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Maju Bersama, Pioneering Rural Women Participation in Forest Conservation

Coordinator of Forest Ecosystem Controllers in Region III of the Kerinci Seblat National Park agency, Emi Hayati Danis trains the Maju Bersama women for environment group (KPPL) to calculate the potential of ginger torch plants in the national park area. Source: Dedek Hendry.

April 28, 2020

By Dedek Hendry

Rejang Lebong, BENGKULU. Rita Wati (51), Purwani (48) and Feni Oktaviana (22), sat in the shade under a canopy of trees after conducting a patrol in an area of the Kerinci Seblat National Park (TNKS). The three women from Pal VIII village in the Bengkulu district of Rejang Lebong, were resting, enjoying the light breeze and the chirping of birds. The sound of insects could also be heard in the background.

“This is one of our routine group activities,” said Rita who chairs the “Maju Bersama”, a women’s group for the environment, or locally known as KPPL, of Pal VIII village. The Maju Bersama KPPL conducts such patrols at least once a month, patrols that help to prevent illegal logging, land grabbing or any other activities that could damage forest areas in the TNKS. “Forests are sources of life, livelihood and knowledge for women, therefore, the forest should be protected,” said Wati.

Besides patrolling, the Maju Bersama KPPL also provides public education about the national park, area restoration and the utilisation of the Kecombrang plant (Etlingera elatior or ginger torch) and ferns (Diplazium esculentum), within a 10-hectare plot of the forest.

These activities were made possible following the signing of a conservation partnership, between Maju Bersama and TNKS, on  March 5, 2019. This partnership agreement made the Maju Bersama KPPL the first women’s group in Indonesia to successfully fight for the rights to participate in forest conservation.

Maju Bersama women’s group with representative of TNKS agency in Rejang Lebong and representatives of farmers group after participatory mapping in the Kerinci Seblat National Park area on 18 April 2018. Source: Dedek Hendry.

 

The head of the management department of the Region III National Park of the TNKS agency for Bengkulu and South Sumatra, Muhammad Zainuddin, said that the recognition of women’s rights to participate in the conservation of the TNKS was in line with the change in paradigm on the management of conservation areas, encouraged by the Director General for the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Wiratno.

“The management of conservation areas is now much different that it was in the past. The society is now positioned as managers and the management has to respect human rights, including those of women. On the other hand, why do we really support the initiative of the Maju Bersama KPPL in participating in the conservation of the TNKS? As was one expressed by the head of the TNKS Agency, this could become a precedent for other places to follow,” Zainuddin said at his office in Curup, Rejang Lebong.

The fight for women’s rights

TNKS is one of the largest national parks in Indonesia, covering 1,389,510 hectares across four provinces — Bengkulu, Jambi, West Sumatera and South Sumatera. In Bengkulu alone, the park covers 348,841 hectares that straddle across 105 villages in four districts — Rejang Lebong, Lebong, Bengkulu Utara and Mukomuko.

Official data show that in the Rejang Lebong district, the TNKS covers 26 villages which have a population of 41,154 people – 20,881 men and 20,273 women, almost half of the total population.

In 2003, the TNKS was declared as an ASEAN Heritage Park and on July 7, the following year, along with the Leuser Mountain National Park and the Bukit Barisan National Park, TNKS was designated by UNESCO as a Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (TRHS) which is part of the World Heritage Sites. In June 2011, however, the TRHS made it into the list of endangered parks.

One of the driving forces behind that was the low level of public concern to conserve the TNKS. A research by Edi Purwanto entitled “Anti-encroachment Strategies in the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra: Towards a New Paradigm”, showed that up until 2014, a total of 130,322 hectares of forests within the TNKS had been logged out.

One of the Maju Bersama members, Feni Oktaviana said, besides being home to a variety of food and medicinal plants, forests also functioned as a provider of water, maintain climate stability and soil fertility, and provide a habitat for pollinating animals, Octaviana added that these functions were really important for agriculture outside of the forest areas.

If the forests are damaged, there would be a multiple negative impact on women, especially farmers. “If there is a water shortage, the soil will dry up, harvest declines or can even fail,” Octaviana said.

Feni Oktaviana standing on partnership area of the Kerinci Seblat National Park. Source: Dedek Hendry.

 

At the end of May 2017, Wati said that her organization met with representatives of women from other villages in and around the TNKS to discuss the impacts of pressure on the TNKS on women.

The meeting that included discussions and training, was facilitated by The Institute for Studies, Advocacy and Education (Lembaga Kajian, Advokasi dan Edukasi/Lives) saw the women exchange information on the variety of impacts experienced by women in the village in and around the TNKS who are predominantly farmers. These impacts are related to women’s body, their domestic, production, and social roles.

Difficulties in accessing clean water, for example, would impact on how they can clean themselves, wash their cloths and cook during the dry seasons. Other impacts include increasing pest and plant diseases as well as the appearance of new pests and diseases, and declining soil fertility.

Planting seasons for rice and other crops are also affected, agriculture yields become uncertain, the risks of harvest failure are on the rise, and activities such as farming, processing harvest products, working as hired labor and social activities are also disrupted.

The women also discussed rights on their environment and forests, and it was during this discussion that they became aware of the rights women have to participate in the conservation of forests areas.

“After that training, we took the initiative of establishing a group to fight for the rights to participate in the conservation of the TNKS,” Wati said, adding that the Maju Bersama KPPL was established on July 9, 2017 with a membership of 20 people.

 

Positive impact

Their success in fighting for their rights to participate in the conservation of forest areas has since resulted in a number of positive impacts. They could not only build their own businesses but also had the opportunity to develop their capacity, influence policies and participate in a number of decision making. In relations to their capacity building, they have often been invited by many to take part in a number of activities, local and national, as participant or a resource person.

On November 27, 2019, for example, they were invited by The Asia Foundation to become one of their resources during a talk show on ‘The Role of Women in Social Forestry on the way to Food Resilience’, in Jakarta. “We were asked to share our experience to the other participants who had come from various provinces, Purwani said.

At the same time, another member of Maju Bersama KPPL, Lisnawati took part in the establishment of the Indonesia Social Forestry Manager Association (AP2SI) that was facilitated by the Indonesian Forum for Environment (WALHI).

Beni Ardiansyah, the Director of the Bengkulu Chapter of WALHI said that the involvement of Maju Bersama KPPL in the establishment of the AP2SI was based on a number of reasons.

“First, they are the first rural women group to obtain access to the management of forest areas in Indonesia. Second, the forest area that they are managing is a conservation forest area. And third, they are not local residents that previously worked in land that is part of the TNKS, but are villagers who took the initiative to get involved in the conservation of the TNKS area and the utilisation of the potentials (non-timber products) in the TNKS areas,” Ardiansyah said.

They were also often invited by the TNKS agency to take part in numerous activities, including strategic meetings such as for the Formulation of the Long-Term Management Plan for the Kerinci Seblat National Park for 2020-2030 for Bengkulu, West Sumatra and Jambi that was held in 2019.

“We were the only one invited to represent women’s groups. Because we represented women, of course we voice women’s interests,” Purwani said.

Zainuddin said that the Maju Bersama KPPL has contributed in changing the perception of the public on the TNKS. “Previously, if they were invited to a meeting, only a few (people) came. They were afraid. When asked about the TNKS, what most people knew was that the TNKS is a forbidden zone. Just entering the TNKS can lead to arrests,” Zainuddin said.

Now, things are different. “The fear has dissipated. It became easier for us to communicate with communities. This condition is one of the results of the activities of these women (the Maju Bersama KPPL) who often share their story that they are our partner. Partner in efforts to conserve the TNKS and the exploitation of the non-timber products of the TNKS.”

Zainuddin explained the establishment of Maju Bersama KPPL also has other positive impacts on TNKS. Within the scope of the management of conservation areas under the authority of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the TNKS is considered one step ahead. “In Indonesia, only the TNKS that is involving women groups in the management of conservation areas. And this could trigger other regions to also involve women groups,” Zainuddin said.

The partnership with the Maju Bersama KPPL also helped the TNKS agency in communicating with UNESCO, an institution which had declared the TNKS as part of the World Heritage Sites, in relations to the mandate that the management of world heritage sites should be gender equitable, and involve women.

“In a number of meetings of the management of world heritage sites where the head of the TNKS agency was present, the UNESCO always asked about the involvement of women. If previously it was always difficult for the head of the TNKS agency to come up with a response, now it is no longer the case,” Zainuddin said.

Role model

Women in other villages in and around the TNKS began to follow in the steps of the Maju Bersama KPPL. In Bengkulu province, women in four such villages took the initiative to form groups. Women in Tebat Tenong Luar village set up the Karya Mandiri KPPL, while those in the Karang Jaya and Sumber Bening villages formed the Sumber Jaya KPPL and women in Sambirejo village established the Karya Bersama KPPL.

Head of the Karya Mandiri KPPL, Eva Susanti admitted that the establishment of her organization was inspired by the Maju Bersama KPPL. They also wanted to participate in safeguarding the conservation of the TNKS forest in the Tebat Tenong Luar village, especially in preventing encroachment of the forest by humans. They also wanted to benefit from the potential of the Pepulut (Urena lobata) plants for their group business. “We also want to have the opportunity to build our capacity and influence policies such as what the Maju Bersama KPPL is doing,” Susanti said in her village.

The Karya Mandiri KPPL submitted a request to partner with the TNKS agency on December 28, 2019 and it has elicited a positive response. Susanti believed that the partnership established by the Maju Bersama KPPl with the TNKS agency has resulted in the positive response from the agency. “Many residents in our village could not yet believe that our request received such a response. Even more so because our group is a women’s group,” Susanti said.

Women in villages in and around the TNKS in other provinces have also been inspired to follow suit. “It has spread to Jambi province. In the future, we hope that many more women groups would take part in the conservation of the TNKS,” Zainuddin said.

“For example, the Karya Mandiri KPPL application which is already under process. They have submitted their proposal to partner with us. The proposed location has also already been surveyed. We will propose that the zoning of the proposed location be revised to become a traditional zone. Our hope is that this year, the cooperation agreement can be signed,” he added.

Muhammad Zainuddin facilitated the drafting of a cooperation agreement with the Maju Bersama women’s group in the meeting room at the TNKS Center in Rejang Lebong on December 20, 2018. Source: Dedek Hendry.

 

In line with the regulation of the Directorate General of the Conservation of Natural Resources and Ecosystems number 6 of 2018 on the technical instruction of conservation partnership in Nature Protection Areas and Conservation Areas, the location of conservation partnership in the framework of the empowering communities, should be in a traditional zone.

The area proposed for management by the Karya Mandiri KPPL is currently under a rehabilitation zone and needs to be revised. The partnership area with the Maju Bersama KPPL had been an in the exploitation zone and this was later revised to become a traditional zone.

Andi Misbahul Pratiwi and Abby Gina Boang-Manalu, both researchers with the Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan (Women’s Journal Foundation) said in their research published in 2019, that “women who initially deemed the TNKS as s scary entity, are now actively involved in forest conservation efforts.”

In their research publication entitled “Rural Women’s Agency on Forest and Land Governance in The Midst of Change: Case Study in Five Provinces “ the two said that, the Maju Bersama KPPL is well connected to the staff of the TNKS so that the women in the KPPL are involved in a number of activities and management planning for the TNKS. The women in the Maju Bersama KPPL has shown a change in forest management.

The researchers also said that the Maju Bersama KPPL “has become a role model for other villagers in relations to forest management”.

The development of science and knowledge

Siti Kusujiarti, a professor in sociology and women and gender studies at the Warren Wilson College in the United States, deemed that the Maju Bersama KPPL is an example where a women’s group expressed its position as an agent using local knowledge in conserving the environment.

“This group is an example of how women empower and organize themselves and succeeded in negotiating with various parties and obtain recognition from the state that they are an important element in conservation,” said Kusujiarti who is also Dean of the Sociology and Anthropology Faculty of the Warren Wilson College.

In an email interview, Kusujiarti said that there were a number of lesson that could be learned from the Maju Bersama KPPL in the development of science and knowledge and also women movements and the environment. It showed the importance of women as agents in conservation, in preventing the impacts of damage to the environment, the importance of recognizing local women wisdom linked to conservation, and the importance of the socio-cultural capital of women.

“The Maju Bersama KPPL has shown how they successfully managed to fight for their rights, using their socio-cultural capital,” Kusujiarti said.

Along with Titiek Kartika from Bengkulu University, Kusujiarti has published an article on the Maju Bersama KPPK entitled “Ginger Torch Flower (Unji): The Identity of Women’s Agency in The National Park”.

“The activism of the KPPL is one of the phenomena of Feminist Political Ecology (FPE),” wrote the two researchers.

Kusujiarti plans to continute to write about Maju Bersama, develops presentation materials, and write a book on the group. “I learned a lot from the Maju Bersama KPPL and I think this knowledge should be spread and be known. Not only by the society in general but also by academics, in the country or abroad,” said Kusujiarti who is also Deputy Executive Director of the Association of Indonesian International Scientists for the United States region.

This story is a special report highlighting women and the environment, in connection with the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020.

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