As we celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States, we want to highlight the many ways that women and girls are leading the way towards equitable COVID-19 recovery and response, and creating solutions to  promote and ensure a gender-equal world. 

In Indonesia, women are emerging as leaders in their communities during the pandemic by creating innovative solutions to their most urgent challenges. Their local actions are creating ripples that are reaching and inspiring hundreds more.

“Indonesian women are tough and would do anything in their power to find solutions to their problems.” – Sri Sulistiyani (Ibu Sulis), East Java

Ibu Sulis is a local activist and the executive director of Gerakan Peduli Perempuan Jember. Previously working as a math teacher, she was inspired to become a volunteer to fight for women’s empowerment and resilience in Jember. Today, Ibu Sulis is active in a number of women’s support and entrepreneurship initiatives. She, like so many of her peers, has shifted her focus to support vulnerable women through the pandemic.

According to Ibu Sulis, in Indonesia there has been a 38% increase in the number of domestic violence cases handled by the Jentera Women of Indonesia Legal Aid from 76 cases in 2019 to 105 cases in 2020. In a recent local article, Ibu Sulis says that she can’t bear to see domestic violence occurring in her community.  In the article she explains how she has friends who have experienced domestic violence, yet refused to separate from their husbands. She explains that most of these women are afraid to leave abusive relationships and need help and encouragement. She has been supporting victims of domestic violence through the pandemic with online and offline consultations, legal aid, and even economic support.

“Most of our members have lost their jobs,” explains Ibu Sulis. Yet, the challenges these local women are facing only fuel their desire to overcome them. For Ibu Sulis, her work has built solidarity among women and increased their resilience during the pandemic. Today she continues her work collecting donations for women in need, encouraging food security, and conducting online business coaching.

Impact Stories: Women Become their Family’s “Economic Warrior”

“There are many stories of women in Jember who have become the economic warriors in their family,” – Ibu Sulis

A mother found herself becoming an “economic warrior” in her family when her husband lost his job as a blacksmith. She received basic staple donations including rice, eggs, and cooking oil from Ibu Sulis and her charitable organizations. The mother turned the rice into rice flour, mixed it with the eggs and cooking oil, and made cookies that she now sells. She uses the money she earns from selling the cookies to buy more ingredients. To date, she has sold 10 kilograms of cookies. “Now she runs her growing snack business and sells her snacks through Pasar Kita,” explains Ibu Sulis. 

Another example is a local woman who used to own a food catering business but lost her income during the pandemic. By transitioning to a teacher, she became an “economic warrior” in her family. She now has plenty of work teaching children privately in their homes.

Increasing Mutual Support is How Society Increases Resilience

Strengthening civil society is the most effective way to create local solutions, encourage collective action, and build community resilience. 

“I enjoy making a difference. This passion has turned into a kind of magnet that keeps attracting others who share my similar interests and vision. As more friends joined me, we formed collaborations to create a network for common good.”  – Ibu Sulis

Ibu Sulis promotes her social movement on AtmaGo. “As a social activist, I believe social movements need a media platform to build people’s critical awareness, publish and highlight our movements, and inspire others.”

The story of Ibu Sulis is one of many. Women are playing a huge role in increasing mutual support in Indonesia. Rather than letting their vulnerability pull them down, with support from each other, women are rising up and bettering their lives, communities, and society.