Current Project / Women & Politics / Women's Participation

Published: 07/06/2016

In the last few years, forest fires have been one of the major environmental issues in Indonesia. In 2014, Riau Province recorded the most fire locations in the country. As an illustration, four districts in Riau Province, namely Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan, and Siak, accounted for 52% fire locations from the total forest fires throughout Indonesia. Meanwhile, the area of forests which experienced deforestation reached 373,373 hectares.

The problem of forest fires, which causes various economic, health, and environmental impacts to the local people, largely—if not mostly—affects women. As women are considered to be responsible for domestic matters, they are expected to bear the responsibility of all matters related to the family’s continuity.

In their daily lives, women are actively involved in various efforts to stop forest fires, including in informal advocacy efforts aimed at companies who own permits for forest concessions. However, in various decision-making forums on forest concessions between the government and corporates involving representatives from the local people, women are often uninvolved. As a result, women’s aspirations and interests are overlooked; when in forest management and utilisation, men and women have different roles and knowledge, making it imperative to involve both in realising a proper management.

In response to this issue, Women Research Institute (WRI), in collaboration with World Resources Institute and a number of local organisations, carried out a gender-based research on public participation in the process of forest concessions and forest management policies. The specification of gender analysis is encouraged by the lack of data and research on the demography of forest workers and its relation to women’s participation. 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 Teluk Binjai Village, Teluk Meranti Subdistrict, Pelalawan District in Riau.

Public Participation in Forest Concession

Pelalawan District is widely known for its forest resources, coconut production, and palm oil plantations. It is one of the largest palm oil producers in Riau Province. The forests in Pelalawan are continuously experiencing damages due to the forest fires triggered by the numerous forest concession areas belonging to palm oil companies, Industrial Forests (HTI), and the local community.  

The presence of corporates in Teluk Binjai Village, with their forest concession area reaching 1,200 hectares, does not necessarily contribute towards the development and prosperity of the local residents. This is demonstrated by the poverty rate of Pelalawan District which is still above 11%.  

The Government’s Regulation No. 68/2010 regulates that the people need to participate in spatial planning, utilisation, and control, but in practice they are not much involved. The lack of people’s involvement in the spatial process results in land conflicts, triggering clashes between the people and corporates as well as among the people themselves.

At the practice level, the ownership and control of land among the people are still largely held by men. Women’s participation in the spatial planning, utilisation, and control is not considerably counted. In formal village meetings to discuss forest concessions, women are not much involved, nor do they want to, due to the common belief among them that forest issues are men’s domain. This is ironic as it is claimed that decision-makers at the village level have always invited a minimum of 10% women to participate in these village meetings.

Furthermore, the women invited to meetings on spatial and land management discussions are only those holding related positions; when in fact the women of Teluk Binjai Village are generally involved in the family’s plantation and land management, in addition to owning access to credit which may be used as a capital to trade their harvests.

The corporates’ forest concessions imposed on the local community’s lands diabled many families in utilising the lands they usually manage. In order to make a living, many women in Teluk Binjai Village turned to saving and loan cooperatives as an alternative solution.

In principle, women and men’s positions in Teluk Binjai Village are adequately equal in carrying out productive and reproductive activities. Women actively participate in reproductive activities, such as household management, and productive activities, such as land management and farming.

Public Participation in the Process of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

In various policies related to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), there is no particular emphasis on the importance of women’s representation in EIA-related meetings.

There is a very minimum involvement of the local community in EIA processes, and even this is limited to the normative realm. Most local women also do not consider forest concession issues, including EIA, to be part of their concern, and thus tend to be passive in addressing them. A majority of EIA-related meetings are only attended by male village figures, such as the village head and his officials.

In various village meetings there is a quota for women as much as 10% from the total participants. Their participation tends to be passive, however, as they are hesitant to voice out. Nevertheless, from these meetings the women are still benefitted as they can receive first-hand information.

Public Participation in Conflict Resolution

Law No. 37/2012 on Social Conflict Resolution regulates that conflict resolution must reflects gender equality principles and include a minimum of 30% women’s representation in the membership of conflict resolution units. Thus far, conflicts in Teluk Binjai village tend to be related to land conflicts. These conflicts rarely end in physical confrontations as the local community still attempts to negotiate and reach resolutions with the companies in question. Unfortunately, these efforts oftentimes end in a grey area, or their resolutions end up disregarded. In solving numerous land conflicts in Teluk Binjai Village, where the locals are compelled to confront the companies directly, women are never involved. Therefore, in practice, the management of social conflicts in Teluk Binjai Village has yet to reflect gender equality principles.

Public Participation in Food Security

Women are often overlooked as the breadwinner of the family, when in fact they hold a big role in maintaining the family’s food sources which continue to decrease due to the presence of palm oil companies and Industrial Forests (HTI) in Teluk Binjai Village. As they are given the responsibility of the provision of food for the family, women experience the direct impact. The women of Teluk Binjai Village which used to cultivate the land with food sources such as corn and rice found it increasingly difficult because their area of land reduced due to corporates’ concessions. In order to overcome the problem, a number of CSOs took the initiative of helping women in Teluk Binjai Village to use their own gardens to fulfil the family’s food needs; in addition to owning the control, roles, and access to natural resources.

Forest Management Issues

There are three main problems caused by plantation and forest concessions in Pelalawan District:

•    Infrastructure
The poor condition of roads in Teluk Binjai Village isolates the local community from fulfilling their rights for health services and education. Roads, the main supporting infrastructure for the corporates’ vehicles are overlooked and left to remain in poor condition. This also applies to other public facilities as well. The condition of infrastructure in the village illustrates the disregard of forest and plantation companies for the people’s prosperity. The local community, living in an area rich with natural resources, are subjected to a systematic impoverishment due to the presence of corporates which damages their sources of livelihood and local wisdom.

•    Environment
The poor management of Riau’s forests is reflected in the various conditions of environmental changes, for instance the pollution of rivers, increased contamination of pests, flood, and forest fires. A data from Jikalahari shows that in the period of 2009-2012, Riau’s pace of deforestation reached 188,000 hectares. From the total damage, 73.5% occurred in peat lands and forests which should be preserved.

•    Public Prosperity
People’s prosperity in forest concession areas has not received a serious attention from decision-makers, both at the executive and legislative levels. The presence of corporates in Teluk Binjai Village failed many of the government’s farming programs, targeted at people’s economic improvement. The corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs which should contribute towards the local people’s prosperity have not impacted positively on the people. In addition, forest fires due to forest concessions are also hugely detrimental for the people, particularly women who make a living by creating woven products. The locals’ dependency on palm oil cultivation also causes economic difficulties when the price of palm oil decreases.

Public Participation Case Study from the Gender Perspective

Women’s role in forest management includes managing the rice paddies and plantations which are their main source of economy. In cultivating the paddies, women generally perform activities such as fertilising, weeding, harvesting, tapping and selling rubber. In managing corn plantations, they are actually involved in the whole process, from planting to selling.

The economic difficulties faced by the local community due to the loss or lack of livelihood sources mainly derived from forests force many women to help look for other means of income to ensure the family’s continuity.

Thus, women of Teluk Binjai Village hold an active role in various activities, both at the domestic and public spheres. This demonstrates how women’s actions and participations are important in the effort to overcome problems caused by forest concessions, which constrain people’s access to their family’s livelihood sources. In other words, women are the spearhead in finding solutions to ensure their family’s livelihood.


At Indonesia’s policy level, there are actually 20 (twenty) regulations on forest management which contains the mandate of public participation, namely 17 (seventeen) regulations at the national level and 1 (one) regulation at the Pelalawan District. However, from those 20 regulations, there is only one regulation which stipulates the participation mandate (Law No. 7/2012 on Social Conflict Resolution). Law No. 37/2012 has included the principle of gender equality by requiring a 30% representation of women in the membership of the conflict resolution unit. However in reality this has yet to be realised.

The distribution of work based on gender roles causes many parties to ignore women’s participation in forest management. While the access to and control of natural resources in Teluk Binjai Village, such as access to credits, are relatively balanced between men and women, the access to resources such as the authority in policy-making and ownership are owned more by men than women.

Although public participation is apparent, the involvement is only limited to the representation of several people who are considered as public leaders, commonly men. In village meetings in Teluk Binjai, the involvement of women is only 10%. This is suspected due to the involvement of women in forest and land management; notwithstanding the fact that, as the ‘manager’ of the household’s food needs, women are directly impacted by the limited access to food resources. In general, women are continuously present in solving conflicts between the corporate and the local community.

From the findings of the research, Women Research Institute highlights the importance of capacity building efforts for village women in strengthening their knowledge of regulations and advocacy skills related to forest management in Teluk Binjai Village, Pelalawan Village. This effort is expected to realise an access to justice for poor and marginalised women, particularly women. It is also an effort to support women to conduct advocacy and understand the mechanism of people’s participation in the management of natural resources, particularly forest and land management. ***

* This article is a summary of a research report entitled “Gender and Forest Concession: Towards a Greater Transparency and Participation”, a Case Study of Pelalawan District, Riau. The research is a result of collaboration between Women Research Institute and World Resources Institute, 2014.