Women and Agrarian Reform: Perspectives and Challenges

Monday, 22nd July 2019

In a discussion organised by the Consortium of Agrarian Reform (KPA), women land rights defenders in Indonesia shared their views on what it takes to achieve a gender-just agrarian reform and secure land rights for all.

"To date, the fate of women in rural areas remains far beneath the standard. Even though we have tried to empower them and have them more engaged with social activism, we feel like it is still not optimal,” said Wati, a woman farmer from Banjaranyar, Indonesia, who is also a women’s rights advocate. She was amongst a panel of speakers in a discussion organised by ILC Asia member Consortium of Agrarian Reform (KPA) on empowering women’s rights in rural areas.

In a deeply patriarchal society, women’s roles in determining decisions over their land are often overlooked by their male counterparts. Yani Andre of the Pasundan Farmers’ Union (SPP) tells ILC Asia in an interview how challenging it is to mobilise women to take action in realising agrarian reform. "Women in the villages cannot leave their homes if they are not permitted by their husbands. There are restrictions saying that women should not leave home at night and gather at the village hall; it is their ‘nature’ to be in the kitchen and do domestic work,” said Yani.

As a grassroots organisation working to advance women’s participation in agrarian reform, SPP works with the KPA to empower women farmers by building their capacity. In times of struggle or when a threat from the authorities is imminent, it is the women who need to take the lead in defending their land, said Yani.

The discussion that took place on 10 July aimed to emphasise that structural change can happen from the ground up but only when women are able to earn democratic participation in decision-making roles. Damaria Pakpahan of Protection International Indonesia says that striving for gender equality in rural parts of Indonesia is an uphill battle, due to the deeply rooted patriarchal views. Customary laws that impede women to reclaim their land make it all the more challenging.

“There is absence of women’s rights to own their land. If for instance a woman’s husband dies, she doesn’t rightfully take his land as it is passed on to the husband’s uncle instead. This is what makes women's involvement in agrarian reform difficult,” said Damaria. She added that the global land movement is facing the same struggle and that it takes time to make structural changes in the agrarian sector.

As the discussion drew to a close, KPA Secretary General Dewi Kartika emphasised that the right to land ownership must remain in the hands of farmers, so that they can have full control of their land. She added that involving women to take more responsibility in claiming land titles or do a simple task like organising land certificates is one of the first baby steps towards achieving a people-centered and gender-just agrarian reform.

In Indonesia, the National Farmers Day on 24 September is fast approaching. When rural women are able to define their role in the land struggle, only then can a celebration be deemed appropriate.

*Story by ILC Asia and KPA