Information Kit – Portrait of the Indigenous Women of Asia page – 11

Information Kit – Portrait of the Indigenous Women of Asia

November 2007

Authors: Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN), and the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN: Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara), in partnership with Rights & Democracy

Development Aggression and Indigenous Women in Indonesia

This sheet provides a case study of the issue discussed in Sheet 5: Development Aggression and Indigenous women in Asia, specifically highlighting the situation of Indigenous women in Indonesia. In this sheet, illustrative cases of development aggression and their subsequent impacts will highlight the reality for indigenous women in Indonesia.


Development Aggression in Indonesia


Article 33, paragraph 3 of the 1945 Indonesian Constitution states that: “The earth and water and nature contained within are controlled by the Country and are utilized for social prosperity”. Since the Soeharto era, the Indonesian Government has continued to interpret this Article as Country ownership (rather than control) of the land and natural resources in Indonesia. This has meant that the government has allowed land and resources to be taken from indigenous peoples.


In the name of development, the country has and continues to transfer land ownership to private industrial enterprises such as mining companies, industrial timber companies, forest concession holders and other industries without implementing the process of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.


Government policy-making regarding the conservation of natural areas also bypasses indigenous peoples. Human involvement in the management of natural areas is not allowed, nor are people allowed to occupy them.


To reinforce support for development programs, the Government passed regulations on foreign investment in Indonesia in 1967. These regulations made it easier for foreign investors to invest their capital in Indonesia. For the funding of these development projects, the Indonesian government relied on foreign capital from International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.


Land Loss and the Destruction of Natural Resources: Impacts on Indigenous Women


The statistics regarding land loss and the destruction of natural resources are overwhelming. Since 1950, approximately 70% of primary forest in Indonesia has been destroyed (Forest Watch Indonesia). This is the result of large-scale commercial forest felling for forest concessions and industrial timber plantations. This is aggravated by illegal logging in primary forests which contributes 70 to 80 % of wood production in Indonesia (Friends of the Earth, Indonesia). Equally disturbing are mining statistics. According to a report by The Mining Network, 35 % of land in Indonesia has been allocated for extractive mining. In 2004, a total of 890 contracts were given to mining companies in Indonesia for activities such as large scale mining of minerals, gold, coal and others found in primary forest regions.


The government’s attitude toward natural resource management produced policies that did not support management systems based on traditional wisdom. In addition to this, the presence of large-scale industries in the management of these natural resources affected the cohesiveness of indigenous communities, including social, economic, and legal practices as well as traditional institutions.


The shift in control over natural resources as a result of the presence of large-scale industry has changed the nature of management systems from communitybased to individual-based. Not only have indigenous peoples lost their land rights and the right to manage their territories, but the social systems that managed the functions and roles of indigenous women in natural resource management have also been affected. Women had specific roles and functions within their communities, such as the management of medicine crops and non-timber forest products. The opening of forests resulted in women losing medicinal sources, which forced a change from traditional medical treatments to more modern medical treatments. This resulted in a change in the political positions of indigenous women in their communities.


Rukmini Paata Toheke Rukmini Paata Toheke, Chairperson of the Ngata Toro Indigenous Women’s Organization (OPANT) and AMAN Director of Indigenous Women’s Issues

OPANT and Ngata Toro Indigenous Women’s Roles in Conservation:


The conservation of natural resources is vital to the livelihoods of indigenous women. This is because it is our natural resources – our forests – that naturally provide our life sources. In Ngata Toro, our forests enable us to garden, plant rice, corn, and vegetables for food. Our forests also provide several products needed for daily living such as wood, rattan, bamboo, palm sugar and medicine.


For me, the conservation of natural resources is the wise use of natural resources. Those who violate conservation values ignore the contributions of traditional knowledge to conservation. The lack of recognition of the role that women’s traditional knowledge plays in the use and conservation of natural resources is an example of this.


Indigenous women in Ngata Toro have been active since the 1990s in building cultural identity based on community-based natural resource management. One of the aims of this collaboration with the rest of the Toro community is to protect the tropical forest ecosystem around the community through socio-cultural institutions and local leadership based on the revitalization of traditional knowledge.


OPANT is active in trying to re-cultivate and maintain the traditional methods of women in the continuous use of natural resources. In doing this, in Ngata Toro, OPANT sits together with other agencies to plan, implement and control conservation within the local area. With increasing acknowledgement by policy holders in Ngata of OPANT, women’s roles in Ngata Toro have expanded from only domestic affairs to participation in village planning and decision-making relating to natural resources management.
 The capitalist and patriarchal work systems of industry have disrupted the social structures that traditionally defined women’s and men’s roles. This has caused discrimination against indigenous women. For example, for those women who have little choice other than to work in such industries, they are paid less than men and have fewer opportunities to obtain strategic and decision-making positions. Women are usually employed as domestic or cleaning attendants. In addition to this discrimination, women also face increased threats of violence due to the military being hired to ‘protect’ the mines or plantations.




Indigenous peoples who have traditionally relied on nature to provide them with all of their requirements such as food (plants and animals) from the fields and forests, fish from the rivers and seas, and sources of clean water, suffer from poverty when they are denied control and access to land and natural resources. The systematic impoverishment of indigenous peoples has occurred through the transfer of land and natural resource ownership, resulting in the loss of indigenous peoples’ livelihoods. To survive, indigenous women have come to depend on their husband’s income or, in some cases, have had to find paid work to increase the family’s income. In many cases the family’s income is not enough to cover the requirements for everyday life, including education and health.


Ibu Aletha Ibu Aletha, Chairperson of Organisasi Ataimamus (OAT)

Mining and its Impact on Indigenous Women


Mining started in indigenous traditional territories in the Mollo indigenous community in 1996. Mining has caused horizontal conflicts between communities, has destroyed the social order and the values of local wisdom as well as ignored the rights of indigenous peoples to access their natural resources.


Mining has had significant impacts on indigenous women. It has caused a loss of spring water which has increased women’s workloads because they must travel further to look for clean water. The mine has also taken over community land that was a source of agricultural production. Because of this, there is a food shortage which is also very distressing for women. The situation has forced indigenous women to take part with men in protesting mining activities, and this has resulted in women often being intimidated, harassed and tortured.


To protest the mining activities, I began by doing advocacy work. I gained support from indigenous leaders for collective action from both men and women. I have been challenged in this struggle with patriarchal attitudes, as well as repressive actions from security apparatuses. I have had to deal with discrimination and the questioning of my capacity as a woman. I am constantly intimidated by those in positions of power, such as police authorities, and private businessmen.


With development aggression in Timor, there is an increasing gap between the interests of development and the real needs of indigenous peoples. The peoples continue to be marginalized and have their rights violated. Indigenous women continue to suffer, and poverty will continue like a ghost that is difficult to overcome because the development process is not a participatory one that recognizes the rights and needs of indigenous peoples.


In my opinion, the government, security apparatuses, military and investors are the driving forces of development aggression in Indonesia. To improve the situation caused by development aggression, the indigenous peoples’ movement and all elements of civil society need to increase their involvement on these issues, particularly capacity-building for indigenous peoples, democratization, equality, justice, gender equity and indigenous-based development.

Health Issues


Pollution of bodies of water and land resulting from disposal tailings and the use of fertilizers and pesticides has caused serious health problems for indigenous women. These poisonous chemicals enter the land, bodies of water and fields as well as plants that are used by indigenous peoples every day. Women’s domestic roles expose them to such chemicals in the land and waters and can cause serious health problems. Women also get sick from the animals they eat because the animals have been infected from the contaminated water and land.


HIV/AIDS is also becoming a serious health issue for indigenous women. For example, in Timika (Papua), the PT Freeport mining company has provided infrastructure such as nightclubs and motels which have encouraged migration (trans-migrant workers, military personnel) as well as the sex industry. Prostitution involving indigenous women has increased and as a result, HIV/AIDS has become an issue in indigenous communities. Infected indigenous women are marginalized by their husbands and communities, creating social problems in addition to health problems.

Ttraining for indigenous women held in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia in 2006. During this training, many women shared their own stories and experiences of development aggression.
Ttraining for indigenous women held in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia in 2006. During this training, many women shared their own stories and experiences of development aggression.


Sexual Violence


Indigenous women who work in mining and plantation companies responsible for the loss and destruction of indigenous lands and natural resources often experience discrimination, even sexual violence. For example, in PT Kelian Equatorial Mining (KEM) in East Kalimantan, there have been several cases of sexual harassment of indigenous women by PT KEM workers at all levels in the company hierarchy. According to Mining Network, 17 out of 21 legal cases reported between 1987 and 1997 have been for sexual harassment, rape or sexual intercourse under psychological pressure from PT KEM employees on indigenous women working in the company.


Questions for Discussion

  1. Are there any examples of development aggression in your community? If so, what are they and how do they impact on indigenous women?
  2. How can indigenous women participate in resisting or minimising the impacts of development aggression while ensuring their safety is not compromised?
To Find Out More


AIWN – AMAN – Rights & Democracy 2007