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Reality or just rhetoric?

Reality or just rhetoric?
Published: Jul 02, 2012

Nurul Ilmi Idrus

Mostly women attend a meeting at the Bureau for the Empowerment of Women and Family Planning
Koleksi Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Keluarga Berencana, Provinsi Sulawesi Selatan

The term ‘gender’ has become part of the every day vocabulary of Indonesian policy-makers. But most of them don’t really know what it means. When they talk about gender mainstreaming in development, they usually mean some kind of women’s empowerment initiative. As a result, gender mainstreaming tends to be thought of in terms of programs for women. This approach results in the establishment of separate programs or a dedicated component for women in a broader project. This ‘add women and stir’ method is a long-established one in the international development community, but one whose time is long gone.

The gender mainstreaming approach recognises that both women and men benefit from the systematic inclusion of a gender perspective in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development policies and programs. In theory, it is very different from women’s empowerment programs in terms of its scope, the actors involved, and its impact. In terms of its scope, the women’s empowerment programs of the past were very much at the periphery, while gender mainstreaming is positioned at the centre. In terms of actors, all bureaucrats at all levels and in all sectors have a responsibility to implement gender mainstreaming, whereas responsibility for women’s empowerment programs was assigned to particular levels of the bureaucracy in particular sectors.

In terms of impact, gender mainstreaming has the potential to create far deeper forms of change, precisely because it sits at the centre and not the periphery. But because gender mainstreaming is a strategy rather than a program, it cannot be separated from the practice of development. And so as long as bureaucrats continue to think that ‘gender’ means ‘women’, gender mainstreaming will remain little more than rhetoric.

From global to local

The idea of gender mainstreaming came out of the fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. Indonesia was one of the 189 countries that ratified the conference’s Platform of Action, which urged government and other development actors to actively pursue gender equality and adopt a gender perspective in all policies and programs.

A decade before, the Indonesian government had already taken an important step towards eliminating gender discrimination, in the form of Law No.7/1984. It was this law that underpinned Presidential Instruction No.9/2000, which instructed all government departments and agencies at the national, provincial and local level to adopt the principles of gender mainstreaming in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development policies and programs. This instruction, along with Law No.25/2000, provided the legal basis for the implementation of gender mainstreaming in Indonesia’s development programs.

The implementation of gender mainstreaming was anything but smooth. Initially, the Minister of Internal Affairs established a regulation (Kepmendagri No. 132/2003) that decreed that a minimum of 5 per cent of national and regional budget expenditure must be allocated to the implementation of gender mainstreaming. This did not work as expected, as different parts of the government applied for separate budgets for their gender mainstreaming programs. The regulation was replaced with another (Kepmendagri No. 15/2008), which required that governors ensure that their Community Empowerment section coordinated the implementation of gender mainstreaming, for example, by establishing working groups to promote and facilitate gender mainstreaming in different sectors.

In between, however, the government issued a transitional government plan (RPJMD Transition 2006-2008) which attached empowerment programs for women and children to a ‘quality of life’ development agenda, enough, it felt, to demonstrated that it had integrated gender into its development policies. This sidelining of gender mainstreaming has continued, with the current administration positioning gender mainstreaming as part of the agenda of ‘strengthening community institutions’ – in effect again equating them with women’s empowerment.

It is not surprising that the Ministry for Women’s Empowerment is responsible for the roll-out of gender mainstreaming at the national level. One of the key problems with the ongoing misunderstanding about the nature of gender is the assumption that gender mainstreaming should (like a women’s empowerment program) have a separate budget and be the responsibility of a particular department. So bureaucrats think they can tick the ‘gender mainstreaming’ box by getting their women’s empowerment department, section or bureau to organise some activities for women.

The South Sulawesi experience

At the provincial level, the Bureau for Welfare, Religion and Women’s Empowerment’s women’s empowerment section (which has since 2008 been known as the Bureau for the Empowerment of Women and Family Planning), located in Makassar, is responsible for building local capacity to support the implementation of gender mainstreaming. One of its biggest achievements was the passing of Gubernatorial Regulation No.62/2011on Integrating Gender Mainstreaming into Development Policies and Programs, which led to a number of initiatives, including the establishment of gender mainstreaming working groups at the provincial and district levels with the aim of encouraging each government sector to establish at least two programs that incorporate gender mainstreaming by 2013. In addition, a number of gender mainstreaming projects have been funded by international donors such as United Nations Development Program and the Canadian International Development Agency.

In practice, however, a lot of bureaucrats are taking short cuts. For example, a number of sectors claim to have integrated gender mainstreaming in their program, when in fact they have simply included women in their activities without any gender analysis. The annual development planning consultations (musrenbang), which are supposed to provide a forum for stakeholder input into developing planning, are a case in point. The process looks great on paper, but it’s really just a box-ticking exercise that has little impact on development planning. To make matters worse, the people who get invited to these consultations are public figures, religious figures, community leaders and sectoral representatives – groups that are all dominated by men. The women who do get to attend tend to be elite women associated with the family welfare organisation, PKK, who have no idea about the everyday concerns of the working class women they supposedly are there to represent.

Take agriculture, for example. The programs to be offered to farmers were supposedly ‘gender neutral’. But men and women do different kinds of farming work. Men usually are responsible for the preparation of fields and for planting, while women tend to process agricultural products. So when ‘gender neutral’ training is done on field preparation and planting, the participants it benefits are the men. These kinds of things get through the musrenbang process for two reasons. First, the elite women present have probably never even set foot in a field, let alone thought about the division of agricultural labour. In any case, even when they are given a chance to speak, what they say is pretty much ignored because there’s a general feeling still that it’s men who know best what women want and need.

The failure to consult the real stakeholders means that problems occur even when a gender analysis is employed. In another case, a program designed for mung bean farmers failed spectacularly because of its complete misreading of the needs of poor farmers. Instead of teaching women how to make bakpia, the primary ingredient of which is mung beans, they were to be taught how to make rempeyek, a fragrant cracker whose main ingredient is peanuts, which they were forced to buy. Meanwhile, the men were to be taught how to make their own fertiliser, which was totally impractical because of the costs of the fertiliser components.

A long way to go

The fact that there’s now a commitment to the gender mainstreaming agenda at the policy level is a move in the right direction. Previously, the absence of a strong commitment in the regions made it impossible to implement gender mainstreaming initiatives.

The commitment is now there, but on its own it’s not enough. As the South Sulawesi experience confirms, a commitment on paper may or may not lead to action. Even where it does, there is no guarantee that those tasked with implementing it actually understand – or have any commitment to – achieving real change.

The road ahead isn’t easy, but what’s needed is clear. We need to move beyond policy statements to ensure that bureaucrats have a deep understanding of the principles of gender mainstreaming and the techniques needed to achieve it. Without this ‘why and how’, there is little chance that development practice in Indonesia will ever achieve gender equality.

Nurul Ilmi Idrus ( teaches Anthropology at Hasanuddin University in Makassar.

Inside Indonesia 109: Jul-Sep 2012

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