The government of Indonesia has long recognized that the economic and social empowerment of women will be a key component in advancing the country’s overall interests. Indonesia supports the goals of the Beijing Declaration of 1995 and its associated protocols for action, and has focused in recent years on putting those guidelines into practice.
Yet much remains to be done to bring the full benefits of equality and opportunity to women in Indonesia’s rural areas. Historically, as urban women in Indonesia have made slow but measurable gains in education and the corporate world, the nation’s rural women have lagged further and further behind.
This is one of the reasons the Tanoto Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by Indonesian entrepreneur Sukanto Tanoto and his wife, puts significant efforts into improving the nation’s educational system through scholarships and infrastructure-building. The foundation’s partner companies, part of the $15 billion RGE Group founded by Mr. Tanoto, assist in furthering this vision by working to empower the local communities in which they operate.
For example, Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper (RAPP), a part of RGE under Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), has supported the work of batik artists and craftswomen in the Pelalawan region. These skilled artists use traditional batik techniques along with inspiration from nature, such as the powerful Bono waves on the Kampar River. In the local dialect, the word “Bono” means “true.” The Bono waves, which attract surfers from around the world, have inspired the artists to create new motifs and patterns.
A method of adorning textiles with wax-resist dyeing, batik has resulted in some of the world’s most colorful and distinctive fabrics. By the 19th century, the art had become an integral part of Indonesia’s culture.
Although the women of Pelalawan are still new to their trade, they have already succeeded in making high-quality products. RAPP staff members recently opened a booth to display the women’s batik wares as part of an environment-themed exhibition, and they received an enthusiastic response from attendees.
RAPP’s department in charge of community development is working with craftswomen in three Pelalawan villages, conducting training sessions at beginning and advanced levels. Most of the women in the program have had difficulties in continuing their education because of limited financial means. Through the RAPP program, they are learning a valued trade that can help them and their families achieve financial independence. In this way, the program serves as one more example of Sukanto Tanoto’s commitment to empowering women in Indonesia’s rural communities.