by JASS on February 1, 2016 at 1:37 am

Written by Noni Tuharea

Have you ever heard of Seram Island?

It is an island rich in natural resources located north of Ambon Island in Indonesia. Since 2003, Seram Island has been divided into three regencies: Central Maluku with Masohi as its capital, Eastern Seram (SBT), and Western Seram (SBB).

Despite the abundant natural resources, poverty and lack of education are two of the major problems in Central Maluku. Communal conflicts often arise as a result of a succession of village chiefs (conflict among villages), drunkenness, limited economic resources, and disputed region territory. This situation gets worse during famine or drought season. In these circumstances, women play a greater role to meet the families' needs despite limited job opportunities. Women primarily bear the burden of making ends meet for their families. For the women, they have been impoverished by the system.

In Western Seram, my work entails assisting in developing the women’s communities. At the start, the abundant natural resources of Seram have been generally ignored because of “mismanagement”. The region is also infamous for its high crime rates and communal conflict among indigenous communities.

Nuruwe village is one of the indigenous villages of Western Seram that is “trapped” in this situation. Fortunately, the sea in Nuruwe is very clean, the waves are not so big, and the beach is not polluted. It is a perfect location for seaweed nurseries. It provides a distinct advantage for villagers to increase their income from dried seaweed. The Nuruwe residents needed technical skills, not only to cultivate seaweed, but also management skills. To meet their needs, Lembaga Partisipasi Pembangunan Masyarakat (LPPM or Community Development Participation Institution), the organization where I work, conducted a vocational training for women on seaweed processing in the coastal village of Nuruwe.

The training modules on seaweed processing consisted of building business character, marketing, and simple bookkeeping. The training participants were encouraged to participate actively and communicate their ideas to form business groups. The training was done by raising the participation of the village government and villagers who work as seaweed farmers. Through LPPM, we provided farmers’ groups with dried seaweed until they become independent.

Women, There is Always Hope 

After the training, the participants formed a group they named Bina Masadah. Bina in Nuruwe means “women”, while Masadah stands for “there is always hope”. Therefore, Bina Masadah reflects the struggle of women who ‘advance’ their selves amid a culture that subordinates them. women of Seram Islands Indonesia The group also received support from the Western Seram Department of Industry and Trade in the form of packaging and product labels for the group’s products such as sticks of seaweed, seaweed pudding, and fruit-flavored syrup.

Initially, Bina Masadah launched their products on a small scale. They also obtained their PIRT or Licensing for Household Industry. Bina Masadah has been able to organize a group initiative from the planning, production, and marketing, and to practice the good production process. Group revenue or equitable sharing is calculated based on the workload and the amount of product produced by each group member. The most important is that members receive the full support of their families.

It is a proud moment for me to see the Bina Masadah members try to maintain their commitment and motivation to participate actively in the trainings and in post-trainings in running a business. Nuruwe residents are likewise proud of Bina Masadah products because these will change the stereotype of the Nuruwe village as a poor village with high crime rates.

The biggest challenge I experienced during the process is fostering teamwork. Maluku residents are renowned for their lack of trust among themselves as well as their unclear division of labor. Therefore, we constantly encourage groups to actively establish interpersonal communication and independently evaluate the achievement of the group. Another challenge is the limited availability of cash in order to increase production, so their turnover is very small.

But I strongly believe that with collective action, we can grow bigger from these small steps.


This article was originally published in www.famm.or.id in Indonesian language. See: http://famm.or.id/archives/2016/01/1189/

About the Author

Noni Tuharea first joined JASS’ movement building institute (MBI) in Indonesia in 2011. In 2013, Noni took part in JASS’ and FAMM-Indonesia’s writeshop (writing workshop). In 2012 and 2014, representing FAMM-Indonesia, Noni joined the digital security workshop organized by Erotics Indonesia.

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by Niken Lestari on June 25, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Two Indonesian women on death row in Saudi Arabia, 47-year-old Siti Binti Zaenab and 37-year-old Karni Medi Tarsim were executed recently. In November 1999, Siti Zaenab admitted to stabbing her female employer 18 times because of alleged “mistreatment”. Before her arrest, she sent two letters in which she said that her employer and her employer’s son had been mistreating her. Siti Zaenab reportedly made this “confession” during police interrogation where she had no legal representation at any stage and did not have access to a consular representative during the police interrogation. Both Siti and Karni were suspected of suffering from mental illness.

An Indonesian migrant worker, Tuti Tursilawati, the breadwinner of her family, also went to work in Saudi Arabia with her mother. She was convicted and sentenced to qishas (beheading) but her case was reopened. In her plea, she said that she was defending herself from her employer who was sexually abusing her. When Tuti fled from her employer's home and went hitchhiking, she was brutally raped by nine Saudi men. The rapists were given a light sentence by the court.

Their stories are repeated tales of migrant workers who are mistreated while working abroad and received minimal or worse, no protection and defense from the Indonesian government. The government often responded a little too late to address these cases.

Since a few years ago, dozens of migrant workers were given death sentences without being served notice. Take Satinah's case where she was sentenced to death. Or Nasiroh who was raped by her employers in Saudi Arabia but her trial was so hasty that she did not know she had been convicted and she had no idea for what “crime” she was imprisoned for five years. Women lack the legal and psychological support while working abroad. They have to work long hours in poor conditions. They are also denied many basic workers’ rights. For the same reasons, women fall prey to and become easy targets of drug cartels to serve as drug mules.

Elusive Justice

These migrant women mostly come from poor families in rural areas and are breadwinners of their extended families. Many of them rely on debts to survive. With limited education and skills, working abroad is a desperate option knowing that they have little or no legal protection.

The Indonesian government often appears helpless in trying to save Indonesian migrant workers abroad. These are the same migrant workers who brought US$8.55 billion remittances in 2014 to support the economy in rural areas. With the death penalty regulation in Indonesia, it will be difficult to help Indonesian migrant workers who are on death row abroad. Their death will bring their families deeper into poverty.

Up to February 2015, there are 229 Indonesian citizens facing death penalty in seven countries. Many of them are migrant workers. The top three countries are: Saudi Arabia, 36 persons (all migrant workers) imprisoned on charges of murder, adultery, and witchcraft; Malaysia, 168 persons (less than 50% are migrant workers) charged with murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and gun possession; and China (including Hong Kong and Macau), 16 persons - all because of drug trafficking cases.

#SayNoToDeathPenalty Campaign

In line with our vision of building women's collective power for justice, we in Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda (FAMM-Indonesia or Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum) seek to address a few arguments in support of the #SayNoToDeathPenalty campaign opposing capital punishment in Indonesia. 

Up to 2006, there were 11 regulations that mention the death penalty, such as the Criminal Code, the Act on Narcotic Drugs, the Anti-Corruption Act, the Act of Terrorism, and the Law of the Court of Human Rights. This list continues to grow with the impending passage of the Intelligence Bill and the Bill of State Secrets which also pose as threats to activists especially those who work in agrarian or land ownership and ethnic minorities. 

There are many cases where similar crimes have gotten different indictments and court rulings, not to mention different media attention as well. The difference is often the result of the defendant’s access to good quality legal counsel at the cost of a huge amount of money and support from powerful political and/or religious figures in society.

Recently, an employee of Cipinang State Prison was fired for being an accomplice of Freddy Budiman, a drug kingpin. In December 2014, the Law and Human Rights Ministry acknowledged that there have been six drug dealers who control the circulation of drugs through prisons, one of them in Nusakambangan, Central Java, a renowned prison for high degree crimes. Yet, these people can “buy” justice which shows the discrimination in the application of the death penalty.

We are devastated to see our government, as the sending country, being less capable to fight and protect citizen's rights. Our government has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” In Article 4, it says, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”.

#SayNoToDeathPenalty is one of the recurring issues that we in FAMM-Indonesia are advocating in our grassroots organizing of women and youth in communities. We likewise demand that the governments of ASEAN countries review their imposition of death penalty by considering and appreciating the lives of victims, the defendants, their families, and the human rights conventions.


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by Niken Lestari on May 31, 2015 at 7:28 am

“Your event is against Islam and Indonesia’s constitution. We demand that you cancel the event, if not, we will.” – Anonymous SMS Sender

For the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) celebration on the 17th of May 2015, we in Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda (FAMM-Indonesia or Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum), along with Kojigema Institute were planning to hold a talk show which would highlight our experience with sexual diversity and to get to know transgender lives and achievements. A beautiful and proud transgender woman agreed to come as our speaker and vowed to invite some of her friends too. I was very thrilled. We in FAMM-Indonesia and Kojigema were all excited.

But two days before the IDAHOT celebration, a man called my friend from Kojigema who is also one of the co-organizers to “investigate” the event that we were planning to conduct. We sensed that something was not right about this man calling us but we didn’t pursue it.

I was the main contact person for the IDAHOT event and this fact was stated in the media advisory and press statements we sent out days ahead. The night before the activity, I received four calls from four different men who were “investigating” but were actually using threats, pressure, and intimidation to force us to cancel our activity.

The news spread as we used social media to promote our activity. We have been using social media to publicize our events in the past. But this time, our event got unusual attention. In our social media accounts, some friends, including our resource person, a transgender woman, also faced prying questions and disparaging comments. We had never experienced this before. FAMM-Indonesia and Kojigema Institute are relatively small organizations in terms of membership and popularity.

We continued to receive repeated threats and harassment from unknown hate groups a few days before the event, which led us to cancel our activity with the theme “Celebrate Our Gender”.

Being LGBTQI in Indonesia

Being LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex) person especially if you openly admit it, can be difficult in many places in Indonesia. This includes Malang City. Indonesia is a country with the biggest Muslim population in the world. Out of its 253 million people, around 87.2% are Muslims. But it also has 342 discriminative policies towards women and minority groups in the name of Sharia law.

For our IDAHOT celebration in Malang this year, we particularly used the title “Celebrate Our Gender” rather than “Celebrate Our Sexuality” as a strategy and as a step for participants to learn about sexuality without directly saying it. The idea was to invite a transgender woman in a discussion with heterosexual men who believe that “God made only two sexes”. So we thought, we could start from there. Kojigema Institute, an organization composed of people of diverse gender identities has elaborating sexual, reproductive, gender, and sexuality education as well as developing the knowledge and practice of equality and empowerment as two of its missions. And this IDAHOT activity, beyond celebrating, sought to build critical awareness by organizing a discussion on gender and sexuality.

Some people thought that we were throwing a sex ritual party. Some people said we were gathering homosexuals. The theme “Celebrate Our Gender” rang a different meaning to their ears. The phrase “International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia” was threatening their values. For these people, humane values and basic human rights, it seems, are not applicable to my friends because of their sexual orientation.

However, this is not new to us. Like everyone else, previously, I was unable to understand a person who claimed to be gay or a lesbian Muslim. I used to wonder how people of the same sex can fall in love with each other. Then I also used to think that I was a lesbian. The questioning process resulted in a richer perspective and better self-appreciation of my body and sense of power. I found and celebrated my heterosexuality rather than accept it as given.

For some of my friends in Kojigema Institute, discrimination because of their sexuality is not new. The discrimination comes from many sides, including their family. One of my lesbian friends had her allowance cut by her parents because she removed her hijab (head covering) and exuded a “masculine” behavior . Another gay friend lost the financial support of his mother after she found out that he’s gay. He then dropped out of college. He now does odd jobs to support himself. A transgender male friend was partially accepted by his family but has enormous burden to medically prove that he is biologically male – which will be very difficult. Indeed, it is hard under these conditions to come out as LGBTQI.

The intimidation we received prior to IDAHOT celebration made their situation more difficult. When we reported it to the police, they looked suspiciously helpless and asked us “politely” to cancel the event for the sake of “security and order of community”. In cases like this, it is alleged thatthe police usually takes the side of those who have bigger number of supporters and/or able to provide “security money”.

Fear is not new to us. We compromise it or diminish it. Sometimes we brush it aside as something that is “no big deal” but it is obviously disturbing and disrupting our lives. A lesbian friend  wears a hijab even if she doesn’t want to when she goes to see her girlfriend. A closeted gay man in Kojigema refused to be filmed on camera while talking about LGBTQI issues. He was willing to be a speaker only in radio talk shows. There is an assumption that if you are working for LGBTQI issues then you are also LGBTQI. In other words, you are openly declaring yourself as “out” of the closet. These are some of the situations that force them to “adjust” their “gender behaviors” in public to match the cultural and social norms

Bitter Lessons

So it was with a sad heart that we decided to cancel the event – after a thorough evaluation of our preparations and consideration of the safety of our speakers and participants. It was disheartening because our IDAHOT celebration was cancelled because of “homophobic and transphobic forces”. But we learned a lot about our context and the power relations operating in Indonesian society.

We learned that we need to use social media carefully – to identify and have better communication with our allies, to involve and create good relationship with journalists, and the last one, to fight the fear within. Being an LGBTQI is not something to be ashamed of.

In a way, we were able to highlight our case to the media by the press conference that we held the day after the IDAHOT. Dozens of journalists from around 10 media outlets in the country attended the media event held at the Legipait Cafe Malang. We also released a joint press statement of FAMM-Indonesia, Kojigema Institute and KontraS Surabaya. Through these small gestures, we want to fight homophobia and transphobia. We do not want it to become our “powerless” moment. As one of my LGBTQI friends says, “there will be ordinary people who will finally hear about sexuality and maybe feel curious to learn”.

We learned that we shall not be overcome by fear anymore. We will let them hear our voice one way or another.

About the Author:

Niken Lestari, actively involved in JASS, is FAMM-Indonesia’s national coordinator and one of the founders of Kojigema Institute.


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