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The “Center Point Indonesia,” a land reclamation project in Makassar, has triggered strong local resistance by the fishing community who have been raising alarm against the damage being caused to their ecosystems and fisheries. The project is a prominent pillar of the government’s development plans in the Mamminasata region in South Sulawesi. The 157-hectare land reclamation project off the coast of Makassar will create five artificial islands in the region. The project is estimated to require around 22 million cubic meters of sand and gravel, which will be mined on-and offshore in nearby districts. Embankments built alongside the coastal areas have already impacted the fisherfolk in the region. These wide walls that were built to support the reclaimed land areas, have not only polluted the sea, but also disrupted local traditions and practices of mutual cooperation within the community.

Nurfianalisa, a local community organizer, is a member of Solidaritas Perempuan-Anging Mammiri and the young women’s alliance Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda (FAMM Indonesia). FAMM  is a network of 380 young women, formed following years of participating in JASS Southeast Asia’s regional leadership schools. She is part of the Bugis ethnic community, the dominant tribe in Makassar. Together with the fishing community, Nurfianalisa has been challenging and protesting against the project as it poses a serious threat to the livelihoods of the people in the region. Nurfianalisa, explains

“The community faces the impending reclamation of a port. They were never consulted when this project was proposed. Their lands and ocean are being exploited and they stand to lose their houses and incomes. 

Who benefits from this “development”?

With the land reclamation in Makassar, womxn in the fishing community stand to lose their means of sustenance. Womxn play a key role in the community – they catch and process fish, and repair nets. Thousands of families in the fishing communities have already been displaced by the land reclamation project. Thousands more are set to be displaced soon. There have been deliberate attempts on the government’s part to push back and use trumped-up charges to criminalise womxn and community members who have been protesting against the port project. Through online platforms and media, the community is now being portrayed as poor, backward, and “anti-development”.

Despite targeted efforts to weaken womxn’s organising by the government and contractors PT Banteng Laut and PT Boskalis International Indonesia (a subsidiary of Dutch-based Royal Boskalis Westminster) community organisers such as Nurfianalisa are trying to spotlight the damaging impacts of an extractive model of development and seeking intervention from the National Commission on Violence Against Women in conflict resolution and safeguarding womxn’s rights.

What are womxn up against?  

Womxn in Indonesian society face multi-layered challenges. According to Nurfianalisa, there are two things that are important to highlight. One is the patriarchal culture, which thrives on controlling womxn in terms of the social, political, and religious aspects of their lives.

“There are a lot of conservative groups in Makassar that are opposing women’s struggles and a lot of our protests are being stopped by these conservative religious groups. They always oppose us,” added Nurfianalisa. 

 Another key challenge that womxn encounter in their everyday lives is the extractive capitalist system. The “political elites and oligarchs”, as she calls them, consolidate power in the political sector in order to dominate natural resources and capital. The long line of ongoing and planned extractive industry projects in the name of ‘development’ – like this land project – are creating economic conditions that are counter to the well-being of communities and land. Many of the government regulations are aligned to favour investors and not the communities.

They do not understand or they choose not to understand that the national resources that they exploit are part of our lives, part of the lives of womxn. They only see these resources as something that can be transacted or exchanged,” says Nurfianalisa.  

She also observes that politics and religion have been politicized and mobilized by those whose interests are served by this kind of “development and investment”.

Patriarchy and capitalism have infiltrated all aspects of our lives. Capitalism does not stop at the national level, but they collaborate at the international level. So, our enemy is a colossal power. How do we strengthen ourselves to go against this colossal power knowing the violent ways that they can push us back?” asks Nurfianalisa.

How do we challenge extractives?  

Nurfianalisa recently participated in the “Follow the Money” workshop on challenging extractivism in Indonesia, organised last November by JASS Southeast Asia and FAMM Indonesia. This face-to-face process was a continuation of previous workshops started in 2022 that aimed at strengthening the analysis and organising strategies of FAMM Indonesia and its members around the issue of extractivism.

At the workshop, young womxn members of FAMM Indonesia from across several provinces in the country shared their stories and identified patterns in policies, plans, and environmental impacts within the extractivist projects they had been confronting in their communities. The workshop also guided them in mapping investment chains and the actors (investors and enablers) to be able to then review their organising strategies.  

According to Nurfianalisa, a key takeaway from the workshops is using power analysis  to better understand the ways in which extractive industries work and who and what is driving and enabling them.

“Usually, the focus of discussions on extractivism is on the impact analysis on womxn. We do not typically focus on analysing the actors behind the impact. At the moment, things that we observe are still at the surface level only. We need to focus on going deeper into what and who is actually hidden, which is how the power analysis can help. This is what really helped me and my community members because we did not have this understanding earlier. Developing this understanding has been transformative for us.” says Nurfianalisa.

Post workshops, Nurfianalisa has shared the knowledge and power analysis with the coastal community and her colleagues at the Solidaritas Perempuan-Anging Mammiri.

“Knowing the people behind this project is crucial. This way, in our campaigns and in our advocacy, we can pinpoint the exact target and organise around them,” adds Nurfianalisa.

Womxn and local fishing communities in the area have organised to physically prevent sand mining on multiple occasions. And although the Makassar land reclamation project has entered the final stage of development, Nurfianalisa has identified small victories from the community. 

“The fishing community has shown a lot of courage in standing up against the big contractors and the government. They never stopped raising their voices despite the resistance faced from the government. I think there’s something powerful in organising in this manner.”  

The Power of Numbers

Nurfianalisa and her community recognise the need to build strong resistance strategies and a united community.

It is important to see that we have huge power because we as womxn leaders and organisers are the majority and what we are up against is the minority. They may have power over capital, authority, and politics. But as activists and WHRDs, we need to know and see that there are a lot of things that we can do. These people dominate and have power over politics to discriminate and to take away things from womxn, so we need to strategize on how we can use our collective power to counter them,” says Nurfianalisa. 

When asked why are there womxn who are not fighting for their rights or or participating in the people’s struggle for land and life, Nurfianalisa explains:

“Because they are not aware. They do not have access to tools and information on what their rights are. But upon understanding their rights, womxn will be able to raise their voices in the defense of our territories and livelihoods.

The JASS workshops on challenging extractives has not only been instrumental in providing the methodology and tools to challenge large-scale extractive projects, but also creates a space to foster leadership and organising skills in the community.

“As womxn, we need to be united. And we need to cross the line created by our family and society and surroundings. Additionally, how we build dialogues and discussions within our families is also important. After meeting with womxn from the fishing communities, I talk to my family about my experience and I try to build their understanding and empathy. Slowly, they understand my line of work and understand that what I’m doing is not something bad but crucial for our future,” concludes Nurfianalisa.

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