Two non-profit organisations work together to help women headed households break out of the poverty cycle
A Pekka member in Lombok tests out a solar-powered light bulb for the first time
About 9 million Indonesian households were headed by women in 2010. These households typically consist of up to six dependents and are poor, with many living below the poverty line. Female heads are between 20 to 60 years of age, and almost 40 per cent have never gone to school. These women are typically widows or have been abandoned by their husbands. With growing numbers of Indonesian men going abroad to work, some provinces have seen sharp increases in women headed households as migrant worker husbands start new families elsewhere and never return.
These Indonesian women, who are the sole providers for their families, face a range of discriminatory practices. To start with, female-headed households are not legally recognised under the 1974 Marriage Law, which states that men are heads of family. This makes it difficult for female heads to access government provisions for the poor, such as cash transfer schemes (Bantuan Langsung Tunai) or community health insurance (Jamkesmas). At the same time, expensive court fees stop women from accessing their own marriage or birth certificates, thereby preventing them from obtaining legal divorces or seeking any kind of compensation. The absence of mechanisms to assist female-headed households traps these marginalised women and their children in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Recognising these problems, Kopernik and Pekka, two not for profit organisations, formed a partnership in 2011 in an attempt to help more women heads of households escape poverty. The partnership focuses its efforts on women living in rural areas, where it assists female heads of households to adopt green technology and provides them with the opportunity to sell these technologies and earn commissions without taking on risk or debt. This additional income-earning activity enables the women who are involved to support their families with a more stable income and empowers them to become skilled businesswomen.
Kopernik and Pekka
Kopernik is an online marketplace of innovative technologies, including solar lights, water filters and fuel efficient cookstoves. The website connects companies that manufacture new environmental technologies with local organisations that can bring life-improving products to people living in poverty. All projects are funded by individual and corporate donors who ‘crowd- fund’ projects of their choice directly via Kopernik’s website. Crowd funding describes the collective cooperation of people who network and pool their money together, typically via the internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organisations. From the donations made by individuals and corporations through the crowd funding process on Kopernik’s website, Kopernik has implemented 43 projects in 11 countries, selling products to 75,000 people since starting in February 2010.
The Female Headed Household Empowerment Program (Pekka) is an Indonesian initiative that was developed in 2000 based on a recommendation by the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan). The program was established to document the lives of widows in conflict regions, especially Aceh. It has since evolved to a more comprehensive women’s empowerment program, effecting social change to strengthen the position of marginalised women. Pekka now works with poor women heads of households who have been abandoned by their husbands or who are widowed, divorced or unmarried; it also offers support to women who are married to a disabled husband. The program provides these women with vocational and technical training and a platform to set up micro loans and savings cooperatives.
Agents of technology, agents of change
Kopernik begins its involvement in each province by holding a technology fair to showcase its products, which range from solar powered LED lights to fuel-efficient biomass cookstoves to ceramic water filters to bicycle powered corn shellers. Most are locally manufactured in Indonesia – Kopernik aims to provide technologies that are locally made in the country where each project is located – and therefore can be made available at a relatively affordable cost. Since 2011, Kopernik has organised six technology fairs throughout West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara, two of Indonesia’s poorest provinces. Each time, hundreds of Pekka members were invited to attend, and many curious community members also turned up. After each technology fair, Pekka members deliberate on which products would most benefit households in the area. They then present to Kopernik the number of requests for each technology. The program officially starts when Kopernik places its first round of products based on these requests.
Pekka members can purchase the products to use in their homes. A payment plan option is available if they cannot afford to pay in full. They also have the opportunity to become ‘technology agents’ and sell the products locally to earn a commission. They can later repay Kopernik for the cost of the products, replenish their inventory, and pocket extra earnings. They do this without having to take on risk or debt, as they can receive technologies on consignment without accruing any interest for an indefinite amount of time. There have not yet been any instances in either province of women being unable to sell the products they have taken on.
A Pekka member enjoying her Nazava water purifier in her home in Kelubagolit
Kopernik also provides training on product knowledge, sales techniques and basic accounting for technology agents. This is to ensure the proper usage of the technologies is communicated to all end-users and equips the technology agents with business skills to help them succeed in their entrepreneurial endeavours. As agreed by members, and much to everyone’s delight, part of the commission also goes toward funding the Pekka women’s cooperatives. All funds that are returned to Kopernik are then used to purchase additional technology, thereby benefiting more people. This way, a single contribution from Kopernik’s website can effectively be recycled into many donations.
What’s in it for the women?
In a survey conducted by Columbia University students this year, most women who participate in the program said that they have acquired new skills since becoming technology agents, including sales and communication skills. Forty per cent of the women have seen their income rise, even though the program had only been operating for six months at the time of the survey. Those who had earned a commission from their sales used it toward household needs or children’s school fees and supplies. The survey also showed that the opportunity cost of becoming a technology agent is minor – most the women make their sales during their free time so the program does not interfere with other activities.
The anecdotes presented in the survey indicate that many women have been able to apply their new skills elsewhere and have gained greater self-confidence. One agent, who has seen an increase in her average monthly income of Rp.135,000 since she started as a technology agent, told the students that her husband left her in Lombok when he migrated to Malaysia ten years ago. He soon stopped sending remittances and stopped all communication. She said, ‘I heard that he made his own family there in Malaysia. I do not know if I am still married to him or divorced from him already, or even widowed… But in any case, I have to sustain my life all alone.’ She told the students that becoming a technology agent has not only enabled her to earn additional income, but that she feels ‘less lonely now as people in this village recognise me and talk to me’.
To date and ahead
Since the first distribution of products in September 2011, the members of Pekka’s West Nusa Tenggara branch have received over 600 biomass cookstoves and water purifiers on consignment, while those of the East Nusa Tenggara branch have received over 1200 items, including cookstoves, water purifiers and solar lights. Sales by members have been steady, except during the harvest season when most women spend their days in the fields and the market selling crops.
Both Kopernik and Pekka treat this partnership as a long-term cooperation that will produce ripple effect for women heads of households nationwide. The two organisations are already planning to replicate this program in two other Indonesian regions (Central Java and South Sulawesi) with the aim of giving even more women heads of households the opportunity and sense of empowerment that they deserve.
Cindy Nawilis (email@example.com) was born in Jakarta but spent the majority of her life in America. She studied International Relations at New York University and is now based in Bali where she is Project Officer at Kopernik.
The Kopernik website can be accessed at http://www.kopernik.info. More information about Pekka is available at http://www.pekka.co.id.