Women Position in FPIC Process

Treatment to women workers in plantations deserves attention.  Women are largely employed to undertake field operations such as planting, weeding and application of pesticides.  Spraying of hazardous chemicals such as paraquat has been reported to cause health problems among women workers and the risks are exacerbated when they work during early stages of pregnancy.  Women are at greater risk when dealing with chemicals with organophosphate active ingredients that are endocrine disrupters that can be absorbed through fats tissues and subsequently affect fetal growth.  For this reason, pregnant and lactating women should be excluded from doing work that  exposes them to such chemicals. Until the adoption of the RSPO P&C in 2005, the development and systematic implementation of gender related policies to address issues such as discrimination, sexual harassment, violence against women and protection of reproductive rights had seldom been applied to plantations.  This is an area that needs to be addressed by the industry.

The principles of Free, Prior, Inform, Consent (FPIC) defines a negotiation with detail and complete information and with no enforcement between investors and company or between government and Indigeneous people who has been living in the area before oil palm plantation and any other operation emerged and developen on the customary land. FPIC should ascertain equal position between community and company where the result should have been negotiated, and would ensure security of palm oil and reduce investment risk. FPIC is also implementation of a risk analysis, a project designing, and a participatory agreement of compensation.

In order to find out to what extent women in Desa Mekar Jaya were aware of and involved in the FPIC process, informal interviews were carried out by female research team members with individual women and small groups of women. These interviews revealed that the extent of knowledge of women in the village varies considerably. On the one hand, some had reportedly never heard about the company, or of the land conflict between their community and the ahli waris. None had heard about the RSPO or FPIC or been involved in any sort of community consultation with the company or the government.

There are 3 Malay Women we interviewed in Desa Mekar Jaya, Ibu Rusmiyati, Ibu Karnia, and Ibu Kasimah, who are originally from Desa Mekar Jaya. As the origins, though they have tight bonding with their lands, only Ibu Kasimah knows exactly what happened to their land and the village. The others said that they never got involved in this kind of issues, because it is men’s field, not woman’s. Moreover, women interviewed in Mekar Jaya appeared not to know the area of their fields and rubber plantations. Some of them reported that their SPT and land certificates were in the name of their husband only.

“We (women) never really know how vary is our land.

You can ask the men (husbands)” (Ibu Rusmiyati)

 Interestingly, Ibu Karnia who is aware that there were problems, but did not want to be involved stated that:

“I don’t want to hear about these conflicts. They make me feel sick and nauseous. I don’t want my husband to tell me about them, even though I know there are conflicts. It makes me ill to think about them” (Ibu Karnia)

I asked Udin (son of Ibu Karnia) if he ever shared the village discussion with his mother, he said

I did it before i was scape-goated by the community and mother got very sick everytime she heard about land issues. I stopped sharing anything related to land and village issues since then

 Those statement above showed that there is connection between the origin women and the land, but as the land conflict in the village is handled and discussed among The men (only), the woman are then naturally left behind. Pak Azim, the former Kepala Kampong of Desa Mekar Jaya said:

“If the women attends village meeting, then who would cook in the house?”


The facts above forms a social construct whereby women are placed in a private space and are responsible for domestic matters, meanwhile men are placed in a social decision making public space. Consequently the chances for women become restricted and women don’t voice or articulate their interests.

In the village, there is an organization, Program Kesejahteraan Keluarga (PKK), which usually formed to gather women interest, and to handle women and child issues. This organization should empower women to improve the life quality of women and children. But apparently, this organization in Desa Mekar Jaya only has 2 activities, pengajian (Moslem Recitation) and Arisan (Women gathering), which is not involved empowerment efforts at all. Those activities are only identified women as “helper of the husband” in the house. In Arisan, they do not even discuss about village’s issues.

It also leads to forms of stereotyping, which is a more subtle way to marginalize the role and position of women in various sectors by labelling women with domestic related work. As a result among other things a lower compensation even though the work is public in nature but still labelled as domestic.

Customarily, the women do not participate in wider village meetings with the men. Furthermore, it appears that male family members do not share information about the issues discussed on these occasions (such as land conflicts) with them informally either. Yet working the land is an integral part of most women’s lives. Some spend over half of their day on their land:

I’m up at 1:30 am to go to the rubber fields. I come back at around 10 am, and at 1 pm, I go to the dry paddy fields (ladang) until around 6 pm.

 A majority of the chores related to rice and rubber farming are carried out by both spouses together, such as general upkeeping, fertilising, clearing and burning. Women also make use of the forest to find vegetables and certain medicinal plants.

The real burden which is born by many women particularly those that are active/work in the public realm, where they are also obliged to do domestic chores after working outside of the house. Women does more activities than Men. Women are also productive in the field, which means though Men are the head of household and recognized breadwinner, women are economic actor of household as well. They may not recognized as breadwinner of household, but they do both productive and reproductive work. It is form of double burden. Pak Azim’s statement which mentioned above showed how men does not wanna be involved in domestic work, such as cooking.

Case of Ibu Kasimah

As mentioned above that there is only 1 (out of 3) woman who got involved in village meetings, named Ibu Kasimah. Ibu Kasimah is one of 8 people who struggled to get back their land which is 500 meters located in the land concession of the company.

Ibu Kasimah is a mother of 1 son, and 3 daughters who has been playing roles as a father and a mother to the children, since her husband, Pak Asbadi (51), decided to work as a labor in Malaysia last year. After the land struggle, Ibu Kasimah said PT Agrowiratama has never touched her land again. This case has waked her up to stand for her belongings, including the land. As she stated:

“Land is all I got. It can be treasured to all my kids, but money cannot. The land will guarantee the livelihoods of my children, not money, because money is not enough. The land itself is the most secure source of livelihood. My hope is to pass on my ancestral land (tanah kakak) to my children, and to all following generations.”

 The facts we gathered from Women living in Desa Mekar Jaya shows that the voice, interest and needs of women are unheard. In a patriarchal society the voice of men or head of household is considered representative of women’s. The fact is that the needs and issues of women and men are clearly different. From these situations and conditions the forms of gender injustice can be identified in a society where women are more disadvantaged.

As FPIC is in-line with International law of Human Rights, it has also been main focus of Principle and Criteris of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. FPIC is the basic principle where the equal decision between local community and company (and government) could be developed by respecting customary law and rights of the indigeneous people and other local community. It should also ensure that they will be able to do participatory negotiation thus the community could cultivate real benefits from oil palm development which is planned to be planted on their land.

The principles of Free, Prior, Inform, Consent (FPIC) is people’s right to say YES or NO. It should be applied to community, Women and Men, and everyone who lives in and around the company’s concession. Having facts that women does not even get involved in any kind of village meetings, does not know what RSPO is, what HCVs are, and even what issues are happening in their village, I would say that there is none of women understands what FPIC is or should be. The men knew and understood why they refused to the emeergence of oil palm growers or Ahli Waris who claimed their land, but the women? They are not informed about anything. How could they even make a decision to say yes or no?


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