As COVID-19 continues to spread across the archipelago let’s take a while to record a few of the many initiatives undertaken to help curb the virus and to help fellow citizens survive. Particularly among women, personal initiatives are as valuable as collective ones, in responding to women’s specific vulnerabilities.
Their actions remind us of May 1998, 22 years ago, the terrifying period of violence ahead of Soeharto’s downfall, when women were on the frontline among volunteers to save lives, pushing state responsibility for scores of deaths, gang rapes and destruction, and collaborating on a massive scale across all society segments, only on the basis of solidarity.
The following are some of the important initiatives of the women’s movement since the pandemic spread to Indonesia:
1. Encouraging state responsibility. Among other measures, women have urged the availability of segregated data in the figures of confirmed cases. Women have also urged inclusion of gender sensitivity and analysis in policies and involvement of women’s institutions from national down to village level.
The national COVID-19 task force includes around 160 members from government and women civil society organizations (CSOs) that help gender mainstreaming of measures and policies on the pandemic. Women groups have also reminded the state to prioritize vulnerable groups, such as inmates in overcrowded prisons, migrants, domestic workers, people with disabilities and HIV.
They have also urged for more effective and inclusive services for victims of gender-based violence, and to ensure accessible information for vulnerable groups including those living in shelters as a result of disasters and the disabled, as city-centric modes of information and mere posters are not enough.
2. Strengthening knowledge and working based on data. Various women’s organizations are collecting data on problems faced by women, including through webinars about COVID- 19, sharing information to prevent infection, channeling economic opportunities, seeking out and disseminating scientific information through simple and informative visuals, to counter various hoaxes related to the virus, including to communities with limited access to verified information.
3. Fundraising efforts have been unique and creative. Online auctions included that by Ienas Tsuroiya, which featured valuable objects of religious leaders and family items. Famous television host Najwa Shihab raised Rp 10 billion (US$672,945) through an online charity concert.
Other organizations such as PERUATI (Alliance of Theology Educated Women) and several faith-based organizations have also mobilized fundraising for affected communities. Libu Perempuan Palu in Central Sulawesi supports displaced people from disasters in the province. A women-led philanthropic institution of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN Jakarta) has generated significant funds to support students whose parents suddenly could no longer send them money.
4. Life saving and caring measures. Women have donated their cloth collections, whether weaving, batik and patches for the “masks for all” movement, to be distributed to relatively neglected people such as inmates, people on remote islands, border areas and for fundraising to support health workers. This initiative includes the Empu group in collaboration with individuals and organizations from Jember in East Java, Maluku, Aceh, North Sumatra, East Nusa Tenggara, etc.
Such groups have also organized jamu (herbal medicine) sellers, who are mostly women, to spread information among them on maintaining strict protocol to avoid infection by the coronavirus, by maintaining hygiene and keeping a safe distance while selling their drinks, currently in high demand to boost immunity against the virus. Other initiatives are free distribution of hand sanitizer, vitamins, juices and herbs for the poor and other vulnerable groups, as these items have become scarce and costly.
5. Strengthening food sovereignty and eco-sustainability. Women have been quick to call out excessive panic buying as an effort to ensure food supplies for all since the virus outbreak. Women are also actively spreading information and encouragement on urban farming in people’s plots, however small. These include Anis Hidayah of Migrant Care and Nyai Nissa Wargadipura, leader of an Islamic boarding school or pesantren which emphasizes preserving the ecology in Garut, West Java, and which has shared seeds in a bid for food sustainability to several areas.
Women have also initiated tutorials on organic plants, to help ensure availability of vegetables, and as part of efforts to help nature recover as they believe the earth is taking a “breather” during the lockdown. Free or low cost food is also being provided to ensure nutrition to balance out food aid, which largely includes unhealthy instant noodles and canned food.
6. Support for COVID-19 positive persons. Uproar followed the government announcement of the two initial confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, thereby violating the privacy of the women patients, their families and communities. Women activists spoke out to stop stigmatization, restore the patients’ dignity, stimulate empathy, while condemning media victimization and trampling of privacy.
Amid many cases of health workers being rejected, including nurses and people suspected of being infected, or those who must self-isolate after testing positive for the virus, women have provided food for such individuals and families, apart from arranging for the care of young children when their parents are in isolation or medical treatment.
7. Spirituality and care for well-being. Among the roles of faith-based groups, women ulema such as those from Alimat, the Congress of Indonesian Women Ulema (KUPI) and young ulema of the women’s wings of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, the nation’s biggest Islamic organizations, have delivered informative and inspiring religious lectures. For example about building healthy relationships and preventing domestic violence, about reproductive health and devotion to parents by not returning home even for the Idul Fitri family gatherings to prevent transmission of the virus, etc.
Through wellness programs women are also sharing activities of art or relaxation to survive a lockdown atmosphere. Sharing recipes aims to conserve traditional recipes and reduce dependency on instant ingredients while spreading the message that both men and women can cook. Organizations such as the Pulih Foundation also deal with psychiatric disorders in crisis situations like this.
8. Neighborhood care. Individual gestures and small-scale collective actions have included placing vegetables and even cooked food in front of one’s house for passers-by in need, deliberately shopping from local vendors to help them survive, caring for neighbors with disabilities, the elderly and transgender people, many of whom are poor.
Many other initiatives need to be documented to capture the unique contributions across the archipelago during this unprecedented crisis.
It is this inclusiveness of the women’s movement, based only on solidarity, that helps save Indonesia from all threats of friction. After all no one, from whatever group, is safe from COVID-19.
Human rights activist, former member of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.