by Niken Lestari on May 31, 2016 at 3:39 am

What drives indigenous Indonesian activist Pipi Supeni to fight for indigenous women’s rights?

The prevailing discrimination towards indigenous women is at the top of her list of reasons. Indigenous women and indigenous peoples in general are deemed and often portrayed as lacking higher education, poor and unable to participate in the modern economic system, anti-development, tradition-oriented, rebellious, and the list goes on. The government and the media perpetuate negative messages  about them, along with other messages which negatively impact the self-confidence of indigenous women.

The discrimination is the result of the long and systematic oppression of indigenous peoples’ rights,” says Pipi.

Pipi, a 29-year-old woman from East Kalimantan, Indonesia, is a community organizer for the Dayak Benuaq Ohokng tribe in two villages – Mamcong and Muara Tae village. She is a community organizer for Perempuan AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara or Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago) or AMAN Women-East Kalimantan, an organization that focuses on indigenous women's rights. More specifically, she is a “cadre” organizer – a specially-trained community organizer – mobilizing and organizing “cadres” or activists of Perempuan AMAN. She is also a member of the JASS-inspired youth organization Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda Indonesia (FAMM-Indonesia or Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum).

AMAN estimates that the number of indigenous peoples in Indonesia falls between 50 and 70 million people. Pipi’s tribe, Dayak, is a name of tribes that identifies the various indigenous peoples on the island of Borneo by the Kalimantan part of Indonesian. They are divided into about 450 ethno-linguistic groups. The original Dayak identity – the cultural, economic, religious and political life – has been preserved through their oral tradition.

But the Dayak traditions are in danger of slowly disappearing. They often feel intimidated when mingling with society, with people outside of their communities, Pipi observes. Because of the discrimination that they experience, they become ashamed of their identity and their culture. Some even make drastic changes in their appearance and demeanor by following the trends of other cultures so that they can be accepted, especially those who reside in the urban areas.

Pipi laments over the fact that indigenous women have been marginalized from economic activities, although they are rich in knowledge and skills on natural resources management. There are even unfortunate times when some indigenous people hide their identity to avoid further marginalization.

I am making every effort so that indigenous women gain respect and that indigenous women’s knowledge and skills are recognized. Indigenous women of Indonesia continue to demand to take an active part in the management of natural resources and in reclaiming our culture and spiritual lives, says Pipi.

Pipi sees that one of the main problems that indigenous peoples face is that Indonesia, their own beloved country, does not recognize them as indigenous peoples. They refer to us only as local community residents. Therefore, there is no recognition from the Indonesian government to protect our rights as indigenous peoples, especially indigenous women,” Pipi adds.

Indonesia's boosting economy and its matching development goals have put indigenous peoples’ lives behind and at risk. Many indigenous peoples remain passive spectators of development. Their voices are often silenced and ignored.

The situation is far worse among indigenous women. Many elders and tribes’ customs prescribe that young women should not get a higher education because their main role is domestic care. This role, the elders say, does not require being highly-skilled. However, there are some elders who are open to accept the changing roles and aspiration of young women to get better education, broaden their social lives, and join organizations. As Pipi puts it, There should be changes in indigenous people's values toward women's role so that women can realize their potential for the benefit of communities.”

The corporate investments bring in a lot of problems for indigenous women. These have become a threat to their survival. Indigenous women’s reproductive health, as well as the children’s health becomes affected; their food becomes contaminated; and the plants in the forests that serve as their medicine become extinct. “Due to these resulting situations, I was motivated to rise up and speak up for the rights of indigenous women,” says Pipi.

Through her involvement in JASS’ 2013 Movement Building Institute (MBI) workshop organized by FAMM-Indonesia and JASS Southeast Asia, Pipi learned about power analysis as a tool for making sense of the indigenous women’s situation. Now she is more aware of indigenous women’s rights. One of her goals is for indigenous to women gain decision-making power in natural resource management, customary law, and traditional organizations.

At JASS’ MBI workshop, Pipi met plenty of young women activists from different sectors and backgrounds in Indonesia. Like her, they also struggle for social justice. This integration and exposure gave her more confidence to speak in public as an indigenous woman.

Pipi is extremely grateful that her family supports her activism. So far, none of them are against her actions and decisions because they see the benefit of her struggle to bring social justice to indigenous peoples, especially indigenous women. Pipi sees FAMM-Indonesia and JASS as allies to further build her confidence and start appreciating her culture and knowledge. Recently, she began to use natural ingredients in her food and is now using natural dyes for fabrics.

Indigenous peoples can no longer ignore women's voice and wisdom. We cannot regard one interest as more important than others. We need to unite to fight for our rights, concludes Pipi.

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by JASS on May 10, 2016 at 3:25 am

“I now know how to use a tablet which is not a norm in Malawi because [many believe] tablets cannot and should not be used by a local woman like me,” says woman activist leader Jessie Mwale of Mzimba, Malawi. “But because [of this skill I am empowered and I have knowledge.” 

Mobile phones in the hands of women activist leaders can be powerful tools to drive movements and campaigns. Because mobile phones are a personal part of our daily lives, they have the potential to reach and impact thousands more people.

Using ICTs to Carve a Better Malawi

In Malawi, women’s organizing through the Our Bodies, Our Lives Campaign for Better ARVs has brought many powerful changes for women and opportunities for women to take the lead in their communities. Over the last year, the Our Bodies, Our Lives Campaign, supported by JASS Southern Africa and a network of partners, established campaign committees in all 28 districts in Malawi to monitor the rollout of the new HIV drug regimen and document other barriers to positive people’s access to treatment and adequate healthcare, such as health worker attitudes or stock outs of essential medicines.  However, there are still many challenges for women across the country and barriers that prevent us from participating fully when it comes to political life, livelihoods and more.

ICTs (information and communications technologies) present a lot of new possibilities for women to become involved. Women activist leaders in the Our Bodies, Our Lives Campaign are using ICTs to open up ‘virtual’ spaces for dialogue and information-sharing so that a woman who lives in Rumphi in northern Malawi can learn from a woman based in the more central capital city Lilongwe within minutes.

“My cell phone is the only way for me to communicate with people in my organization and in other networks. It is important for my work. Someone may be stuck somewhere and need my help. Because I have my cell phone with me, they can call me and I can help them as an activist. Also, someone can send a message to tell me to check email to find and print a document they have sent me. (The printer and laptop are not mine but the cell phone is). In the past it was difficult for me to access emails – I could go for two weeks or even more without using the internet. But on my new phone I can look up information on the internet and share it. I can go on Facebook. I can even get the news. Of course, I have to buy airtime to pay for using the internet. A cell phone doesn’t store much information, not as much as a laptop. A cell phone is easy to for someone to steal. But, still, it is very useful to have one.” Tiwonge Gondwe, Woman Activist Leader, Northern Malawi (ICT Toolkit for Feminist Movement Building, 2015 p12)

“Who are the ‘right’ women for ICTs?” “We are.”

Women Activists Define criteria at PAR Training in MalawiLaunched in 2012 as part of a long-term movement building initiative led by HIV-positive women activist leaders, the Our Bodies, Our Lives Campaign is committed to fighting for better lives, healthcare and wellbeing for positive women across Malawi. In March 2016, women activists launched a participatory action research (PAR) Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) process with computer tablets that will help women to build evidence to fuel local to international advocacy agendas. Using a data management system called KOBO, the 30 MEL point people across Malawi are gathering data on healthcare in their communities, how difficult it is to access it and the quality of care as well as drug adherence and the challenges of stigma, discrimination and more that positive women come up against on a daily basis.

Jessie Mwale is one of these point people. Based in Northern Malawi, Jessie has been organizing positive women in her community to stand for their rights and communicate some of the harmful and painful side effects they experience from medication so that they can get the help they need. When one of the women in her community complained about difficult side effects and dangerous weight loss as well as poor treatment from health workers, Jessie accompanied her to the District Health Officer (DHO) to get help. In her own words: “I said ‘Enough is enough,’ and went together with [her] to the DHO who was touched by just how bad the situation was and he went straight to the antiretroviral drugs coordinator in the hospital to order an immediate change of drugs for [her].”

The campaign has given each point person a tablet that allows them to mobilize in a range of different ways like communicate across districts, create virtual groups that help them to feel connected to each other and share updates. Women activists aren’t just using the tablets to communicate data and generate critical evidence for the advocacy work of the campaign, they’re also using their tablets to strengthen and sustain the collective organizing power among them. In a context where community women are not expected to have access to such tools, this is a powerful step in the campaign.

The funny thing is that at first, some women activist leaders were not eager to use the technology because they felt they were not the ‘right’ people to use ICTs. But after going through the training, it was a different story.

I am now able to use a tablet. Me! I said these words 30 times the day that we did our [training for] data collection and MEL. It is [empowering to know] that I can do this and other women are encouraged with what they are seeing and can look forward to using [this technology] one day. ~ Stinna Kandumbo, Dowa Malawi

Looking Ahead…

Women Activists Use Tablets to do research in Malawi

There are a lot of questions that we as women activists will need to ask as we move forward with the campaign. What risks come with using ICTs in our context? Are phones or tablets really that ‘accessible’ when there could be issues with getting online because it is so expensive?

For now, though, as women activist leaders in Malawi, we are excited to use ICTs to grow our movement, to strengthen our solidarity as a campaign and build a Malawi in which we can all live well, live healthy and live positively.

This blog was written by Sibongile Singini, JASS Malawi

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by on April 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm

“When you’re an ‘activist’ you are labelled all sorts of things, [you are seen as someone] who is ‘rebellious’,” says long-time Zimbabwean student rights activist, Evernice Munando. 

Students across the globe are rising up and rebelling. From #GrantsNotDebt in the UK to #FeesMustFall in South Africa, students have mobilised in their thousands to fight back on a range of issues, hikes in school fees and living expenses that marginalise poor students as well as institutionalised racism and sexism as they manifest in tertiary institutions. Education, a basic human right, is not a guarantee for anyone, and especially for women. 

As an activist, Evernice Munando has faced expulsion, intimidation and persecution in the fight for education and women’s rights. Director of JASS Southern Africa ally, Female Students Network Trust (FSNT), a feminist organisation that supports over 20,000 women students at 36 of Zimbabwe’s universities, polytechnics and colleges, she reflects on some of the critical challenges for young women and lessons drawn from inspirational movements around the globe.

What has your journey, first as a student activist at Mupfure Technical College to now been?

I have a very strong personality in terms of activism and I’m someone who just cannot give up easily, no matter what the situation is. When I was a young student back in the early 2000s, I was the only woman on the student council surrounded by men. That taught me a lot. It taught me to stand my ground because there was no other choice. I became the student council vice president at my college at a time when the politics of the country were getting tense. The MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) had just been formed and as students, we were seen as supporters of the regime change agenda. That put us right in the line of fire.

I was victimised in various ways. I was expelled. I stayed in a safe house with my kids. When I became an activist proper, it got even worse. I had to make sure that my voice was heard, I would always want to speak out against violence against women because I suffered victimisation in my marriage and as a student. I faced brutality from the police. I would sleep overnight in cells with male activists, often the only woman activist there. These difficult experiences built me as an activist. It was not easy. There were times when I thought about walking away from it all and renouncing my politics. But I realised that I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless, even if it meant that I would lose my future.

Female students were afraid of being involved, they’d say, ‘Are you a man? Do you want to be part of this activism?’ But to me there was no choice, the student relied on the SRC (student representative council) to represent them and convey their demands.

What are the big issues young women are facing in institutions in Zimbabwe?

I think women students face two big challenges right now. The first is about economics, and what it means to survive in Zimbabwe. Tuition fees at every level (even junior school and so on) are exorbitant and many people simply cannot afford to pay these big sums of money. In such situations, the priorities are almost always given to male students or the boy child. Parents are more willing to invest in their male children. This economic situation is linked to a lot of other issues—access to adequate student housing, surviving from day to day, the text books that students need. Even when students do have housing, how do they pay for it?  Many young women do use transactional relationships as a way to sustain themselves in terms of income but these relationships come with levels of violence for women.

Masvingo Teachers College March Against Sexual Harassment and GBV

Sexual harassment is a major issue in Zimbabwean institutions. The major perpetrators are male lecturers, and sometimes other students. There are few to no sexual harassment policies or mechanisms to protect students in tertiary institutions. So many lecturers in positions get away with it because there are no avenues to report and if a student does try, they are not taken seriously. It’s even harder when there are no female students on student representative councils or anything who can voice out on these issues. But even when women are on student councils, they don’t always have the clout. They’re sometimes there to fill quotas and they have to really fight to be heard.

And even within the tertiary institution governance structures, you see that there’s almost a protection network for lecturers. If one colleague comes up in a case, then they’ll protect them even if they know that they are guilty of sexual harassment. And that goes a long way to perpetuating the sexual violence we see because people in power take care of each other and the students pay the price.

How does FSNT confront these issues?

We use public awareness. We carried out a national baseline survey on sexual harassment between June and August 2015 and the survey revealed that 98% of female students are sexually harassed every day, largely by male lecturers.  Out of the 21 sampled institutions, only 4 have sexual harassment in place which clearly shows the vulnerability of female students in failing to get recourse on the predicament. We’ve used that survey as a basis for an advocacy agenda, for example, we’ve initiated a nationwide public awareness campaign to sensitise and support women students. Some of the students said they could not identify harassment, in other words, they didn’t have the language for it. So we have been supporting them to understand what these different kinds of abuses and violations look like so they can identify for themselves and feel that they have a right to report. We are also trying to make sure that all students can understand, that even male students get the role they play by normalising sexist behaviour.Men wear high heels in march against Sexism

At heart, our strategy is about consciousness-raising on many levels. We talk to students, we talk to student organisations, lecturers and tertiary governance structures and we’re talking to policymakers and parliamentary representatives to make sure sexual harassment policies are taken on across the country. And through radio talk shows and media engagement, we’re reaching the general public as well.

Do you see opportunities or hope within this big picture?

Yes. I think it will just take time. We have presented these issues at parliament, we are lobbying for better laws to protect women students, and while this is not the whole work—it’s a big step. We have had the opportunity to put out there what women and women students are up against, economic hardship, the prioritisation of male students in families and beyond. In 2014, the enrolment of women students decreased by 42% and that is about patriarchy and the fact that women are not a priority when it comes to access to education, especially when times are hard. And these are things we must talk about.

Have you been inspired by some of the student movements in South Africa and elsewhere in the world? How? What do you feel you could learn from them?

We learnt a lot from #feesmustfall, and one thing that inspired us is that it was female students leading all the demonstrations and campaigns. I think it would be great for FSNT to learn from strategies from South African students. Sexism and sexual harassment in tertiary institutions is a global issue, so we need to be in communication with sisters to understand how they are mobilising around these issues.

All pictures courtesy of Female Students Network Trust.

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