Indonesia's Food Policy and Women's Rights
Sastra, Tini, Women & Environments International Magazine
Recognizing Women's Roles in Food Production, Distribution, Processing, and Consumption
Despite the implementation of Food Act No.7/1996 in Indonesia fifteen years ago, concerns remain respecting women's food insecurity in regions such as Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Papua and Kupang.
In order to address these concerns, the Women's Solidarity for Human Rights (Solidaritas Perempuan), an Indonesian civil society organization working to promote gender equality, non-violence, nondiscrimination and ecological justice for groups of marginalized women, worked with the Indonesian Human Rights Committee for Social Justice and with the Civil Society Coalition to pressure the goverment to amend the Act so as to ensure that the rights of women to food were protected and accommodated. A draft of the bill to amend the Act is currently being considered by the Indonesian parliament.
Background - Achieving Food Self-Sufficiency
In Indonesia, about half of the population makes a living in the agricultural sector. In the 1980s, during the Suharto era, Indonesia achieved self-sufficiency in rice as part of the Green Revolution which led to the implementation of agricultural intensification such as the use of crop varieties with increased yield, fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation expansion.
However, this self-sufficiency did not last long. By 1995 there were rice shortages.
This was also the year when Indonesia joined the WTO. Three important points in the agreement with the WTO were market access, reduction of domestic subsidies and the reduction of export subsidies. Instead of seeing the rice shortages as an impetus to invest in the increase of food production, by improving farming systems and empowering farmers, the government focused on the shortages as an opportunity to promote rice-importing companies.
This focus on trade liberalization and an increasing number of bilateral free trade agreements with countries in the region led to a fast pace of industrialization in large cities, requiring a lot of labour. As a result of this, many villagers no longer see a bright future working as farmers, and many farming families have migrated to the cities in order to work as factory workers, construction workers, retail workers, and domestic workers.
The Food Act No. 7/1996
The Food Act No. 7/1996 was enacted in November 1996, two months after the World Food Summit held in Rome that same year. The Act came about in response to the food crisis that occurred in Indonesia in 1994. In order to deal with the 1994 crisis, the government imported food (rice) to stabilize domestic food reserves and from 1994 onwards food imports continued to rise reaching a peak in 1999 with annual imports of 4.7 million tons of rice. The government's primary reason for importing rice was to secure food stocks and to stabilize food prices. These policies benefited the import-export companies and were a direct result of Indonesia's entry into the WTO and of the free trade agreements.
The substance of the Act did not address the right to food but supported the food industry. The majority of the provisions in the Act related to technical aspects such as packaging, food safety certification and licensing and did not address the right to food, or the obligations of the government to fulfill protect and respect food security as a right. In addition, the Act did not provide for the protection of the sources of production owned by the people and, therefore, land could be converted for development purposes.
The Act and the Role of Women in the Agricultural Sector Role of Women
In Indonesia, women play an important role in the agricultural sector. Women in families of rice farmers are usually involved in the nursery, caring, harvesting, storage, and marketing of rice. Women in sharecropper families work in planting, weeding, harvesting, and threshing of the rice paddy until it is ready to be stored or milled. Women are also involved in the fields in activities that range from planting to harvesting.
Village women who do not work in the agricultural fields are usually involved in the food sector as merchants, sellers and buyers. Some women may be vegetable and fruit merchants, while others may sell processed foods like tempeh (traditional soybean), tofu, and other foods. It may be argued that traditional folk markets in Indonesia are women's markets since the sellers and the buyers are women, and since the participation of men is limited to 'helping' their wives or families. Indonesian customs dictate that women are the consumers in these markets since they are the ones who shop for food for their families.
While this important role of women is clear, they still face difficulties. First, women encounter barriers with respect to land ownership because land, and therefore paddy fields, is typically owned by the male, head of a family and this means women play a smaller role in decisionmaking within the family. Second, women farmers are often marginalized by government policy makers with respect to decision-making on food policies. Policy makers do not recognize the important role of women in the chain of production, in distribution and processing, and in providing food for their families. For example, while women and men are involved in agriculture, policy makers only invite men to village meetings to discuss government programs in agriculture. In many cases women are not able to access information respecting agricultural practices and all decisions in this arena whether related to land, seed, fertilizers, eradication of pests using pesticides, or agricultural assistance, are made by the male head of the family.
Impact of the Act
As previously stated, the Act - combined with trade liberalization policies - created changes in the food production system which favoured the private sector and large companies. The changes were of particular benefit to large agribusinesses.
Formal regulation of the food industry within the Act, such as the certification processed food has complicated the livelihoods of women who work in the informal sectors of the domestic food industry. For example, since Indonesia embraced free market policies not only have staple foods begun to be imported into Indonesia but fruits and vegetables have also been imported. It is not unusual to find grapes from Australia, oranges from China and apples from the United States being sold alongside, and competing for sales, with local produce.
In addition, the marketing of food imports has led to Indonesian upper and middle classes showing a preference for imported foods and a preference for shopping in supermarket chains rather than in traditional women's markets. The result has been devastating for women who make their living in these markets and many have migrated to urban centres in search of work.
Moreover, the Act has not outlined the government's obligation to stabilize food prices in Indonesia. Free market policies have led food prices to rise on a continual basis and the impact of this outcome is most acutely felt by me poor and in particular by poor women who may limit their own food consumption in favour of other family members.
Amendments to the Food Act
Solidaritas Perempuan has been working to ensure the recognition of women's important roles in food security, at die levels of the family, community, and country. In the field we can say that women are food authorities. There should be an effort to make women aware that they actually have that power.
Solidaritas Perempuan carries out many advocacy activities on women's food security. We began with critical reviews of the Act to conduct a dialogue with Parliament. Solidaritas Perempuan and the Civil Society Coalition also hold public consultations in some regions in Indonesia to increase input from various communities.
In respect of the concerns stated above, the Coalition drafted a bill to amend the Act and submitted the bill to Commission IV (the Commission responsible for agriculture, plantations, maritime affairs, fisheries and food) within the House of Representatives, a chamber of Parliament. The bill was successfully included in the National Legislation Programme for 2010-2014 and discussions on the bill continue in Parliament.
Solidaritas Perempuan and the Civil Society Coalition are continuing to monitor the process of the revision in Parliament to ensure that the Commision adopts me input that has been presented by the Coalition. Women must demand to have their rights and roles recognized respecting the issue of food security otherwise they will continue to experience food injustice. Women produce, distribute, process, prepare and provide food in Indonesia but they must also be afforded the benefits, and rights, to have those roles recognized and to be able to control their own food security.
In the 1990s, Indonesia pursued a number of food security policies, including a new Food Act, membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and various free trade agreements for food imports and exports. Fifteen years later, Tini Sastra argues that the impact of these policies has been detrimental to women's food security.
Free market policies have led food prices to rise on a continual basis and the impact is most acutely felt by the poor, in particular poor women who may limit their own food consumption in favour of other family members.
Federation of Indonesian Peasant Union (FSPI). (2005). The WTO: The Enemy of the Peasant! http://viacampesina. net/downloads/PDF/lvcbooksonwto.pdf
Tini Sastra is Head of the Women and Food Sovereignty Division at Solidaritas Perempuan in Jakarta, Indonesia. She studied in the Faculty of Cultural Science Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, and graduated as Indonesian LEAD Fellow in 2009.…
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Publication information: Article title: Indonesia's Food Policy and Women's Rights. Contributors: Sastra, Tini - Author. Magazine title: Women & Environments International Magazine. Issue: 88/89 Publication date: Fall/Winter 2011. Page number: 35+. © WEED Foundation Fall 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.