Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
Originally in Bahasa on Perempuan Memimpin
My name is Lita. I am currently working at JALA PRT, where I have worked since 2004. JALA stands for Jaringan Nasional Advokasi Pekerja Rumah Tangga (National Advocacy Network of Domestic Workers). We make several advocacy efforts to support the Law of Domestic Workers’ Protection. Besides that, we also have a community organisation of housemaids through the Sekolah PRT (schools for housemaids). We do advocacy work for housmaids; the issues they face are really complex, involving gender bias, class bias, feudalism, issues of trust--everything blends in here.
My friends and I started the cause in 1989, when we were still university students back in Yogyakarta. We had discussions on women’s issues and feminism. In 1989, we established a forum called Forum Diskusi Perempuan Yogya (FDPY)/ Yogya Women’s Discussion Forum. In 1989, when we were discussing about women’s issues, female labors and human rights, we heard about a case of housemaid abuse from Ngawi. The housemaid, named Kamiyatun, worked in Gresik. This case made us ponder; we were deeply touched by it, and realized it was a big issue. But it seemed that not many people were interested in it.
Housemaids have encountered various forms of human rights abuse and violence, which is why FDPY was created—to carry out advocacy actions on their behalf. We attempt to explore the issues facing female housemaids that are based on injustice against women and relegate them to the status of a second-class worker. Our efforts aim to achieve recognition and appreciation of women’s work.
When we started our causes, housemaids’ issues were not as popular as they are now. So we decided to spread awareness on them, and of all the challenges and problems within them. These challenges were present even among our families and friends, and we brought them up there as well. We then implemented several activities in collaboration with a number of universities in Yogyakarta that supported our research.
We have experienced pressure because we made a calendar of Tanang Toraya, and we changed the cause’s name into RUMPUN, Forum Perempuan Cut Nyak Dien.
In 1994, we started organising housemaids’ fellows at their residence in Gunung Kidul. In 1998, we also organised housemaids in Yogyakarta. Yogya became the first area where we intervened on housemaids’ issues. We then realized that we need to have a regulation in place that protects housemaids, and through successful advocacy, managed to bring about a local regulation named PRT DIY. We asked friends and others to join in the cause to raise awareness; there were not too many people paying attention to this cause. It wasn’t like other labor issues in Indonesia that can easily bring people together. In housemaids issues, we have to advocate from door to door which requires time and care. In addition, we have to continue spereading awareness about these issues so others can come together and do semething about it.
In 2004, we established JALA PRT and we proposed the regulation on PRT (housemaids) to the legislative institution. We proposed this institution in 2004, and it has still not been passed.
What did you learn from that process?
Yes, (I learned that) when we lead, we are not just one move or step. Every single of us is the production of an organization with the same ideology and perspective that we struggle for. We work on translating this ideology with every step and every activity. Becoming a leader is not only about how to coordinate our movement, but also about how we interpret our ideology into supporting justice for women, for example. Our ideology becomes our perspective, and we have to ensure that whoever joins, embraces the ideology and implements it into housemaids’ issues.
If we talk about leadership, we should ensure sustainability of ideas to other friends. This would in turn ensure that more people will continue to work on what we have started. This is not easy. Being a leader does not mean telling people what to do, but to ensure the vision and mission is implemented. A leader should undertake intensive discussions. When we work on housemaid’s issues, we are facing ourselves, our circumstances, those around us, and the decision makers, and we need to make sure a public interest emerges from it. Take for example our struggle to advocate the regulation—it has been running for 10 years. But we have to convince ourselves that it will be achieved. When we struggle for the regulation we have to be aware what is the regulation like. And we have to ensure that our friends understand the content of that regulation. The skills that we need to achieve our goals are not only limited to working capabilities but also to solid commitment.
In the capacity of a leader, we should learn that when we ask people to join, we have to listen to them first. We need to listen to their views, and see how we can synergize together and how we can assist each other as a team, and fight side-by-side.
Now, when we struggle for something such as the housemaids’ issues, we should build a movement based on the problems they face, what their interest is, and how we can make them move on to take a lead. The challenge is how to build trust to move forward, as they encounter so many issues from their families and work and the situation is very complex. How we explore each issue one-by-one is a real challenge.
Another challenge is how to make them aware that when they fight for others, they are actually also fighting for their own sake. Everyone becomes a leader for him/herself, meaning that they are struggling for their authority. She/he has to have the capacity to bargain with family, circumstance, employer, husband, partner and alike. So when we talk about our vision, the struggle is for her/his own authority first.
The major challenge is in the authority, because they have to appear as leaders for themselves and others. I learned from my friends that when they started their involvement in the organization they had to face many challenges. For example, employers may give housemaids sudden orders/tasks, intimidate them and so on, thus preventing them from having enough authority and agency to fully participate in the organization.
In fact the employers say things like, “you are a housemaid, what can you do…”—that kind of intimidation. But I am impressed with the spirit of the maids. I’ve learned from their motivation. It really, really means something for them when they go out of the house to participate in organizational activities.
On that note, it is not only about experiences, but also the journey of my friends (the housemaids) in their struggle for gaining access despite all the risks they face. They have to leave families, husbands and even jobs, while having very limited resources. I have matured after hearing from my friends’ experiences.
When we talk about leadership, we have to realize that it is a movement, and it will never stop. The struggle will always be needed and will sustain itself in time and space. The movement is about sustainability, and ensuring more people spread the ideology and consider it as a need in their lives. When it becomes about needs, the call will continue, and we should continue to build dialogue to solve difficulties. How do we work for sustainability? We should start from our friends--we can call them cadre, but I prefer calling them friends, because ‘cadre’ sounds like they are still learning. I also learn from new people; it is not only new people that should learn from the senior ones.
Sustainability comes from people in the same team; when we feel like we are becoming part of an ideology, it is a pleasure to listen, speak, and take steps forward.
So this is the call of your heart?
Yes. If my friends also consider it the call of their hearts, there will be no difference between me and them. It’s not simply a job that needs to be a done, but an ideology that needs to be continually pursued. That’s passion.