As International Day of the Girl approaches, it got me thinking about how lucky we are. We don’t live in the same world that our grandmothers and mothers did, where choices for women were so limited.
And if you’re reading this blog, then you most likely grew up in a part of the world where you have basic civil rights. And yet, amazingly, we still live in a world where many women and girls are denied those rights.
Working as an international program officer for an organization like Oxfam, we acknowledge many days that aren’t marked on mainstream calendars. Last month was International Day of Democracy and this month is honouring girls – both play a part in putting a spotlight on women’s rights – now and in the future.
How? Let’s look at the way democracy plays out in a country like Indonesia. It’s important to point out that democracy does not only mean voting rights in a national election. A true democracy strives to achieve equality, opportunity and freedom in every aspect of life for every citizen.
Women shoulder the burden of many daily affairs in the villages of Indonesia, playing a crucial role in healthcare, agriculture, and the economy. However, they are often excluded from decision-making, including public budgeting, despite the official regulations. The result is that the use of public funds is often incompatible with the needs of women and ends up perpetuating their marginalization.
Let me draw the picture for you – in 2015 the national government of Indonesia created a $1.5 billion ’village fund’ to support development in small communities across the country. Ironically, even though one of the main objectives of the initiative is to decrease inequality, women and minorities are not having a say in how those funds are being allocated.
Women remain, to this day, largely excluded from decision-making about the allocation of funds and services important to women — including health and poverty reduction — which remain grossly underfunded. For example, care for expectant mothers and infants, is severely lacking, and as a result, Indonesia has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in Southeast Asia.
The law is there, stating clearly that village budget meetings require 30 per cent of women participation. Despite this mandate, the participation is as low as 4 per cent in some provinces.
To overcome this massive gap, Oxfam dug deep and asked – why aren’t women in the communities participating?
The law is on their side, but the predominantly patriarchal society is far from accepting. Growing up, women and girls are always taught topics like ‘budget’ are beyond their understanding and should be handled by the men. Despite having a law to support them, women never had the encouragement or even basic information to join the budget meetings in the first place.
That’s where Oxfam saw the gap and with funding from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), started the project Power Up in 2017. One of the objectives of the project is to eliminate the knowledge gap by using an e-learning platform to encourage and equip women and girls to voice their demands in their village’s budget meetings. The platform is interactive and video-based, which can be accessed on and offline and can be shared freely.
Meet the women who are helping the project put together its strategy