Limited Space For Sharing On Disaster Affecting Women

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Mrs Rafnaini: PKK treasurer of Panjupian Village, Tapaktuan Sub-District

The knowledge on disaster risk reduction acquired by Mrs Rafnaini (38) is indeed something new that she would like to pass on to the women’s community at her gampong (village). But a forum for this purpose is not available, because all activities at the PKK (family welfare education program) in Panjupian Village are dormant. As the PKK treasurer, who took part in a training on village planning with the perspective on disaster risk reduction held by JRS in December 2009, Rafnaini doesn’t know what forum she can use to pass on her knowledge to others.

It’s not the same for Mrs Martina (46), a widow with a child, who was representing the vulnerable people in her village. Martina said after the training, she often discussed about the disaster threats with her friends of the same age at the local warung (food stall) or when members of the vulnerable villagers gather over the duck-breeding program. Martina also has suggested to the heads of Lorong Hilir that the roadside sewer near her house be repaired; because they are too small and overflow during heavy rains causing flooding in her house.

”All I can do is just pass it on in Yasin prayer sessions, even though the opportunities aren’t always available,” said Rafnaini, a tailor. The PKK (family welfare education program) in Panjupian Village, Tapaktuan Sub-district, has been inactive for sometime. They only meet once every 6 months. The monthly meeting has not been held since the conflict broke out.

Mrs Rafnaini is actually an active person in her village. She regularly takes part in the Yasin prayers, women’s monthly gatherings like arisan and Dasa Wisma. But the fact is that the sessions have provided limited opportunities for anyone to disseminate the knowledge on disasters. ”In arisan, we just collect money for the lottery drawing, and in Yasin prayers we just come and pray straight away. On Dasa Wisma, our real activity is sharing certain meals for the mourning family,” added the mother that dropped out of Tapaktuan SMEA (economics vocational high school). She said that PKK would look busy only when a contest of PKK is held – such as Gamawar (Gampong Mawadah Warohmah – Peaceful and Prosperous Village) at the nearby settlement of Air Pinang, which won the contest held in the past month. ”I don’t know why nobody wants to be active in the village. Not only do they rarely take part in contests like this, but it is already difficult to just gather,” said Rafnaini.

Rafnaini claims she knows well all dangers threatening her neighbourhood, including floods, landslides and river erosion. Being a housewife and mother, she tries seriously to use her knowledge and put it into actions, like avoiding to dump waste improperly and regularly clearing the sewer around her house.

”Sometimes when in the warung I have a chat with other women about the threats of flood and landslide,” the mother of two explained. With her husband, Sukri, she lives in Hilir in the outskirts of the village next to fields and a hill. ”We’ve had flooding in this neighbourhood before, but it hit another part of the village which is located further downhill,” she said.

That’s different from what Martina has done, since her house lays in a vulnerable area – close to a river and on a downstream plain, barely 300 meters from the riverbank. At least she knows very well the importance of the sewage system around her house for channeling any rainwater pouring into her area. She also understands her neighborhood’s vulnerability. The river is not big, but when water flows down massively due to torrential raining on the hills, one just cannot rule out the danger of floods here.

From the six-day training in Tapaktuan, Martina also knows all the signs of flooding and all the necessary preparations. ”A two-day raining and stones rolling down from the hill is a sign of the coming of a big flood. The river behind my house is inevitably going to overflow,” said Martina, a mother of a grown-up son who earns a living as a laundry-woman in her village. She also said that when Nias Island was struck by a powerful earthquake in March 2005, she literally ran up to the hill top at night. Her house located by the river bank makes her alert at all times. Martina also begins to become aware of the necessity to preserve the river – by not exploiting stones, gravel and sand from it – and the importance of maintaining the trees on the hills. But she adds that she cannot do much apart from passing on her knowledge to other villagers.

 Conflict story

Panjupian Village, which is located near the coast and flanked by hills, is relatively close to the town of Tapaktuan – only 8 kilometres away. The impact of past conflicts in this village is similar to others in Kluet and Pasie Raja area. ”A sense of fear, yes, prevailed, of course, particularly then when the outposts hadn’t been erected yet. We had to be kind to any people coming from the mountains. Previously, when the outposts had not been set up, mountain people (insurgents hiding in the mountains) often came down and stopped by asking for meals or rice to be taken back to the hills,” Rafnaini told us. As Rafnaini’s house was very close to a hill, people descending from the mountains normally came to hers first, the same experience was also gained by Mrs Martina, who lived by the main road. All she felt was fear and worry and it was difficult for her to travel to the town.

The conditions however changed when a military post had been erected near the hill slope. The village was more secure. The mountain people came down less often. For Rafnaini, this period of conflict even gave her some extra benefit, as she received more tailoring orders from members of the Indonesian army (TNI), including sewing nametags, symbols and badges. A lot of changes have taken place between the pre-conflict and post-conflict periods regarding Rafnaini’s tailoring business. During the pre-conflict time the tailoring ran well, because the economic condition was sound – especially when people still relied on nutmeg and Patchouli oil. Now, according to her, the economy does not perform well, because people in villages get less income since many nutmeg trees have gone dead and prices of Patchouli oil is low.

Thus, there is still a big socio-cultural gap to overcome for women living in rural areas wanting to take on a role as communal educators in the subjects of disaster prevention. The organizational capacities and structures have to be further improved to costume aspirations of women wanting to play a role in the information dissemination for example on disaster mitigation. It remains difficult for women to participate in rural communities in South Aceh who are still dominated by the characteristics of patriarchy.

Daryadi Ahmadi

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