Fellow Since 2001
Yayasan Panca Karsa
This description of Endang Susilowati's work was prepared when Endang Susilowati was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
Through a decentralized network of service centers, Endang Susilowati is reaching poor women who are most likely to migrate to seek work. She is providing information, counseling, and job skills training, and is launching an advocacy campaign to introduce protections.
The New Idea
A lawyer and advocate for migrant workers, Endang sees that advocacy at a policy level must be met with grassroots action. Through a decentralized effort that puts former migrant workers in charge, Endang is setting up a network of small service centers that serve the women and girls who are most likely to follow an agent into a life of migrant servitude and debt bondage. The centers' staff reach deep into the rural communities, and because they speak from experience, their approach is especially effective and compelling to those who are considering joining the thousands of peopleprimarily women and childrenwho leave Indonesia each year for what they think will be a better life abroad. And the service centers serve other clients as well: in particular, returned workers who are disoriented, in debt, recovering from psychological, and in some cases, physical trauma. Through all these efforts, Endang hopes to bring a sense of self-confidence to these women, helping them to understand their worth, respect and cultivate their talents, and through education, avoid the pitfalls, lies, and ruses of an industry that stands to gain from the misery of millions.
In 1998, an estimated nine hundred thousand Indonesians worked as laborers overseasmany in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Two years later, the numbers had doubled, yet the measures to ensure their rights and welfare have been given a low priority. The problems often begin in their home villages when charismatic agents appear and promise fruitful careers. Those who fall prey to agents are often mistreated from the outset. Fees are extorted at every step in the process, and they become dependent on the agents who place them. It is common for false documents to be produced, especially for women who may be as young as thirteen years old, even though officially they must be thirty to work in countries such as Saudi Arabia. For many migrants, further problems present themselves upon arrival at their destination: they cannot speak the local language, the salary and type of work they find does not match what they agreed to, employers often withhold passports or other official papers and prevent the newly-arrived workers from contacting anyone back home. The isolation, desperation, and violation is overwhelming for many, and there are numerous cases of migrant workers who disappear without a trace. If they return home, they are discriminated against and find themselves in a situation of extreme debt.
In 1988, Endang started her organization, Yayasan Panca Karsa, to deal with women's issues. At the time, her focus was income generation and education programs for poor or historically oppressed women. But as she began to see the gravity and scope of the migrant problem, she shifted focus in 1996. Due to government corruption at the time, illegal agencies collaborated with the Department of Manpower and other official ministries. No organizations east of Java offered services and information to this overlooked and vulnerable group. Endang's grassroots effort set up an expansive network of service centers throughout Indonesia. They are small centers, typically staffed by one woman from the area, and they offer counseling, information, advocacy, and vocational training for women or girls who are considering migrating for work or who have just returned from having worked overseas. The decentralized approach is well-suited to the problem, as discretion and personalized attention is what this group most needs. Every situation is different, and parsing through options on a case by case basis establishes trust. While Endang plans to strengthen the existing service centers, she is also expanding the organization's geographic reach. She envisions a one-stop service center that helps migrant workers do everything from obtain a passport or visa to learn to manage their money and invest their earnings. YPK has set up a credit union to help migrants overcome exploitation by moneylenders. The credit union teaches migrant workers to save money and make better use of their earnings. Documentation of cases and policy advocacy form another element of Endang's strategy. She sees that having individual cases in hand will expose many of the realities for what they are and strengthen the bargaining position of migrant workers. Armed with these cases, she approaches lawyers and policy makers. Her advocacy strategies have included lobbying directly to the Department of Manpower and the local Parliament, investigating a number of high profile cases, and organizing public meetings to review the problem and consider solutions. In these efforts, she has brought together representatives of the local government, police officers, the recruiting agencies, representatives from the Indonesian embassies in Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, and returned migrant workers. Through such efforts and through her openness to discussion with all people, Endang has become a reference point for journalists and national and international advocacy groups.
When she was a child, Endang moved often with her parents and nine siblings. Her father was an army officer posted in various parts of eastern Indonesia. The income of army officers at the time was low, and Endang started working while still a high school student in East Lombok. She continued on to the law faculty at the University of Mataram, while working for the Red Cross as a bookkeeper and field worker. In 1986, Lombok suffered a serious earthquake, and Endang worked with the Dutch funding agency, HIVOS, and the regional planning board to rebuild houses. A rural development organization grew out of this work, and Endang was involved in the women's bureau. Realizing that the men who ran the organization did not welcome their input on policy issues, Endang and four other women separated and set up Yayasan Panca Karsa in 1988. Their first programs included income generating activities and discussion groups with women married to fishermen and farmers. These women had to work very hard to provide for their families during the periods each year when fishing was too dangerous or farming activities were slow. Endang and her colleagues found that in an effort sustain their families, more and more women were leaving home to work abroad. As she became aware of the huge number of women who were leaving their homes and the minefield of potential difficulties they faced, she shifted their focus in 1996 to this overlooked subset of women. Endang's training in law and her thorough documentation and collection of data have earned her the respect of the government and the media, as well as national and international advocacy groups. She is a member of Konsorsium Pembela Buruh Migran, the Consortium Defending Migrant Workers, a national association working to revise national labor laws influencing migrant workers and ensure the implementation of those laws.