Lighting the path towards empowerment Stories

13 November, 2018

On the tiny island of Sabangko in Indonesia, a women’s school had a big impact on the community

It all started when the Institut KAPAL Perempuan (Alternative Education Circle for Women Institute), in partnership with the Foundation for Community Studies and Development (YKPM) launched a women’s school seeking to empower women and girls. The school used different modules to teach the women to think critically, voice their concerns and be agents of change in their community. The school helped them map out the most pressing social issues on the island and organize as a group to better advocate their concerns to their local government.

This mapping exercise made the women realize that the use of oil lamps as the main source of lighting on the island was not sufficient for the needs of the community. Indeed, the island had no electricity and needed a reliable and sustainable energy supply. The women also became aware of neighboring islands that had electricity 24 hours a day powered by solar panels. This encouraged them to request the same of their village government.

Women attending a class at a women’s school

The power of advocacy

Once a year, villages in Indonesia have a meeting called Musrenbangdes (village development forums) where villagers can discuss their needs with the local government. The women’s group first brought forward the idea of the solar panels in 2014 where they presented the rationale for needing solar panels and where they planned to have them built. When their request was not supported the first year, they came forward again the following years until the village government finally approved the project.

After 3 years of persistent advocacy by the women’s group, the plan to build a solar plant was approved by the local government. The solar panels were installed on Sabangko island in 2017. The result of the women’s struggle can now be enjoyed by hundreds of islanders and the life of the community has changed entirely.

An entire community benefits

Before solar power was available, most activities on the island had to be completed before dark. Since the installation of the solar panels, the people of Sabangko now enjoy electricity all day long. Inhabitants can continue to be active at night, children can complete their schoolwork after sundown and dinners can be cooked and eaten in full light.

In terms of health and safety, electricity has had an important impact on the community. Women and children are no longer afraid to walk alone at night and feel safe in their homes. The island’s clinic is now accessible at any time of day which contributes to improve the health of islanders as health workers don’t need to respond to emergencies with only torches during the night.

Electricity had economic benefits for women and the community as well. It has allowed housewives to cook meals and sweets at night and then sell them the next morning contributing to increase household income.

Participants from the women’s school in Sabangko, South Sulawesi, at the solar power plant.

When women are individually and collectively empowered, they can bring about change for the advancement of their community and their region. This is at the heart of the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (MAMPU) program which supported the Institut KAPAL Permpuan and Foundation for Community Studies and Development (YKPM) to organize the women schools. Since 2013, the program has launched women’s schools on 10 islands in four villages in South Sulawesi. More than 490 women have attended them so far.

The MAMPU program is managed by Cowater.


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