World Bank Web Site, 6 April 2006
"If we talk about being strong, living alone without a husband, we have to. How can we not be strong? Even though we lived alone, we have been chased by everything. We've been chased by bullets,. fire,. and now we've also been chased by water.."
Those are the words of a woman from the East Aceh District of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. She is like many other women in Aceh who have lived through hardships and conflict -- and then the tsunami came in December 2004.
She, like many others, now act as heads of the their households. Sometimes this was because they had been separated or left by their husbands, either because of the long conflict in Aceh or because of illness. In some cases, the women were left alone without any news of what happened to their spouses.
As these women will say, being female and the head of a household is not easy in a place like Aceh. The women say they've had not only to earn a living for themselves and their children, but they've also had to protect themselves and their families.
The widows at Tampoek Blang, who have been active at the PEKKA program, are now productive income earners for the family.
For these women, survival of themselves and their families is not their only challenge. A more immediate problem, they say, is dealing with the way they are perceived in society. As females, they often suffer from discrimination, even when they are in charge of their families. Yulidar's story is one example. She's now head of her household in the Aceh Besar District, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. When her child was seven months old, Yulidar's husband left and went back to live with his parents in the same village.
For years, Yulidar says she didn't want to meet the community in that village, because she felt she was seen as a woman who could not not take a good care of her husband. "I used to feel embarassed seeing other people, especially my mother in law," she said. "I didn't have the guts to come out of my house. Especially since Cici, my daughter, was still so young, I could not leave her. So I didn't know how to earn my living," Yulidar said.
Sudarmi from the Pidie District, NAD, has a different story to tell. It took her years to start earning a living again since her husband died in the conflict in Aceh, "My younger child stopped going to school for a while because we had no money," Sudarmi said. "When I heard that my husband was killed, I was afraid to go out of the house. Even to go out to search for my husband's body, I was afraid, not to mention to sell things in the market," she said.
For these women help came through the Program for Women Headed Households in Indonesia (better known by its acronym PEKKA in the local language). It's a program funded by the Japan Social Development Fund and is implemented and linked to the World Bank's Kecamatan Community Development Program (KDP).
"Three years ago I met a PEKKA field assistant. I was asked to join PEKKA . I was asked to meet other widows. Since then, I no longer feel alone,"Yulidar said. "Especially now I can borrow capital money from PEKKA , so that I can make banana chips at home. I don't have to leave my daughter, and I get some money" she said smiling.
Women from PEKKA invited Yulidar and other women, who were also heading up their households, to form groups. Through those groups, the women learn to read and write, and learn bookkeeping and other skills. After a year with the group, women are introduced to programs of community grants or loans to help develop a business, to educate their children or to fund healthy nutrition aid for elderly women. As women involved in PEKKA say, the program gives them far more than just skills like reading and writing and access to finance, it helps empower them in their own communities.