Creating space for disabled women in Indonesia

January 25, 2017

In Indonesia, there are still many barriers that keep women from entering the work force and only an estimated 50% of Indonesian women are currently engaged in the labour force. The challenges are even greater for women with disabilities.

Issues of discrimination and accessibility prevent women with disabilities from receiving an education or entering into the workforce. As a consequence, these women face greater poverty and exclusion.

“I have had trouble finding a job. Before, I was married, which provided financial security, but my husband left me, so I am a single parent now,” explains a woman named Widyani, who developed problems with her legs after contracting polio as a child.

Indonesian Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy

“When I am with the community, I learn skills like tailoring and crafts, so now I can make an everyday living.” explains Widyani.

The Indonesian Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy (KPI) is working to improve conditions for all women in Indonesian society, including women with disabilities. KPI was one of the first women’s movements to emerge after the end of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998. Today, it is considered the largest civil society organization working for equality between women and men in Indonesia.

This democratic movement has around 38,000 members across the country and it is present in 900 villages and communities. It organizes women’s forums at the local level so that together women can learn about their rights, discuss their problems and act collectively to call for public policies that strengthen women’s equality in society and encourage women in leadership roles.

With new legislation on disabilities being discussed by the government in 2015, KPI wanted to ensure that consultations with women were included. It began to organize women with disabilities around their specific struggles so that they could be empowered to dismantle the obstacles they face, such as access to education, employment, decent housing and transportation.

A group was formed in the Jati-Negara neighbourhood of Jakarta and the women quickly began to organize crafting circles as a way to help generate an income by selling the crafts they make.

“I joined the women’s forum to improve my skills. When I am with the group, I learn skills like tailoring, which can help me earn an everyday living,” says Widyani.

The other women in the group are also seeing benefits. For Sumiyati, who suffered a childhood accident that diminished the capacity in her legs, it has meant breaking the social isolation she experiences as a woman with a disability. “The activities with the group are not just in one place, so I get to go to other communities. I don’t just stay at home and get bored,” she says.

For Anita, another member of the group, it is ultimately about the solidarity the women share. “Thank God, for the women’s forum because I get some experience and skills. And I see it’s not just me who has a disability. There are others who are worse off than me but they still have the spirit to live their lives, so why should I give up on my life? I have to keep my spirit up!”

Thanks to your donations women like Widyani and Sumiyati are living better lives and overcoming poverty.