Sun, 28 May 2000

Women giving their all for others

By Barbara Anello

JAKARTA (JP): The talk was animated over dinner at a chic restaurant in Jakarta.

It ranged from topics as disparate as Fifth Avenue fashion, to the depletion of species and forests throughout the archipelago, to the skills of Indonesian women, the quality of their health and living conditions today in Balinese mountain villages, refugee camps in Timor and in Java's largest cities.

The intense exchange of ideas and expertise continued throughout the four-day Femina & Sari Ayu Awards: Women of the 21st Century, in meetings with Indonesian cosmetics executive Martha Tilaar and with First Lady Shinta Nuriyah Abdurrahman Wahid at the palace.

The first awards, presented at a seminar on Kartini Day last month at Jakarta's Shangri-La hotel ballroom, went to three unique women, distinguished in their fields of education, health and business.

They are very different women, with one thing in common: the empowerment of women. In the field of education, the award went to Susy Maria Dauselt Katipana; in health, Dr. Inne Susanti, a pathologist; in business, Della Murwi Hartini.

Femina's panel of judges noted some shared characteristics in that the three women are dedicated and consistent even in the face of obstacles. They set goals and meet them and, in the process, raise standards for other women. Each has a vision that serves as an inspiration for us all. Ideas, strength, creativity -- these are the ingredients to shape a future.

Susy Katipana, a vivacious Timorese-born Ambonese, lives in Kupang with her husband and son. She has a degree in education, focusing on maternal/child health care.

Susy became active in women's issues in 1981 when Mt. Galunggung erupted in West Java. With CARE International Indonesia, Susy worked on projects to deliver clean water and upgrade sanitation in Java, Sulawesi and Nusa Tenggara.

She worked on projects designed to train health-care workers and community development fieldworkers in eastern Indonesia. Through her strong bond with the women of East Nusa Tenggara, the poorest of Indonesia's provinces, Susy was inspired to organize existing NGOs into a consortium . She founded Womintra/Women in Transition (, a consultant service, and the associated foundation Yaswit. Her objective is to empower and educate women.

"We fund the foundation through our consultant's fees, and in this way, we can implement a whole range of projects in Flores, Sumba, Timor, Alor, Sulawesi and, soon, Wetar and Irian Jaya," Susy explained.

"Our consortium, Women & Democracy, bringing together 49 women's organizations and NGOs from all over East Nusa Tenggara, meets in Kupang to develop strategies to voice women's rights and address their needs. Our mission is to strengthen women so that they participate in all levels of government, politics and law.

She also fights gender bias.

"We are a voice against gender discrimination. We've just launched a bimonthly magazine, Lentera Perempuan (Women's Light) to raise issues related to children's rights, women's rights, democracy and gender.

"Basically what women need are skills and the means to earn a living and feed their families."

She said they faced a perennial obstacle.

"The problem is they have no money. I help them evaluate their existing skills and use their resources to start small businesses and build wider networks. A field officer living in each village where we have a project teaches management skills, simple accounting, how to organize a business, how to market the product. Our projects involve all sorts of crafts, farming and small industries, including potters, sugar makers, weavers. We've also introduced electricity into many villages, and worked out funding systems through cooperatives."

She told of a project in Nusa village, South Central Timor, where she organized 11 groups of women farmers to grow vegetables. In six months they saved Rp 40 million and organized a savings and loan cooperative.

She said they helped with 40 families of lepers and after six years found a sponsor for the water supply for the village.

"When we brought the first harvest to market, no one would touch it because it was grown by lepers. We were in tears. OK, I said, I have to find a new strategy. None of you go to the market -- we'll find some neighbors to sell the vegetables. That's what we did, and now twice a year the harvests sell out and no one knows who grows the vegetables!"

Mobile health

Inne Susanti's Women's Health Mobile Clinic bus has become a familiar sight to Balinese women in rural villages all over the island.

It delivers free health care, examinations, PAP smears, condoms, information and education services. WHMC has been on the road since August 1997, and has served to date over 2,000 women with health care and over 4,000 with information/education services.

"If we want to improve women's health we have to improve their reproductive health," Inne explained. "In almost all rural areas, RTI (reproductive tract infections) diagnostic and treatment services are not available. With a mobile clinic, we can share our knowledge, experiences and abilities to improve women's health."

Inne's work since the late 1960s, both in family planning and as a pathologist, has put her at the forefront of women's health care. Her report, Maternal Mortality in Bali, 1980-1982 provided the first, and still the only, statistics on numbers and causes of death among women of child-bearing age.

"Women need more information so that they can express their needs and problems, protect themselves and get the care they need," Inne said. "And health-care workers must be attentive and thorough so that they diagnose the problem accurately in the first place. Establishing and maintaining high standards of practice and hygiene is essential."

Inne's commitment, dedication and ability to see both the big picture and the tiniest, microscopic details make her so effective. She is precise and painstakingly accurate with regard to facts and numbers, but she also has a graceful ease and ability to convey to the layman what those facts add up to, what the numbers actually mean in terms of the consequences of one person's health or a nation's long-term development.

She can hobnob with the women in a mountain village, pull out a wooden penis and slip on a condom to show them how it should be done. Not the least bit condescending, she creates an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, enabling people to discuss their most intimate or troubling issues.

Funded thus far with donations from the Rotary Club Bali Taman, the Rotary Foundation, Illinois, the U.S., Rotary Yamaguchi/Hiroshima, Japan and other donors, the WHMC is answering a critical need in Bali. Data collected by the WHMC indicates a high percentage of STDs among the low-risk population (rural women and their families), sounding the alert for the potential for increased incidence of disease, including the spread of HIV/AIDS among Bali's rural, low-income population.

"Most AIDS projects currently are directed at commercial sex workers -- it's time for the general public to start being aware," Inne commented in a 1995 interview. It's still true today. In 2000/2001, Inne hopes not only to continue, but to expand services.

Bag business

Delia Murwi Hartini is petite and elegant. Her youthful looks belie the fact that she is a wife, mother of two and the CEO of PT Rumindo Pratama (, a hugely successful women's bag manufacturer.

On the road to Parangtritis, outside Yogyakarta, Dolly's factory produces The Sak, a line of bags for women, selling now on Fifth Avenue and featured in a recent spread in Vogue. Where does Dolly's entrepreneurial success story bisect with the social commitment of Dr. Inne and Suzy? It is in the lives and livelihood of nearly 7,000 women who produce the bags that she sells from Manhattan to Sydney.

With a degree in communications from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Dolly married and started a family. She decided to open a business designing leather and rattan goods for women. With smart design and hard work, her business took off quickly.

By 1990, she was already exporting to Sweden. American buyers Mark Talucci and Todd Cliot joined with her on The Sak. Dolly started with five employees; nine years later, she had 900. Because of the nature of her production, requiring weaving of rattan, nylon and other fibers, crocheting and other fine work, Dolly found it more effective to employ women.

Now, in addition to the 900 full-time employees, between 6,000 and 7,000 women around Yogyakarta produce bags for Dolly, working from their homes and earning between Rp 8,000 and Rp 15,000 a day.

"We've had a dramatic trickle-down effect on the villages surrounding Yogyakarta, especially in this monetary crisis," she said.

Many women are supporting families, paying children's school fees or supplementing other family income through their work for The Sak.

"I have to observe strict labor rules because our clients are interested in where and under what conditions our bags are produced," Dolly said. "In fact, some of our home-work girls are still in school. Because they can crochet for Le Sak at home, on their own time, they can work an hour or two a day, and still make some money in after-school hours.

"This kind of work makes a critical difference to many families in Java, now, where unemployment and living expenses are both high, and the economic crisis is still very real."