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PEKKA Got Talent: Women-Headed Household Empowerment in Indonesia

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Varsha Srinivasan
July 8, 2021

In Indonesia, PEKKA, a women’s organization focused on household role empowerment, is trying to shift the perception of gender roles at a societal level. Indonesia’s cultural context has given widowed and abandoned women a negative reputation, which PEKKA is challenging through structural change. This has involved re-assessing current values and traditions to better understand the social, political, economic and cultural facets of domestic governance. While PEKKA has spurred a nationwide movement, it is still a separate entity from the Indonesian government, and as such, the movement itself has been categorized as one of grassroots nature.

PEKKA is made up of numerous constituent groups representing different Indonesian villages and provinces. Associations allow for public participation at the local level, but cooperatives provide a space for smaller groups to engage in sub-district-specific initiatives. In both types of structures, leaders are elected through a democratic process. There are monthly forum meetings, in which members from both cooperatives and associations collaborate to establish agendas to implement actions and activities based on the discussed problems and opportunities. They also discuss the financial side of the issues at hand, specifically focusing on district-level concerns. Due to the recent decentralization of the Indonesian government, PEKKA associations and cooperatives have more power to develop and fund these programs. Additionally, the collaboration between various PEKKA organizations provides increased opportunity for productive dialogue and mutual exchange of ideas.

Given PEKKA’s direct involvement with issues prevalent in female communities, the organization is able to better integrate its representatives with government officials. Each individual group meeting follows a similar format to the large group setting: members develop agendas, elect leaders and have conversations around issues of concern. The leadership structure includes an advisory board put in place specifically to address any internal conflicts that cannot be resolved amongst the group leaders and cooperative managers. The supervisory boards provide neutral intervention for the decisionmaking processes, including financial audits. These processes include: applying for loans, managing the PEKKA Mart to sustain internal production through profits and lobbying/advocacy efforts. Groups are expected to contribute to the voluntary savings account if they want to take out a loan. Another savings account for the principal is a compulsory component of membership. Given the internal and external limitations of economic development, PEKKA Mart and the combined funds of the principal and voluntary savings accounts provide groups with a consistent and sustainable pool of financial support, especially for members from underrepresented or low-income backgrounds. Additionally, the longevity of the savings process allows PEKKA to fund themselves rather than seek governmental support. This financial stability promotes women’s upward mobility, giving them more opportunities for empowerment and self-sufficiency.

The PEKKA Mart allows for ease of good transfer within member communities; product prices vary depending on the regional market. As such, women are able to access goods not normally available from corporate markets. Because its profits benefit all community members, PEKKA Mart can distribute the wealth amongst its constituents through a collective social fund. Flexible payment terms also make the process of taking out a loan less daunting because it is interest-free and loans can be paid back in installments. Additionally, purchasing products from the PEKKA Mart allows women to make a bulk monthly purchase, limiting transportation costs. Women also are able to put their own products on the PEKKA market, providing them a platform to secure consistent income as part of their livelihood. Finally, if there are products on the PEKKA market that cannot be purchased from other vendors, PEKKA Mart can advertise and make sales to non-members. This extra source of purchasing power further increases PEKKA’s overall profits, providing more financial security for members. Overall, the inclusive trade system PEKKA Mart has implemented is more likely to encourage women, especially members, to contribute to their community’s trade infrastructure, providing more legitimacy and authority in society. Through lobbying and advocacy efforts, PEKKA has been able to educate members on how to access what they need to ensure their business flourishes, including machinery for increased productivity, skill-specific trainings, domestic economic improvements, challenging business norms and through focusing on micro-level investments to enhance PEKKA Mart’s customer base.

Because women have been able to profit from their products, PEKKA’s initiative has given at least 50% of participants surveyed some type of upward economic mobility. While some women produced less lucrative goods than others, PEKKA Mart’s trade system has allowed them to enhance the quality and quantity of their products and establish themselves as business owners. While PEKKA Mart is still establishing their trade market, this initiative has provided more visibility for them as an organization, especially given the negative societal perceptions of women. Increased lobbying and advocacy efforts also have allowed female business owners to be more aware of and engaged in new opportunities that have expanded their economic networks. Additionally, leaders are expected to engage in developmental workshops continuously to improve their abilities to engage in democratic processes and be effective entrepreneurs. These opportunities have encouraged women in Indonesia to have active roles in the decisionmaking process through their leadership experiences. Women are visible actors in a capacity they were not afforded previously.

One of the biggest constraints in this study is that PEKKA only represents its members. Those who are not involved in the decisionmaking process are not included in this study. Additionally, legal and cultural norms have made it difficult for women to engage in the participatory processes. Trust within PEKKA and its structural challenges are still being addressed, especially with respect to managing loans.

Overall, PEKKA’s partnerships with local women have contradicted Indonesia’s preconceived notions of gender roles to the extent that they are trying to incorporate tourism. While there have been challenges, the movement is changing society’s perception of women.

To learn more about this case, visit https://participedia.net/case/6736. To read about other innovative applications of public participation, visit www.participedia.net.


Author: Varsha Srinivasan is a foreign language area studies fellow pursuing a dual MPA and IR degree at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as they relate to multicultural education and cultural sensitivity, specifically in relation to immigrant diasporas in the United States. Her previous experiences include serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Colombia from 2019-2020 and teaching 7th grade science through Teach for America in the Las Vegas Valley from 2017-2019. She received a BS and BA from Emory University in May 2017 and an MA from the University of Nevada – Las Vegas in May 2019. She can be reached at [email protected].

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