Women in Indonesia’s Peace Villages play a key role in ensuring social cohesion in COVID-19 prevention and response


Author: Pomi Moges

Members of the women’s task force in Jetis, a Peace Village in Central Java, Indonesia, pose for a photo on 29 May, 2020. They have volunteered to distribute relief aid to women in the village affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Wahid Foundation

Jakarta, Indonesia — The people of the 10 Peace Villages in Indonesia’s Java island were already living vulnerable lives in a region of long-standing risks of intolerance that undermine social cohesion. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and exacerbated the risks.

Fortunately, women in the villages have joined together to lend a helping hand to their neighbours.

This women’s activism has risen naturally from the Peace Villages system developed in 2017 by UN Women and the Indonesian non-governmental organization Wahid Foundation. Villages across Java declared themselves Peace Villages after committing to prevent violence and promote tolerance and giving women leading roles in the effort.

As the Government of Indonesia imposed large-scale social restrictions in areas with high coronavirus infection rates, many of the women among the Peace Villages’ 90,000-plus inhabitants have lost jobs or part of their incomes.

“Women struggled to meet their basic needs, including food,” said Jamshed Kazi, UN Women Indonesia Representative.

UN Women has been strengthening community cohesion in the Peace Villages through its GUYUB Project, jointly implemented with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and United Nations Development Programme. (Guyub in Indonesian means “getting along” or “in togetherness”.) The project now has shifted to giving priority to strengthening COVID-19 prevention and response.

Members of the women’s group, including Siti Julaikha (third from left), show the food packages they are handing over to women affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Sidomulyo, a Peace Village in East Java, Indonesia. At far left is the village head. This photo was taken on 2 June, 2020. Photo courtesy of Wahid Foundation

Together with Wahid Foundation, UN Women recently donated 1,088 food and hygiene packages to members of women’s cooperatives who had participated in Peace Village projects. They focused on women who lacked bank accounts, had their social security payments delayed, or had difficulties getting government aid. The two agencies also helped the local governments with business recovery, community clean-up, and coronavirus contact tracing.

Mardiyah, 32, a single mother of three in Panggulan village, West Java, had been selling home-made empek-empek (Indonesian fish cake) at the school before the pandemic forced it shut.

“COVID-19 has affected my life so badly and I’m afraid I won’t be able to provide for my children,” she said. “The food packages from Wahid Foundation and UN Women have greatly helped me fulfill my daily needs.”

To ensure the packages reached residents despite the restrictions on movement, women-led task forces in the Peace Villages coordinated delivery and made sure health protocols were followed. They used the former village food banks as storage, packaging and distribution centres.

“The residents are thankful for the food packages as many of shops and markets are closed,” said Siti Yulaikha, a member of the task force in Sidomulyo village, East Java. “They also use the hygiene kits, such as disinfectant and soap, not only at home, but at public spaces such as the village security post.”

Members of the women’s task force in the Peace Village of Sidomulyo, in East Java, Indonesia, take a group photo on 5 June, 2020 after showing residents how to guard against coronavirus infections. Photo courtesy of Wahid Foundation

Yulaikha said women in the village ran home-based businesses and small food stalls, but orders fell after the pandemic hit, and while food stalls remained open, “there were almost no customers”. So with the help of the task force, the villagers made use of the entrepreneurship training they had received from UN Women/Wahid Foundation and sold their products and takeaway food via WhatsApp, she said.

“These efforts have helped them with vital, sustained income during the pandemic,” Yulaikha said.

Several Peace Villages also formed women-led task forces to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 and protect the community. Task force members encouraged fellow villagers to adopt health protocols, disinfected public spaces, and made masks for the community.

During the start of the Peace Villages project, Candirenggo village in East Java established Cantrik Gallery as a meeting place for building women’s groups and businesses. A women-led task force now runs it as a COVID-19 contact tracing and health check centre, and is installing handwashing stations in front of houses and at crossroads and other public places.