Kasmiati, a member of the historically oppressed Sasak minority group in Indonesia, is a catalyst for the social and economic emancipation of her sisters. She is the founder of a steadily growing mutual help association of poor Sasak women producers and traders, and she has begun convening all the groups concerned with Sasak women in order to develop a common strategy and to encourage collaboration.
The New Idea
Kasmiati seeks to achieve full social and economic emancipation for Sasak women. While growing up in a neighborhood of petty traders, Kasmiati observed firsthand the injustices directed toward her mother and other women in the village, and also their endless struggle to pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty. Traditionally, the women had no money and thus no bargaining power. Kasmiati saw the need to establish a group of women working together who could provide one another with emotional support, and who could also form an alliance that would bolster their bargaining power when entering into economic enterprises outside the home.Kasmiati envisions an independent women's cooperative that would, unlike most traditional cooperatives, require active membership as well as work on economic development.Kasmiati's approach is to develop each member as a whole person, not just to develop an income generation scheme. The organization which Kasmiati founded, the Anissa Cooperative, emphasizes a social agenda in addition to its income generation component. By addressing needs for education, health and welfare, legal rights, and leadership development, the 800 Sasak women members are growing bolder. They are beginning to take a more active role in decisionmaking within the household, as well as publicly pursuing their rights in the broader community. This process of building social and economic empowerment is long and painstaking, but, once under way, it is all but irreversible.Anissa's economic impact is also proving powerful. Its small low-interest loans are financing a growing number of investments in new producing and trading activities that allow members to improve (often double) their incomes. As the Sasak women find their own voice and increase their economic base, they are moving closer to their own emancipation.As Kasmiati has developed Anissa from its tiny beginning in her own neighborhood, she has increasingly turned her attention to how to achieve a far wider impact. Anissa will grow, helping others learn from its experiences. However, Kasmiati has launched a more aggressive strategy as well.She began this new dimension of her work by bringing together all the groups concerned in any way with women on her home island, Lombok (it lies just east of Bali). She engaged them in cosponsoring an in-depth survey of women's needs on the island and in discussing its results - a logical precursor to developing common approaches and programs.
West Nusa Tenggara is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia. With limited natural resources and often sparse rainfall, the population must compete for limited job opportunities to scratch out a living. In this type of environment, the people with the least skills generally fare the worst. It is no surprise that this group is mostly women.The traditional role of the Sasak women has been very bleak. The typical woman has no decision-making rights within her family. Many young twelve-to fourteen-year old girls are forced into arranged marriages. The child mortality rate amongst the Sasak is the highest in Indonesia. The problem of child mothers having babies of low birth weight is chronic. Another example and cause of the problem is that virtually all of the women in the area are illiterate. In addition to bearing these already very difficult circumstances, moreover, Sasak women must play the exhausting dual role of caretaker of the family and breadwinner as well.For extra income, many of the women take up small-scale enterprises as petty traders. They sell vegetables, snacks, eggs, and housewares for a small profit. Historically, because the women most often do not have the capital to launch their own ventures, they have fallen into the clutches of the high-interest-charging unofficial moneylenders. The result has been entrapment in a vicious debt cycle.
Kasmiati's goal is to create a powerful grassroots movement of and for poor women. Over the 1980s she learned how to do this extremely difficult task as she gradually built up Anissa. Armed with this mastery, she is now entering a new, equally ambitious phase of her work in which she hopes to reach hundreds of thousands of women well beyond those whom she can serve directly.Her current strategy, therefore, has two broad parts: to continue building Anissa and to find other means that will allow her the much broader reach she seeks.Her work with Anissa will remain extremely important. It gives her an organizational base, and its success as a model gives her message much of its persuasive credibility. It is where she can most readily continue learning and therefore develop her methodology for enabling very poor women to organize and take charge of their lives. It is also where she is developing the grassroots leaders that will carry the model to other communities, and it is the place where she can easily provide more general training.The heart of making Anissa work is the process of giving its members an understanding of their environment_ be it their family, the nature and functioning of the co-op, or the economic structure around them_and both the confidence and the tools to take control. The group provides the medium for most of this work. Here the women can safely learn, think, and act together. Here they can pool resources and help one another. Here new frames of thinking and feeling emerge and are legitimized. The members meet at least monthly and discuss social as much as economic issues including the problems of early marriage, physical abuse, family planning, and children's health.Anissa has many programs, but they all point in this same direction. Since illiteracy is one of the most basic root causes of powerlessness, Anissa members attend regular classes. As a result, most can now sign their names and write basic sentences. The organization works hard to ensure its members understand how it works, and are active. It succeeds, in large part, because the members have real control. Anissa's economic programs, backed up by training and discussion, help the members understand the broader functioning of the economy, thereby sharpening their sense of just how critical building economic power is and giving them a compass to help guide their efforts. The group's savings and low-interest loan program is, of course, one concrete example of the value both of cooperation and of building economic power. Anissa's interest charges are one-tenth that of the money lenders!One of Kasmiati's important priorities now is identifying and developing local members who can play leading roles within Anissa and in carrying its work to previously unserved areas. She is experimenting with various combinations of leadership training and practice as she works toward building a leadership team both for her movement and, more broadly, for Sasak and other severely disadvantaged women in Indonesia.Kasmiati, however, knows that relying on spreading her impact only directly through Anissa will be too slow. Consequently, she is experimenting with how to help other organizations, working in one way or another with women, learn what she has learned and, it is hoped, thereby indirectly multiply her impact. Over the last year she has canvassed all these organizations working on Lombok and got them to collaborate with her survey of the condition of women on the island. As this process develops, she hopes some of them will be drawn toward the logic underlying her approach. She is also beginning to reach out to similar organizations elsewhere in Indonesia.By creating linkages between all the groups concerned with women on Lombok, Kasmiati also hopes to draw more public and donor attention to Lombok. By defining a practical and effective approach to helping poor women with their needs, she also hopes to encourage more support for work with women.
Kasmiati, whose father was a teacher and mother a petty trader, was born and raised in Lombok. As a child, Kasmiati saw what it meant to be trapped in debts to a moneylender. As she grew up, she realized that many women suffer the same fate: they need cash, and the only place where they can raise it is from the moneylenders.Kasmiati had a rich childhood. Her propensity to lead appeared early, as did her social concern. She often visited orphanages with her grandfather when she was in junior high school and moved quickly to organize programs for the children there. After high school she went to a religious teacher training school. After graduating, she served as a high school teacher until she married a liberal Sasak man in 1983. They have one child.By 1984, Kasmiati, struck with the familiar pattern of women struggling to eke additional income for their families but falling into debt to the moneylenders in her new neighborhood, founded a small social and economic support group with twenty close neighbors. Each woman contributed to the group savings at monthly meetings. After a reasonable amount of money was saved, a group member's name was drawn from a bottle and that member was eligible to use the funds saved for a loan to start her own enterprise. Over the years, the numbers, as well as the geographic areas covered by the group, expanded. By 1986, the number of women in Kasmiati's loan group had reached 115. At this point she formalized the organization and registered it as a pre-cooperative.