Why Planet Indonesia focuses on women and girls empowerment

Our passionate Health Coordinator Eko

Our passionate Health Coordinator Eko

“Seeing women disadvantaged because they don’t have access to basic human rights, that they might not be able to earn enough income to live freely simply because they miss out on educational opportunities… That has alarmed me and motivated me since I can remember.” - Eko, Planet Indonesia Literacy Coordinator.

Planet Indonesia’s model has a strong focus on empowering women and girls. Today, we’re going to explain why and how.

Of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), gender equality has been highlighted as integral to “all dimensions of inclusive and sustainable development” and necessary if we want to see the successful development of the other 16 dimensions.

In the rural communities we work with, women typically earn less and have a lower literacy rate than men before intervention.

Women and girls also suffer more from diseases such as … and are at a significant risk of pre- and post-natal malnutrition as a result of taboos and misinformation. There also tends to be fewer participation opportunities for women than men in contributing to community-wide decisions.

After consulting with women and girls in our target communities, they highlighted two main gendered issues at the root of why these inequalities manifest.

  1. A lack of access to literacy

  2. A lack of access to health, specifically family planning and reproductive health  

So, to help them combat these issues, our literacy and health programs are developed with a focus on women and girls.


Let’s start with literacy. A lack of access to literacy and educational opportunities presents a problem when it comes to finding work and getting involved in leadership decisions and roles.

The district of Kubu Raya has the second highest illiteracy rate in all of Indonesia, this is highest among women, with as much as 80% in some villages (like Sungai Nibung) not being able to read or write

This also interferes with the sustainable development of the overall community, as neatly summarised in this quote by Neneng, who has ten years of experience teaching in rural coastal villages.

Eko with our in-community PUMK leader

Eko with our in-community PUMK leader

“If you can read and write, [only] then you can understand environmental protection.”

Our literacy program aims to improve education thus helping empower women economically and allowing them to take more leadership opportunities.

It is led by Eko, who began working for Planet Indonesia in early 2018. She was born and raised in our partner village of Sungai Nibung, which used to be categorized as a village severely lagging behind socio-economically.

When Planet Indonesia began working in her village, she approached Riansyah with her background and passion in education services and asked to be put in touch with the Planet Indonesia management team.

She saw the need for literacy opportunities to resolve some of the socio-economic and gender inequalities her community faced.

With her capabilities and commitment to the cause, she took charge of the literacy program, which has a strong focus on empowering women and girls.

Eko: “Women are generally required to take care of their homes and children, then they’re also expected to work to increase their family income to survive. But without education, many women enter illegal or environmentally unsustainable industries which can be dangerous.

It’s something I’ve seen since I was a young girl and I wanted to improve the situation for my community.

The benefits of gaining literacy skills through our program are unlimited. We provide women with access to literacy classes and pay for them to take an exam that provides state-recognised certification. This is very useful when looking for alternative work or getting involved in leadership positions if they want to

I mean, these skills can change a woman’s life.”

It’s also important to recognise that in our partner villages the average income varies from less than USD $1.25 per day to less than USD $5.00 per day.

To have two parents per household capable of taking income-generating opportunities is a massive relief for families.


Issues surrounding income, leadership, and sustainability are also greatly (but perhaps less obviously) exacerbated by health concerns, especially surrounding the concept of fertility and family planning.

Our inspiring Health Coordinator Fitria

Our inspiring Health Coordinator Fitria

“Sexual and reproductive rights are critical... Shortfalls in these multiply other forms of discrimination, depriving women of education and decent work, for example. Yet only 52 percent of women married or in a union freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use, and health care.” - UN Women 2017

The rural nature of these communities mean healthcare access is at best a 1-4 hour motorbike ride away whereas some coastal villages have no access to health services except by an expensive boat trip.

We have also found family planning options were almost non-existent, and taboos surrounding maternal health often result in mother and infant malnutrition.

For example, in one of our villages 86% of women did not know about contraceptives, and of the 14% that did, only 7% were using them regularly.

By providing women with access to reliable healthcare through our health program, we give them the opportunity to make informed choices around family planning. This reduces maternal and child mortality, pregnancy-related health risks associated with close birth spacing, and allows families  to invest more in each child.

It also allows women and girls to pursue higher education and better income-generating opportunities. Giving women access to improve their health makes for a hygienic and healthier environment for the community.

Our health and family planning programs are run by Fitria. She was motivated to work on gender inequalities surrounding health after seeing the importance of a woman’s role in the development of a family unit and its community.

Fitria: “It’s important for us to train community members to become health ambassadors themselves. That’s a massive part of empowerment, and to ensure the changes we see are continuous and passed on from generation to generation.

Fitria conducting surveys with newly joined CCs members

Fitria conducting surveys with newly joined CCs members

To do that we increase the role stakeholders at the village and sub-district level play as health workers. We train them to raise awareness surrounding the importance of family planning, reproductive health, and the importance of maintaining a healthy environment for the sake of mothers and women at childbearing age.

Men, children and the community depend on women, who play such an important role in fostering a good, clean and healthy environment for them to live in.”

We also collaborate with several organizations to provide the best health services we can for women.

Besides our in-house health ambassadors, we work with the department of public health and local health clinics to ensure that clinics have a reliable roster of staff and are stocked with essential medical resources like medicines related to pre- and post-natal care.

We found that households enrolled in our program are 120% more likely to use contraceptives and engage in family planning decisions as a couple versus a male-dominated situation.

To date, over 3000 households have enrolled in our programs. Of our program beneficiaries, 65% are women.

Motivations for simple values of fairness and equality aside, when we invest in women and girls, invest in better community livelihoods, economic growth, and environmental health.

We’re dedicated to helping women and girls take ownership over their livelihood, to make personal choices that they want, and to advocate for equality because they deserve it.

Adam MillerComment