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A Long Road to Recognizing the Contribution of Indigenous Women

By: Teguh Iman Affandi

Indigenous women are vulnerable to stigma and layered discrimination. Their contributions to community livelihoods and advocacy for human rights often do not get the recognition they deserve.

“In the past, we were only seen as a complement, providing food during ceremonial events,” said Meiliana Yumi, an indigenous woman from the Indigenous Peoples of Rakyat Penunggu, in Deli Serdang Regency, North Sumatra Province.

Meiliana Yumi or Yumi said that before 2016, the indigenous women’s movement was not developed. Indigenous Peoples institutions also do not provide space for indigenous women to understand their existence. At that time, she was a teacher in Medan, North Sumatra.

In meetings with Sumatera Utara officials, Meiliana Yumi gave the academic text and proposal for local law
about indigenous peoples in Sumatera Utara

The stigma attached to indigenous peoples at that time made Yumi disappointed. “In the past, we were labelled as cultivators of government land,” said Yumi. This stigma led Yumi to organize women in her village into one perwiridan or Alquran study group in 2014.

In 2016, Yumi was introduced to an organization called PEREMPUAN AMAN, an organizational wing of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN). Then, in February 2016, the PEREMPUAN AMAN organizing area was formed in the ancestral territory of the Rakyat Penunggu, in Kampong Menteng Tuluang Pusu Village, where Yumi lives.

After that, in April 2016, Yumi received an invitation to come to the PEREMPUAN AMAN National Working Meeting (Rakernas I). In the event, Yumi got a new awareness. The meeting sparked a sense of solidarity. “Many indigenous women have the same fate. I learned so much,” said Yumi.

A year later, in March 2017, Yumi was mandated to prepare the AMAN Congress in the Rakyat Penunggu’s ancestral territory. Nine months before the congress, Yumi did the organizing. As a result, nine organizing areas were formed. Five areas from the traditional territory of the Rakyat Penunggu, two from the Tano Batak, and two from the Pakpak. The AMAN congress went well. “Those who contribute the most, from food to money, are indigenous women,” said Yumi.

After successfully holding the AMAN Congress, Yumi continues to learn and organize. She even resigned as a teacher, because she wanted to develop PEREMPUAN AMAN in her ancestral land.

Then, Yumi and other indigenous women advocated for indigenous peoples’ institutions to include women’s groups in the decision-making structure of the institutions. “If there is a conflict we (Indigenous women – ed) are at the forefront, then why when the decision-making, we are ignored,” said Yumi to the elders who opposed gender equality at that time. Yumi’s advocacy was successful. Now the voices of indigenous women are taken into account in the decision-making of indigenous peoples institutions

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