Project empowering Papuan women

A project from one of the world’s most isolated places is helping to empower women across Indonesia.

The remote village of Jagara deep in Indonesia’s eastern-most province could be among the least developed places on earth.

The mountainous region in Papua is only accessible by air and is not often visited by outsiders.

While Indonesia as a whole may be experiencing economic growth, parts of Papua and West Papua provinces are lagging behind. In these remote areas around 40 per cent of households live below the poverty line - double the national average.

Despite looking like a tropical paradise, women living in the region have little say over their lives and families. 

"It was our traditional practice that the men were the ones making the decisions," Magda Wetapo says. "We didn't question it because it was our tradition. If we tried to change these traditional practices we knew something bad would happen to us, like we would get sick. So we accepted it."

But a new UN project says it is trying to break down those barriers and change the future for Papuan women. In Magda's village, the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) say they are teaching women how to grow vegetables.

It's part of a wider program run by the IFAD. IFAD say communities are asked to define their own problems and come up with solutions. They are then given training and can access grants to make their ideas become reality.

IFAD say one of the big problems for Magda's village was how to increase their income. It took some time to convince the male leaders that women could earn that money.

"Before the project, we were still living in a traditional way. Women lived under the control of men," Esalek Lani, traditional village leader, says.  "But when the project came to us, women got a chance to earn money and we are thankful for this."

After the vegetables are harvested women take the long trek to the markets where they sell their produce. Magda says the program has quadrupled her income and she now wants to save to send her son to university.

"I feel proud because our lives have changed so much and I'm very happy," she says

Papuan's often work alone. But this program encouraged the formation of groups to work together and for the first time women formed a group free from male dominance. It became a place where they could arrange training, elect their leaders and design their own budgets.

Ron Hartman is the Indonesian programme manager for the International Fund for Agricultural Development. He says the project works because it uses local solutions rather than imposing foreign concepts onto local problems.

"Papua itself is quite a challenging environment. It's very remote. Culturally, it is very different to other parts of Indonesia. The difference this project I think has made is that it's been tailored specifically for Papua, West Papua and the populations therein," he said.

"It's different in terms of the community development approach. It uses the social structures that are actually on the ground rather than transposing something from outside on them, but the main point is that it really buys into the potentials and supports the potentials they have in agriculture which is so important for their livelihoods."

IFAD say the pilot project is running in 410 villages in Papua and the Indonesia government is considering replicating it across the country.

Source: SBS