The economic and human rights of Papuan women are too often ignored
Alfonsa Jumkon Wayap
“We don’t want to be interviewed. You have interviewed us so many times with no result. Don’t keep on lying to us, just leave.”
Being a journalist in Papua for more than 10 years now, I have visited many regions from the mountain areas to the coastal town, as well as the province of Papua Barat. My reports are mainly focused on the economy and business, particularly in relation to women’s rights.
In this article I would like to draw attention to the discriminative and dehumanising treatment that Papuan women have experienced in market places (pasar) built by the government in Papua.
The stories I will tell are from two markets, Pasar Nare in Elelim the capital of Yalimo district, and Pasar Baru in Oksibil, the capital of Pegunungan Bintang district. In my experience, these markets represent the typical problems faced by Papuan women not just in the traditional market, but across society.
In 2019, in pursuit of a story about the Jokowi government’s much heralded project to build so-called ‘pasar mama-mama’, or traditional markets, I travelled from Jayapura to Wamena (capital of Kabupaten Jayawijaya). From Wamena I continued my travel to Elelim by road, which took me three hours. Since it was already dark when I arrived in Elelim, I waited until the next morning to visit Pasar Nare. There I met mama Marta Walianggen, a Yalimo woman.
When I arrived, mama Marta and several other women surrounded me. They refused to be interviewed. “What do you want to ask? All of us here in this pasar are fooled by your kind. Many of you came to interview us, but no response to our needs. You should leave. Journalists came, they shot and took photographs, asked questions, then they left. But nothing came out of it.”
I sat and listened to their anger. It was clear to me that they are pouring their hearts out: the grievances that they have held in for a long time. They felt that they have always been objectified by various interests.
After a short time, a friend I knew when he was studying in Jayapura, Netius Loho, arrived. Seeing me surrounded by the women he came over to ask what the problem was. I explained why I had come. He then translated my explanation to the women in Yalimo language, adding, “Mama-mama, you were talking about other journalists who came and interviewed you in the past. Not her.”
Then to me, “My friend, you need to understand, these women have been traumatised by their experiences of being visited by journalists and the interviews that they have been through.” Replying to Netius, I acknowledged this, “Indeed you are right. Please explain to mama-mama that I sincerely understand their doubts about my presence and the reasons behind those doubts. Please explain that as journalists, our task is to report the situation to the public, but it is beyond us to respond to their needs.” After this explanation and with Netius’ help the women accepted me and began to share their grievances.
Pasar Nare market was constructed between 2014-2018. It comprises a simple structure with permanent concrete stalls on which the traders display their produce for sale. During the period of planning and construction, the women traders – for whom the market was bring built – were not consulted on the design nor amenities. Their repeated concerns and complaints to local government officials, most particularly about the absence of toilet facilities on the site, were ignored.
Years later the market is still without toilets and the absence of such a basic amenity in their workplace has created severe difficulties for the women traders who work long days in the market six days a week.
From my observations at Pasar Nare and elsewhere in Papua, this is yet another example of the basic needs of Papuan women being ignored and neglected.
Another issue where local decision makers continually overlook the women’s economic concerns, is in relation to flows of government spending. When an event is organised by local government as well as non-government parties, the organisers do not purchase the goods they needed – including food items – from the local Papuan women at Pasar Nare. The money is spent in Wamena instead.
As Walianggen explains, “They never buy anything from us. [They] go to Wamena and spend all their money out there. We, women who sell our produce here, often experience loss. Still we keep on selling to meet the economic needs of our family.”
In my view, these are just more examples of how Papuan women are made victims of structural policies that ignore and deny their basic rights.
I heard similar concerns expressed by the traders in Pasar Oksibil. When a new market was built after a fire, in the process of allocating spaces to traders, the local sellers, mostly Papuan women, felt they were marginalised. When I visited in November 2019, of the total stalls available in the market the Papuan women traders were given less space than non-Papuans.
The explanation provided by the local authorities was that the fire caused more losses for non-Papuan sellers compared to the Papuans, and that non-Papuans are more hardworking. Such explanations are are based on stigma and stereotypes of Papuans, again rendering them victims of marginalisation.
In Papua, women are the pillars supporting the economy of their families. Exceptions are those whose husbands work as civil servants – the monthly salary help to ease the burden of living cost for their families. Based on my reporting over many years, in reality women are the ones to shoulder their families’ economy – both in rural and urban areas.
Discrimination and the lack of basic rights provisions such as that experienced daily by the women in Pasar Nare and Pasar Oksibil are not isolated cases. This is of course despite the fact that such basic rights are mandated under Undang-Undang Otonomi Khusus Papua No 21 Tahun 2001 (Special Autonomy Law), including article 10, on the Economy. The economic rights of Papuans are also regulated under articles 38 and 39 on Perekonomian Provinsi Papua (The Economy of Papua Province), for the creation of wealth and welfare for all Papuan citizens. In accordance with these laws and provisions, the distribution of the market stalls in Oksibil failed to create opportunities for local sellers, particularly Papuan women.
At a speech in Jayapura to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in December 2019, Elvira Rumkabu, a Papuan woman, scholar and lecturer in the International Relations program, Cendrawasih University told us that Papuan women are particularly vulnerable. As she explained, “Violence still surrounds all aspects of life for Papuan women in Papua. (Papuan) women have to face the political interests of development as well as practices of politics around them. (Papuan) women still experience various forms of violence, from physical to structural.”
Papuan women experience discrimination from local government policies, including but not limited to marginalisation in various markets in Papua. This is a story of the long struggle of Papuan women on their own land, particularly in relation to their economic rights.
Should this continue, there would be no hope left for Indigenous Papuan sellers to improve their economic livelihood on their own land. All their hard work will go to waste. In this case what difference would Otonomi Khusus make for Indigenous Papuans? What would freedom and autonomy mean for them?
Will women move to save Papuans from the discriminatory policies and the lack of support of local governments? A very important first step is to give back the rights of Papuan women: give them their basic needs and rights such as to have access to toilet facilities in market places where they work.
The double burden
As a woman, I see the double burden these women are forced to shoulder as they struggle with policies that do not take their side. On the one hand they are the ones to provide the needs of the family – including school fees for their children. On the other hand, their health needs are often neglected by the government. It is hard to imagine the struggle of the women at Pasar Nare who live without toilet facilities for amost six years.
The economic empowerment of Papuan women is vital. It is urgent to see the challenges they face and listen to their stories of struggles, including those of the women traders working at the market place.
One thing that can be done is to organise a movement that works to advocate, to strengthen, to raise awareness and to educate the general public on the economic struggle of Papuan women facing discrimination in their own land. There has been changes over time, but these changes are far from enough. As I see it, the problem rests with deep structural discrimination on the basis of their gender and race and the shocking truth that Papuans – especially Papuan women – are not always seen as people with the same rights as other human beings in this country.
Alfonsa Jumkon Wayap is a journalist and Chairperson of Pemuda Katolik Komisariat Daerah (Komda) Provinsi Papua (2018-2021).