Co-author: Alexandra Birch, Grant Writer at Good Return
4 min read
Women are crucial to the large and profitable chilli sector in Indonesia, but are rarely recognised as a formal part of the economy. This exclusion means they cannot benefit from financial independence, owning their own land or growing their own businesses. A new report published by Good Return and CROWDE, with support from the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has identified a complex web of social and legal barriers limiting the active participation of women in Indonesia’s economy.
Drawing on their gender expertise and working relationships on the ground with partner fintech CROWDE, Good Return mapped the contextual gender dynamics that occur among Garut’s chilli farmers and suppliers, a regency in West Java province of Indonesia. Women are involved in every level of the local agricultural value chain in this area – helping to sow, grow, harvest and sell. Crucially, they also undertake social reproductive labour, the everyday “care” tasks required to maintain and reproduce life – childcare, care of elders, shopping, cleaning and cooking.
The case study on smallholder chilli farmers from Garut, West Java, found a knot of gender-based limitations woven into the chilli value chain:
1. Women lack agency and recognition in the law and policy. Financial institutions and government programs in Indonesia require women to show a ‘family card’ when seeking access to services. However, the card is only distributed to women whose marriages are officially registered, leaving out the many rural women who are married under customary law. Many women stay legally attached to their parents’ family card, linking them to any family debt. This lack of personal paperwork and potential link to other people’s debt makes it very hard for women to access finance independently, and to start or grow their own businesses.
Indonesian Civil Law also states that married women require the approval of their husband to formalise legal contracts. The 1974 Marriage Law states that the ‘man is the head of the family and woman is a housewife’. If a couple divorces, complex administrative procedures prevent many women from formally recognising the separation. This leaves them without a divorce certificate and thus permanently reliant on their ex-husband in order to access vital services. Without paperwork in their name, it is virtually impossible for women to apply for finance to run a business or make independent financial decisions. These practices actively perpetuate cycles of poverty and hold back women and girls from success.
2. Women rarely hold major decision making powers in the household, community or the chilli agricultural value chain. Only 16% of the local government officials are women and the women’s farmer association does not appear to have access to the same frequency of opportunities as the men’s branch. Consequently, many women do not receive key market information and are disadvantaged in negotiations with suppliers, in building essential stakeholder networks and in obtaining the kind of information that is imperative to savvy business growth.
3. In Garut, approximately 53.7% of women were married underage. This factor alone has a devastating impact on the opportunities available to girls growing up in the region. While girls, on average, are performing better than boys at school, research shows a significant portion of them are being pulled from class between grades seven and eight. Lacking high levels of education, women are thrusted into an even weaker position when making decisions and bargaining in the household, business and the broader community.
4. Women are held back by limited ICT capability. With heavy workloads, and limited literacy and financial resources, women are not given the opportunity to gain skills in technology. This severely restricts their capacity to make informed decisions and engage in agribusiness development.
Shedding light on the informal work in agriculture, and the barriers to women being formally included, is essential if we are to see systemic change to wealth distribution and equity globally. Agriculture development is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal when it comes to ending extreme poverty, two to four times more effective in raising incomes than other sectors. With its potential to improve food security for 80% of the world’s poor, we must consider the role of marginalised groups – women, girls, people with disabilities, religious minorities or ethnicities – in agriculture and recognise the intrinsic value they already bring to the economy.
Agencies like Good Return and its partner CROWDE are working to address these issues through providing responsible finance to women, building up the technical capacity with rural communities and training local staff to understand the needs of women clients. Through integrated programs of financial capability, inclusive finance and partnerships with forward-thinking financial institutions whilst mainstreaming gender equality into the process, we can build opportunity and inclusion for women within Indonesia’s rural economy.