business, and planning skills, and then, gradually, use their collective power to influence local politics.

“We don’t attach women to an existing cooperative. They build their own together. Some groups eventually make enough profit to build their own women’s centers. Economic organizing in this way enables us to work under oppressive governments. We say, ‘We’re doing savings and credit,’ and then the authorities leave us alone. Over time, our experience shows that the women promote their own leaders to become village heads or members of the village parliament. From there, they have influence and gain more power, and can make bigger change.”

Claiming Rights

Rather than focusing on a single element—relying on microfinance, for instance—PEKKA has gone on to integrate aspects of the law, education, media, and politics into their work. Through the slow, intensive process of establishing savings cooperatives, PEKKA organizers learned about the many other issues making women’s lives so difficult. Along with isolation and stigma, women without husbands were invisible to the legal system. Without official divorce certificates, for example, divorcees could not access government resources allocated for poor citizens. The general expectation is that all women, including those widowed or single, are under the support and control of men – husbands, fathers, or brothers. Even if they were aware of government entitlements that would alleviate their hardship, women were unsure how to approach local authorities. So PEKKA began to train members as volunteer community paralegals with the aim of educating women about their rights and entitlements and supporting their efforts to claim them. PEKKA also trains paralegals about laws related to domestic violence and rape. This equips the paralegals to educate their communities about the legislation and support women in dealing with the police and courts.

Education and Community Media

Using popular education methods and the concepts of power from JASS’ toolkit, PEKKA starts with women’s experience and then brings in important new information, particularly on laws and rights in accessible leaflets that depict common experiences. Photos are also used to generate discussions on different types of power and how power dynamics affect women’s lives. Literacy classes are based on these booklets, while members nominated as treasurers are trained in bookkeeping and manage the financial records for their groups.

“Long ago, no one would trust you enough to lend you money because you had no husband. You were ‘just a weak woman.’ Before PEKKA, I struggled to feed my children. I worked as a seasonal laborer for farmers in the rice fields twice a year picking fruit. Then I joined the co-op and borrowed money to start my own business.” Rukinah, cooperative leader, PEKKA group, Indonesia

PEKKA also trains and equips photographers and videographers to document all PEKKA processes and mounts public exhibitions of the images. In creative workshops, women learn to write their stories, and these are published in collections and launched at local and national events. Women host daily radio broadcasts on PEKKA’s nine community radio stations. They have created and edited dozens of films at PEKKA’s seven community video studios, built 34 community centers and rented another 54 locales, and attended or given training workshops too numerous to count.

“Before, when I had no experience or education, I would not dare to speak to one of the village leaders. I was afraid of the police. But now, with PEKKA to support me, I feel strong. I can call on the police and I argue with the village head if he doesn’t want to sign a divorce certificate for one of the women. At election time, political parties come to put pressure on me. Before, we were invisible but now they want PEKKA votes.” Kasirah, PEKKA community radio leader, Indonesia

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