Peace Villages form women-led taskforce to fight food insecurity during COVID-19

Date: Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Author: Pomi Moges

Women at Peace Village in Jetis, Central Java. Women’s groups' members have been taking central roles as community volunteers in stepping up to stop the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Wahid Foundation.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s livelihood everywhere, the crisis has posed new challenges for community mobilizations and the distribution of humanitarian aid. Simply put, the crisis has exacerbated living conditions for people who were in vulnerable positions before the outbreak.

As a result of the pandemic, the residents of the Peace Villages, a women-led initiative to promote peaceful and resilient communities that was conceived by UN Women and the Indonesian NGO Wahid Foundation, have lost their jobs and seen a rise in food insecurity.

Indonesia does not impose a nationwide lockdown. However, the Government has been enacting large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) in several areas with high infection rates. As of July, 20 2020, Indonesia has recorded 88,214 COVID-19 cases with around >1,500 new cases almost every day.

To respond to these new challenges, UN Women through the GUYUB project, jointly implemented with UNODC and UNDP, are providing essential support to women in the Peace Villages. Guyub in Indonesian means “getting along” or ”in togetherness”. It’s a philosophy of living socially where you are connected with everyone in the community. To fight food insecurity, UN Women in partnership with the Wahid foundation distributed over 500 food and hygiene packages to families in 10 Peace Villages across Java, during the ongoing pandemic.

Distribution of life saving packages at Peace Village in Batu, East Java. Photo courtesy of Wahid Foundation.

In Indonesia, 37 million (64,5%) registered Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSME) were managed by women in 2018.  In addition, 47,14% of women above 15 years old are working in main job fields closely related to MSME sector such as retail, restaurants, hospitality, industry and manufacturing.  These sectors have been hit hard by the pandemic. “With social distancing measures in place, many women suffered total losses in their income, while others were left without jobs. As a result, women struggled to meet their basic needs, including food,” said Jamshed Kazi, UN Women Indonesia Representative and Liaison to ASEAN. “To mitigate the inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19, UN Women with our partner Wahid Foundation have prioritized our efforts in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 as well as socio-economic recovery. After the consultations conducted with the women’s collectives and considering the socio-economic realities of the villages, we decided to distribute food packages and support in business recovery. The distributions are being made via the women’s cooperatives in each of the 10 villages based on need.”

Mardiyah, a mother of three from Panggulan village earns money from selling homemade empek-empek (Indonesian fish cake) and distributes it to the school canteen, boarding school, and food stall. When the school closed because of COVID-19, there was a drastic drop in sales which led to a decrease in household income. “As a single parent, I am the sole income earner in the family. COVID-19 has affected my life so badly and I’m afraid I won’t be able to provide for my children. The food packages from Wahid Foundation and UN Women have greatly helped me fulfilling my daily needs.”

In order to ensure delivery of the life saving packages during restrictions on travel and movement, a women-led task force in the peace villages led coordination and worked to ensure the implementation of health protocols.

The food security task force made use of a facility previously used as a food bank in the villages, the food security task force was able to distribute food packages to the worst impacted residents. 

“Large-scale social restrictions that were imposed in our city created a challenge for us to speed up the process to buy, prepare and distribute food packages and hygiene kits. Although our movement was limited, we managed to distribute the packages to the impacted residents. The residents are thankful for the food packages as many of shops and markets are closed. 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,” said Siti Yulaikha, Task Force Member from Sidomulyo, Batu City, East Java.

Women cadre in the peace village at Batu, East Java. Photo courtesy of Wahid Foundation.

Several Peace Villages assisted by the Wahid Foundation, also formed women-led task forces to reduce the impact of COVID-19 and protect the community. Task force members took roles ranging from the socialization of the health protocol, cleaning up of several public spaces with disinfectants, and producing and distributing masks to the community. The COVID-19 task forces also banded together to create WhatsApp collectives as a means of sharing information, and as an online marketplace to boost sales lost due to closed markets. 

“Women in the village rely on earnings from home-based business and small food stalls. After the pandemic hit, orders from customers were decreasing and although food stalls remained open, there were almost no customers. To ensure that money keeps flowing in, they recalled the entrepreneurship training they received and started to sell their products via WhatsApp. Food stall owners utilized WhatsApp to arrange takeaway food orders and home delivery. These efforts have helped them with vital, sustained income during the pandemic,” said Siti Yulaikha, Task Force Member from Sidomulyo, Kota Batu.

During the initial phase of the Peace Villages project, the Candirenggo region established the Cantrik Gallery as a meeting place for women to discuss and build Women’s groups and businesses. Now, Galeri Cantrik has been repurposed to become a COVID-19 prevention center for the Candirenggo region.  Run by the women-led task force, the former Galeri Cantrik now operates as a center for village data collection team for contact tracing and health checks. As an additional prevention measure, the task force members are currently in the process of installing hand washing stations in public places, including in front of houses and crossroads.

In the face of the many challenges brought about by COVID-19 pandemic, the many ways in which the women of the peace villages have banned together to support their neighbors through the unforeseen changes brings hope to all.