Empowering Women’s leadership in the Struggle to Defend their Land

Rose Dougherty and Huw Calford


Sajogyo Institute is a research institution established on 10 March 2005 in Bogor, West Java. Sajogyo Institute is engaged in the production and service of knowledge for the advancement of social movements and the improvement of agrarian policy and rural development in Indonesia.

‘Empowering Women’s leadership in the Struggle to Defend their Land’ is an initiative run by Sajogyo Institute, to promote learning and education among women in support of their efforts to defend land against industrial environmental exploitation. These exploitative industries include palm oil plantations, extraction of gas and oil, sand mining, small-scale gold mining and marble mining. Since its commencement in December 2015, the initiative aims to empower women in rural areas through research and by establishing a circle of learning to understand the social ecological crisis caused by the industrial exploitation of natural resources.  


i.   Empower women to advocate for themselves on land right issues through the facilitation of              education and training programs;

ii.  Identify the specific challenges faced by particular communities from the industrial exploitation        of natural resources;

iii. Collaborate with facilitators based in rural communities to gain insight into the social challenges       women face and refine the program to address their needs;  

iv. Tailor the women’s education program to suit the varying cultural livelihoods of the communities      in environmental crisis;

v.  Promote public awareness and education regarding the gender implications of social and                 ecological crisis in rural communities.


Facilitators: 13 female facilitators trained by Sajogyo Institute were sent to select rural communities to live for one year. The training involved one week of theory and three weeks of practical training in the field. The facilitators increased their understanding of local cultural and social practices through analysis of gender and social ecological issues within their specific communities. In collaboration with locals regarding their social and ecological crises, the facilitators empower women to advocate for the protection of their land. They are also trained to collaborate with communities to promote public advocacy and develop essential practices such as the management of food and water. This is because many rural communities are forced to outsource their food due to the toxins deposited in their land from nearby exploitative industrial practices.

Mentors: The mentors are employees based at the Sojogyo Institute in Bogor. As well as overseeing the coordination and logistical operations of the program, the mentors provide initial training and ongoing support to the facilitators. The mentors also increase their own understanding of key issues by engaging with the facilitators’. By fostering a reciprocal relationship, the mentors and facilitators work together to adapt the program to meet the changing challenges that rural women face throughout Indonesia.

Reading group: The reading group at Sajogyo Institute is held every month and is open to all members of the public, male and female! It is an opportunity for individuals of all backgrounds and intellect to collaborate and present their ideas on gender and agrarian issues in rural areas and how they can be improved.

Reference team: The Sojogyo Institute is supported by a reference team consisting of scholar activists and academics who regularly provide input to assist with the production of content. The reference team also contributes their knowledge and expertise to expand the mentors understanding of key issues and provide intellectual support to assist with the implementation of the program.


Training of facilitators: Since December 2015, 13 female facilitators have been trained by Sajogyo Institute and sent to various rural communities to live for one year. The facilitators are positioned in communities who are experiencing significant environmental impacts from the effects of palm oil plantations, extractions of oil and gas, sand mining, small-scale gold mining and/or marble mining.

Photovoice: Through the facilitators, the Sajogyo Institute has provided a number of rural communities with cameras, as an alternative way for the women to ‘voice’ their concerns regarding gender and agrarian issues. This creates an opportunity to document the environmental impacts of the industrial exploitation of the land. The pictures contribute to Sajogyo’s research and enables them to promote public awareness, educate reading groups, as well as develop strategies to empower women in existing land struggles.  

Ethnography notes:  The facilitators are trained to record their observations, including photographs, in the form of ethnographic notes that are sent back to the Sajogyo Institute every two weeks. This gives the mentors a clear and up to date understanding of the issues in all of the rural locations, allowing them to give the facilitators feedback on how to improve the education of local women.

Knowledge Management:. After five months, the facilitators and mentors collaborate at a workshop designed to exchange knowledge and develop improvements to the program. This collaborative structure of knowledge management ensures that information is not simply passed down to rural women, but is also returned back to the mentors who can adapt and develop the program accordingly.

Public Engagement: Public engagement with the Institutes work is predominately conducted through the reading group which focuses upon specific gender and agrarian issues of the communities at which the facilitators are located. The participants are allocated set readings and are required to write a review and present their own interpretation of the readings. From there, the reading group can collaborate with each other to discuss the main issues of the readings and ways in which they can be overcome. The Sajogyo Institute also releases publications containing key information that has been gathered through their programs. This process allows Sojogyo Institute to raise public awareness of the issues that rural women face.

Learning Sites

As part of the program facilitators have been sent to the following locations:

  1. Haumeni Village, Amanatun District, South        Central Timor region, East Nusa Tenggara            Province.
  2. Pawashan Village, Banjarsari District, Ciamis       Region, West Java Province.
  3. Buket Gampong Linteung Village, Langkahan      Subdistrict, North Aceh District, Aceh Special      Region.
  4. Koto village, Tapak Tuan Subdistrict, South         Aceh District, Aceh Special Region.
  5. Nusantara Village, Sugian Water District, Ogan Komering Ilir Region, South Sumatera Province.
  6. Prigi Village, Lampam Subdistrict, Ogan Komering Ilir Region, South Sumatra Province.
  7. Potai Nanga Village, Nanga Sokan District, Malawi Region  
  8. Pa’u Ulak Village, Emabaluh District, Kapuas Hulu District.
  9. Sempaja Village, Bengkuring District, Samarinda City, East Kalimantan Province.
  10. Buaya Liang Village, Middle Mahakam Subdistrict, Kabupate Kertanegara Kutai, East                       Kalimantan Province
  11. Dulau village, Sekatak Buji Subdistrict, Bulungan Region North Borneo Province.
  12. Betauwa Village, Tojo Una Una District, Central Sulawesi.
  13. Minti Makmur Village, Donggala District, Central Sulawesi Province