Current Project / Women & Politics / Women's Participation

Published: 07/06/2016

The issue of forest fires which Indonesia has experienced every year for the last two decades has not only become a global concern, but also a disaster causing large-scaled deforestation. The forest fires in Riau Province in March 2014 recorded the most fire locations, with Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan, and Siak Districts contributing up to 52 percent of the total fire locations in Indonesia.

The fire disasters greatly impact the local community living nearby forest concession areas, as a majority of them are burnt. The Indonesian government often allows big private companies to manage the land or natural resources for economic reasons, by granting them long-term concessions (approximately 20-55 years), which damage the forest areas and ignore the rights of the local community. However, there has been no research on public participation in forest management and forest concessions in Indonesia, particularly in relation to gender issues.

Based on the observation of this gap, Women Research Institute (WRI) in collaboration with World Resources Institute and several local organisations initiated a research on public participation in the forest concession process and policies using a gender analysis. The objective of this research project is to map out the forms and opportunities of public participation and gender perspective in the forest management process, particularly in Siak District in Riau Province. The field of study is forest management, with specific areas of focus including forest concession, environmental impact analysis (EIA), spatial planning, food security, and conflict resolutions.

Public Participation in Forest Management

Siak’s strategic geographical location comprises ample land and mineral resources which greatly contribute to the local development. This includes oil and natural gas, as well as potential peat lands for palm oil plantations. In addition, production forest areas in Siak District are incorporated within the Forest Management Unit (FMU, in Indonesian Kesatuan Pengelolaan Hutan or KPH) of Siak District and as much as 495,000 hectares are used for Forest Concession Rights (HPH). Siak’s rich potential is the main reason for the companies’ interest to invest in the area. Until today, 65 companies are licensed as investors in Siak District, mainly working in plantation and palm oil processing, paper production, plywood, oil and gas, and manufacturing.

Sungai Berbari Village and Dosan Village, both located in Pusako Subdistrict, Siak District, Riau Province, demonstrate that the distribution of roles based on gender traditional roles in the research area rendered women’s participation in forest concession invisible.

Public Participation in Spatial Planning Process

The law and regulations in Indonesia, through the Government Regulation No. 15/2010, has stipulated that the spatial planning procedure must involve the local representatives in the planning, brainstorming, and discussion processes related to spatial planning by the stakeholders.

In general the local representatives are only invited to listen to what has been decided by the district government and the companies on the area of land concession granted to the companies. The people are not involved at all in the discussion process of deciding the borders of the area. Meanwhile, the government which authorises forest concession grants often do not carry out field inspections prior to the grants, and only base the borderlines of the land based on outdated maps that do not represent the real condition of the land.

In relation to women’s participation, in general women’s involvement in village meetings at the public sphere is quite minimum. Women are considered to be responsible for domestic activities so public events such as discussions on spatial planning processes are not considered as part of their domain.

Interviews with the people of Sungai Berbari Village demonstrate that there are efforts carried out to encourage women’s involvement in village meetings. Unfortunately such efforts seldom incite positive responses. Although the local women were invited to attend meetings discussing land border plans, only a few of them would attend. Further efforts to boost women’s formal participations are not carried out, so usually women would only attend if there are less male participants.

Meanwhile in Dosan Village, the people also commonly do not consider spatial planning discussions in formal meetings as women’s portion. The strong belief that men are the spearhead of the family causes women to be uninvolved during such meetings. The culture in Dosan Village is reflected in their saying that “a man’s role is to collect the far, bring the heavy…” Therefore, in public informal efforts to solve spatial conflicts through negotiations with the government, which often involves the security guards, women are uninvolved for security reasons.

Public Participation in Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) Process

The legal basis of EIA, a prerequisite for business establishment or environmental management, is in fact unknown to the local people in the two villages, because the decision on concession grants to the companies is made without prior negotiations with them. As EIA procedures have yet to be carried out in Sungai Berbari and Dosan Villages, it can be concluded that there are currently no public participation from both  men and women in formal and informal EIA processes.

Public Participation in Conflict Resolution

A common issue is the disparity between local knowledge and legal documents on land ownership. Based on tradition, the land in the village area has been cultivated by the locals for generations, based on familial relationships or descendants. Rights to use the land had never required land certificates. On the other hand, companies are granted concessions by the local government, in spite of whether or not these companies have undertaken the necessary administrative process as required by the laws and regulations. It is from here that conflicts arise which could potentially escalate and lead to conflicts if not immediately resolved.

Public Participation in Food Security

The presence of companies in Sungai Berbari Village and Dosan Village limited the access of villagers to their plantation areas; consequently, they are no longer able to plant vegetation such as ginger and nonstaple food crops. Furthermore, they are ‘forced’ to accept one or two types of vegetations such as palm oil and rubber, both of which are long-term crops. The villagers state that the government’s role is paramount in assisting the provision of alternative plants as a solution to the issue. Representatives of the Forestry and Agriculture Office of Siak District claim to have provided tree seeds for forestry and fruit trees to the people, yet the villagers are unaware of this program.

The people’s events in those two villages show that women are highly involved in food-providing activities for the family. Data on the Access Profile and Public Control of Dosan and Sungai Berbari Villages on resources show that 55% women carry out various activities in the management of non-timber forest products such as honey, mushrooms, medicinal herbs, and fruits. Generally, women participate more in reproduction (or domestic) efforts. Yet they are also relatively active in survival efforts, as demonstrated in the percentage of production activities between men (47%) and women (44%).

Forest Management Issues

There are three main issues caused by forest and plantation concessions in Siak District:

•    Infrastructure
The infrastructure in Sungai Berbari Village, which is only an hour away from Siak District, is in poor condition, particularly the roads. The roads are badly damaged and dusty as they are passed by the companies’ trucks twice a day. As a result, the air pollution which occurred due to the dust, the dry land, and the lack of water resources in the village influenced their health and caused many, especially the children, to suffer from Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI).

Although the condition of infrastructure and development in Dosan Village is better compared to Sungai Berbari Village, the people there also experience a similar problem with the companies, who violated their promises to build a drilled well and alternative roads to Dosan Village. Yet when the people approached the companies for negotiation purposes, they were ignored and even confronted by the security guards and company dogs.

•    Environment
The environmental condition in Sungai Berbari Village and Dosan Village is appalling, particularly lacking clean water, mild air temperature, and clean air. The water from the drilled well in the people’s homes is also of poor quality: dull and brownish yellow in colour with a metallic smell. On the other hand, people are forced to consume fish from the polluted water, exposing themselves to potential health problems.

Land and forest fires remain a major issue in Sungai Berbari and Dosan Villages. The slash-and-burning technique is actually used by both the local people and companies as a cheap and easy way to clear plantation areas. However, the locals do it on a controllable, small scale. Meanwhile, the companies’ slash and burn practices are done on a very large scale which is impossible, or difficult, to control.

The numerous land and forest fires have caused environmental impacts, such as a high air temperature and serious dusty conditions, as well as health problems, e.g. breathing problems, coughs, etc. The cultivation of palm oil which is the main source of income for a majority of people in Sungai Berbari Village also impacted the soil, making it dry, hot, and polluted with palm oil fertilizers—a harsh environment for other crops.

•    People’s Prosperity
The main problem that people face in both villages is that palm oil plantations are the main commodity and source of livelihood for a majority of them. As a result, their income is highly dependant on the current selling prices of palm oil and other commodities. The pricing is fully decided by the Tauke (palm oil wholesalers) who buy the people’s harvests. Meanwhile, the people do not have the power to negotiate prices so that they are forced to follow the Tauke’s rules.

Although their income from the palm oil plantation is fairly large, they still need to spend a considerable amount of expenses to fulfil their daily needs, such as fuel for genset, clean water for drinking and cooking, and other relatively expensive staple needs.

Case Study of Public Participation from the Gender Perspective

It is important to note that women actively participate in various efforts to overcome problems faced by their family and community, both in food security and conflict resolutions with companies.

In overcoming the people’s lack of access to plantation areas, the women in Sungai Berbari Village, with the assistance of local NGOs, have tried to cultivate the land by planting ginger, in addition to establishing a saving and loan cooperative for women. The latter, however, did not run well.

In terms of conflict resolution, in Sungai Berbari Village, every dry season the women would protest the companies by demanding them to fulfil their promise to water the main roads twice a day to reduce air pollution and dust. This is part of their effort to initiate communication with companies operating in the area. The women’s groups would usually blocade roads that are the main routes of the companies’ vehicles, one of which is by blocading the intersection to the main road on KM 25. With the help of the village men, they closed the roads using large tree trunks.

This effort was quite fruitful, as the companies would then cater to the people’s demands. However after some time it would stop and the people had to block the streets again. In spite of that, this action cannot be overlooked, because what these women did is an effort to respond to, and solve, the problems they face. ***

* This article is a summary of the activity report of “Gender and Forest Concession: Towards a Greater Transparency and Participation: Case Study of Pelalawan District, Riau, and Sungai Berbari and Dosan Villages, Siak District, Riau.” This program is a result of a collaboration between Women Research Institute and World Resource Institute, 2014.