Marchers rally around a sign that says, "Let's eradicate all forms of violence" during a parade against gender-based violence held in the Simpang IV section of Banda Aceh, Indonesia. (Photo: Basri, Pulih Foundation Aceh, September 2011)

Study urges revitalizing volunteerism traditions to combat GBV in Indonesia

Among its findings, the Partners for Prevention study “Contributions of Volunteerism to the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence in Aceh” recommends restoring traditional volunteerism practices to combat violence against women in Indonesia.
There is a long history of social-cultural practices in Aceh that encourage volunteerism and are expressed through the traditions of meuseuraya (mutual cooperation between a few people) or gotong royong (mutual aid that is usually identified with the planting and harvesting of rice). A newly available study, “Contributions of Volunteerism to the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence in Aceh” (Partners for Prevention, 2011) documents the history of volunteerism in Aceh from its cultural and religious customs, through the post-conflict and post-tsunami periods to current new behaviors and lifestyles of the younger generation that have resulted from greater mobility and increased familiarity and access to information and communication technology. This research was commissioned by Partners for Prevention (P4P), which is a regional joint programme on the prevention of gender-based violence for Asia and the Pacific implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme. Based on field observations and interviews carried out by Marwan Idris, a national UN Volunteer deployed at UN Women Aceh and the Pulih Foundation Aceh by P4P, the study looked at the role of volunteerism in organizations that work on eradicating gender-based violence (GBV). “The study is intended especially for organizations that use volunteers to prevent GBV in Aceh,” said Raymond Brandes (Netherlands), UNV Programme Specialist for P4P, who wrote the study jointly with Marwan. “But it is also for the rest of Indonesia, for example, the network of organizations called Laki-Laki Baru (New Men Alliance), and beyond, to share and learn from.” The study draws a number of conclusions on volunteerism and participation in the fight for gender equity and women’s rights in Aceh. “Activists working to achieve gender equity have shown their willingness to work voluntarily,” says Marwan.  “They are accepting salary reductions to enable their organization to continue to function and implement activities.  They are accepting reduced per diem allowances and passing back to their organization fees provided to staff members when they work as resource persons elsewhere.” The exit of development agencies after the post-tsunami rehabilitation period created financial challenges for women’s rights organizations. They have, however, responded strategically by engaging in fundraising activities, strengthening their networks and cooperation, improving the efficiency of programs, advocating for more government support and encouraging volunteerism in order to ensure the survival of organizations. But there are constraints that obstruct people’s awareness of GBV, which also limit their ability to volunteer for gender equity causes. The lack of Government involvement on gender issues limits the capacity to raise awareness, or encourage community members to get involved with these efforts. “The Government’s lack of commitment encourages people to see issues of gender inequality and violence against women (VAW) as trivial and undeserving of public involvement,” says Marwan. As has been found elsewhere, patriarchal values embedded in society were cited as the root causes of gender inequality and VAW. These patriarchal biases also constrain people’s involvement as volunteers in the fight for gender equity and eradication of GBV in Aceh. The study concluded that to overcome this, it is important that activists are aware of local socio-cultural constructions of patriarchy and encourage volunteerism as a long-term, sustainable way to continue fighting for gender equity. Engaging men in gender equality programs is essential and supports the effort of sustaining the gender-equitable transformation. The study found that being a professional does not restrain a person from becoming or upholding the principles of volunteerism. For paid staff working to implement programs, it is important to work with a sense of dedication to the goal. Conversely, volunteers must also work with a high sense of professionalism, despite not receiving any remuneration or pay. Based on these findings the study recommends area activists to further improve organizational networking and coordination to overcome financial constraints and be more effective through joint efforts. It also recommends local groups to develop capacity to work with the Government to raise its awareness and interest in gender issues, re-revitalize the culture of volunteerism and gotong royong (mutual aid), and continue to encourage men’s involvement in GBV prevention and achieving gender equality. “Contributions of Volunteerism to the Prevention of Gender-Based Violence in Aceh” is now available from Partners in Prevention in English and Bahasa Indonesian versions.
Aceh, Indonesia