Mitra Wacana WRC: A community-based approach to women’s empowerment
There is a wealth of discussion currently going on about women and children’s rights in Indonesia, and many NGOs work to address these issues. Mitra Wacana Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) is an organisation of passionate activists who aim to empower women and children through information. The organisation aims to be a medium of knowledge, where anyone can learn about women’s and children’s rights, and a bridge between that knowledge (and the ideas it breeds) to actual social change. Sophia Dickinson presents her reflection on the efforts of Mitra Wacana WRC in Yogyakarta and surrounds.
Mitra Wacana WRC started 20 years ago as a place to consolidate information about services provided by existing NGOs. Over time that has evolved into an association of dedicated individuals who are fighting for justice and gender equality. This means educating people about the violations of women’s and children’s rights, and creating conversations about how to address these issues. We are based in Yogyakarta and work with remote communities in Kulon Progo district, about an hour’s drive from Yogyakarta, and Banjarnegara district, a few hours’ drive from Yogyakarta.
A grass-roots approach
Our approach in Kulon Progo and Banjarnegara focuses on establishing women and children’s learning centres (Pusat Pelajaraan Perempuan dan Anak or P3A). These are groups where village women and youth can learn about and discuss their rights. Mitra Wacana WRC provides information and training to empower them with the skills and knowledge to stand up for their rights. P3A works in partnership with other village organisations to advocate for change from the village level upwards. We also help them run activities for economic empowerment, such as making crochet bags to sell. By establishing P3A and through other activities, we are raising awareness of key women and children’s rights issues and encouraging community members to advocate for their governments to take action.
Combatting human trafficking in Kulon Progo
The focus of our program in Kulon Progo is combatting human trafficking. Through P3A groups, we are educating women and children who are susceptible to human trafficking about their rights and how to get help if they have been or become a victim. Many women in Kulon Progo seek work overseas to support their families. A report by Mitra Wacana’s director, Ibu Rindang Farihah, highlighted the misconceptions many women have about working overseas and the problems they face, but do not discuss, when they return home. P3A is providing a safe space where former migrant workers can talk about their experiences and raise awareness among other women who are considering work overseas. We are also giving P3A members skills and training, such as how to understand official government documents, so they can participate in village development planning. This empowers the women to work with the village government to prevent human trafficking and support victims.
P3A groups in Kulon Progo have also been taking action to eliminate violence in their villages. They are part of the Violence Victim’s Protection Forum (Forum Perlindungan Korban Kekerasan or FPKK), which advocates for local governments to do their part to prevent violence and support victims. Data published on Mitra Wacana WRC’s website showed an increase in violence against women and children in Kulon Progo district in the last five years (although there may have also been an increase in reporting). Through P3A, community members are advocating their governments to take action on issues such as domestic violence, which previously may have been considered a private problem.
Mitra Wacana WRC is also developing a project called Omah Perempuan Sinau Desa (Village Women’s Learning House). This will be a formal learning program, run through P3A groups, to educate women, youth and village officials about gender, women’s rights, human rights, village governance, sexual health and how to run media campaigns. We aim to give village people skills and knowledge that they would not have learnt in school. This program will empower women and youth to participate in village development planning, prevent them from becoming victims of human trafficking and find ways to defend their rights. In early May 2016, we held a workshop in Yogyakarta to develop the curriculum, which you can read more about it on our website in English and Indonesian.
I personally have had the privilege to attend some of the regular monthly meetings of women’s P3A in Kulon Progo. Meeting these women really inspired me. One woman told me how she had worked overseas for six years because it was the only way she could support her family. My heart broke thinking how hard it would be to live away from your home and family for so long. That was my first experience attending a P3A meeting; you can read more about it on our website. At another meeting, I asked the women how they had benefited so far from joining the P3A. One of the women said before she joined P3A she didn’t know anything about human trafficking, gender issues, or sexual and reproductive health. This drove home for me the importance of Mitra Wacana WRC’s work and made me very proud to work for the organisation (read more here).
Fighting to eliminate sexual violence against children in Banjarnegara
In Banjarnegara district we are currently running a village-level program to eliminate sexual violence against children. We started in December 2013 by conducting baseline research in two villages in Banjarnegara. We found that sexual violence against children is a serious problem in this area. In 2014, we focused on capacity building activities and in 2015, the first P3A groups were established. We have now established P3A groups for women and youth in four villages in Banjarnegara. Our program in Banjarnegara now has two main focus points. The first is to educate women and children about their rights. The second is to work with the P3A to advocate the village government to act to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children.
Many children in Banjarnegara district do not finish high school; they move to big cities to find work to support their families. So Mitra Wacana has decided to focus on children in primary school. Our most recent activity was a children’s rights workshops for 43 children in sixth grade, the final year of primary school. Over two days (4-5 June 2016), the children learnt about the principles of human rights and discussed their hopes for the future. I went to Banjarnegara to observe the workshops. It was my first visit to the district, and I was very proud of the work Mitra Wacana is doing there. You can read the full story on our website.
Activism in Yogyakarta
In Yogyakarta, we speak on radio talk shows four times a month to raise awareness about issues such as underage marriage, sexual and reproductive health and other women and children’s rights topics. We have also worked with other organisations and universities to organise and speak at discussions and workshops about women’s rights. On International Women’s Day, we organised a panel discussion about underage marriage in Indonesia. The discussion took place at Gadjah Mada University’s Centre for Population and Policy Studies (PSKK UGM). Panel members included Ahmad Muhsin Kamaludiningrat from the Indonesian Council of Theologians (MUI), Khotimatul Husna from Fatayat Islamic Women’s Organisation (Fatayat NU), Anita Triaswati from Indonesian Family Planning Association (PKBI) and Professor Muhadjir Darwin from PSKK UGM. We are also a member of the Yogyakarta Women’s Network, JPY (Jaringan Perempuan Yogyakarta), and often collaborate with other members.
Support Mitra Wacana WRC
You can read more about Mitra Wacana WRC on our website. You can also keep up with our latest news and activities on social media: on Facebook and our fanpage, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
We are working hard to update the Indonesian version of our website and build up the English version. If you would like to help us with translations or write a contribution for our website, please email [email protected] (guidelines available here).