Women’s Community Radio: How Islanders and Mountain Residents are Coping With the Impact of COVID-19 in Rural Indonesia

Sumber berita: https://genderit.org/feminist-talk/womens-community-radio-how-islanders-and-mountain-residents-are-coping-impact-covid-19
Sumber ilustrasi: Xzoni for GenderIT

Indonesia is experiencing rapid growth in internet access. The Indonesian Internet Service Providers Association (APJII) in 2020 finds that from 2019 to 2020, 73.7% of Indonesians have access to the internet. However, this access is not evenly distributed across Indonesia as most internet users are on the islands of Java (41%) and Sumatra (16.2%). Outside these two regions, internet penetration is below 6% in total. 

This digital divide is caused by several things, including geographical factors, and inadequate electricity supply. In addition, these challenges also arise due to the unavailability of internet infrastructure, unaffordable bandwidth costs, and limited devices. 

Along with this, limited internet penetration outside Java and Sumatra is also exacerbated by the lack of digital literacy. Overall, the average level of digital literacy in Indonesia is 84% with the highest percentage of the population in the adult age group of 15 to 24 years. Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows the gap between the center and regions in terms of digital literacy. Digital literacy in the capital special region of Jakarta has reached 98%, while in Papua it is only 33%.

Villagers in the remote islands and villages in mountainous areas in Indonesia experience difficulties in accessing the internet and lack of smartphone ownership. Especially on islands, there is limited access to electricity which adds to whatever digital access is available. The implications of this lack of access is evident in the residents’ lifestyle as they struggle to access critical basic information as the pandemic continues to stifle their daily lives.

People’s lives changed drastically in March 2020 when the first cases of COVID-19 virus were detected in the country. Many social problems experienced by residents have multiplied since then. The virus brought challenges that required immediate response, however, not all communities have the ability to carry out this mitigation. As a result, The poor and marginalised communities in areas that are difficult to reach by public services are increasingly left behind.

The limited means of communication makes people in remote areas less able to voice their needs in difficult times, and as a result, social assistance programs from the state do not reach them.

In one house, no more than one smartphone is used by the family, which is also limited by internet access. And the impact is most visible in the kind and frequency of access women have in these areas.

Given the lack of unavailability and unaffordability of smartphones and the internet, on average, people in regions like Sabutung Island and Sukandana Village have limited access to digital devices. In one house, no more than one smartphone is used by the family, which is also limited by internet access. And the impact is most visible in the kind and frequency of access women have in these areas, as they take turns in using the common household device.

The available smartphones are not only a way for residents for communications, but also provide critical communication access to fishermen at sea on nearby shores when the weather gets bad. Naping, a fisherman, informs that he uses this access to inform his family of his whereabouts. He says, “I have told my wife that if the wind is strong at sea, I will stop at Satando Island because I have asked a member of the Women’s School to inform my family when I am on the island.”

The Gap of Information and Community Radios

The residents of the remote islands of Indonesia are addressing the challenges in accessing the internet by developing community-based radio. For example, Institut KAPAL Perempuan took the initiative to develop Women’s Community Radio during the pandemic.

In Pangkajene Kepulauan (Pangkep), South Sulawesi, KAPAL Perempuan collaborated with the Foundation for Community Empowerment Studies (YKPM) to build Women’s Community Radio or Emergency Radio COVID-19 Sipurennu (95.6 MHz) on Sabutung Island,1 which reaches 7 islands, 3 villages on these islands and 4 villages on the mainland in Liukang Tupabbiring Utara Sub-district, Pangkep Regency.2 While in West Nusa Tenggara, KAPAL collaborated with the Partner Resource Development Institute (LPSDM) in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), to establish and develop Nina Bayan Radio (107.7 MHz) in Sukadana Village, North Lombok Regency,3 which reaches 8 villages. This initiative, which was setup in October 2020, is still quite helpful in responding to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and marginalised groups in remote areas and provides important information to them everyday.

Between October 2020 and June 2022, the radio has contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic emergency response, especially solving the problems of children and women in remote islands and mountainous areas.

These community radios are also a means for communities to prevent and address gender issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in relation to increased violence against women, child marriage, women’s reproductive health services, and the well-being of the community itself. 

Furthermore, this community-led initiative is also a suggestion to emphasize the principles of community empowerment. Through connectivity or access to information, the community then has a better awareness of health protocols and overcomes false information about COVID-19.

A way to access education

Community radios, co-managed by locals during the pandemic, were instrumental in providing distance learning services so that children did not lose access to the learning process.

Akbar, a teacher at a local school in Sabutung Island, says that lessons delivered through community radios are helpful in ensuring that all students can listen to them as compared to internet-based learning which is not always possible because of limited internet connectivity and affordability. He says, “Especially for me personally, this [radio] is very helpful in terms of distance learning, because time is not wasted in delivering material to students so that learning continues. If children usually learn using the internet (quota), sometimes we upload lessons but they don’t see them for 1 week. Their explanation is that they don’t have internet access.”

Hardah, a parent of an elementary student from Sabutung Island, says, “When the broadcast starts [on community radio], my son puts his cell phone next to the radio, then he writes down his lessons. It’s good to have this radio, it helps my child to learn.”

Salimah, a parent of elementary and junior high school students on Sabutung Island, adds, “I like this radio, because it is not only the children who benefit. I also learn because I did not finish elementary school. So when there is a tutorial, I learn too.” 

A way to earn a living

There are several challenges facing society during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for women, children and other marginalised groups. First, women’s income has decreased. The most pronounced impact during the COVID-19 pandemic is the decline in income. On Sabutung Island, for example, fishing activities have decreased, employees at crab companies have been laid off without pay, and poor people’s economic businesses such as traveling vegetable sellers, cake sellers, and small shops are threatened with closure.

These community radios have accelerated a way for residents to earn a living as customers reach out to them via the internet and calls.

Community radios have been helping children and adults to pick up on missing pieces of information [about abuse], and in making informed decisions.

Rahmatia, a small business owner from Saugi Island, Mattiro Baji Village, says, “After speaking on Radio Sipurennu FM, I have received calls for orders for accessories for bridal souvenirs, such as brooches, hijab, key chains and living room decorations. Alhamdulillah, orders have started to come in.”

A way to counter abuse

There is limited information, especially for handling gender-related issues, among the communities on the islands. They lack information about women’s reproductive health and what domestic violence is so it continues to increase. Meanwhile, child marriage is increasing because children cannot attend school due to the lockdown.

Community radios have been helping children and adults to pick up on missing pieces of this information, and in making informed decisions. For example, Tia, a young student at a local school, says, “I learned and got information about the prevention of child marriage through Radio Nina Bayan that we should not marry at a young age.”

Licensing for the Radio and Ways Around

The Community Radio license from the Ministry of Communication and Information of the Republic of Indonesia has been a challenge for the community to obtain. Initially, the license application was for emergency radio, given that this initiative was carried out in order to address COVID-19 related information barriers. However, there were obstacles in applying for this license, for example in Lombok, the Monitoring Center stated that it did not recognise emergency radio for non-natural disasters. Likewise, the South Sulawesi Monitoring Center also rejected the license claiming that there is no COVID-19 problem on Sabutung island.

As the community failed to obtain a broadcasting license for the radio, those involved in recording the program would upload recordings of the show on a podcast app. These recordings were then distributed through visits at student gathering points to some students. This limitation made the broadcasting and distribution process longer, but made it easier for the children to re-listen to the recorded lessons if needed. 

The positive side of this limitation is the solidarity between students to help each other as they share the lesson. For example, one student asked his mother to buy a loudspeaker so that four of his friends could gather at her house to listen to the recorded lessons and learn together. 

Another initiative is collaboration with teachers for tutorials, not only to deliver the subjects, but there is also awareness for health issues related to COVID-19, health protocols, child marriage prevention, which are integrated in the process of building cooperation with teachers.

Gendered Impact of Community Radios

Since their development in 2020, the two radios have contributed to instituting a gender-responsive approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The gender perspective is an issue that has not been prioritised by many parties, even though this lack of consideration is proven to have a worse impact on women, children and other vulnerable groups. The radio show, which provides information on gender-based violence, helps citizens to increase their courage to report cases of domestic violence and child marriages. 

Reporting Domestic Violence and Child Marriages

There were 29 cases of domestic violence on Sabutung Island that were reported to Radio Sipurennu and forwarded to the Island Women’s School Complaint Post for processing, 19 of which have been resolved. Meanwhile, five domestic violence cases were reported directly to the Women’s School Complaint Post in Sukadana Village, North Lombok, four of which have been resolved and one case ended with an agreement amongst both parties. Victims of domestic violence who were radio listeners previously always feared further violence from their husbands so they did not dare to report their cases. But with this radio, many survivors and victims come directly to the radio studio and tell their cases, and can get necessary and urgent help.

In addition, there were three girls under the age of 18 whose marriages were successfully annulled, and five girls who found courage to tell their parents not to marry them off before the age of 18, and must abide by the law passed in 2019 that stipulates the minimum age for marriage is 19 years old. Meanwhile, there were 18 cases of child marriage, 15 of which were successfully annulled and girls were able to return to school. While the other three cases could not be resolved because the girls were already pregnant.

Victims of domestic violence who were radio listeners previously always feared further violence from their husbands so they did not dare to report their cases. But with this radio, many survivors and victims come directly to the radio studio and tell their cases, and can get necessary and urgent help.

Hajma Dg. Pajja, a resident of Sabutung Island, Mattiro Kanja Village, said, “I did not marry off my daughter because I want her to go to school first, especially now that there is a revision of the Marriage Law and Family Planning Law, it is prohibited to marry off children under the age of 19. There are penalties for violators, punishable by a minimum of 9 years.”

Boost in Economic Opportunities

Community radios have contributed to opening access to micro-enterprises for women facing economic problems due to COVID-19. Broadcasts promoting women’s micro-enterprises during the pandemic have resulted in a 30% increase in women’s income. There are 31 women who have increased their income; 23 people in Mattiro Kanja Village who make wood crafts, shells, food and drinks, and eight weaving groups in Sukadana Village whose turnover increased from 200-500 thousand Indonesian Rupiah to 2-4 million Indonesian Rupiah collectively. In addition, women micro-entrepreneurs also gained capacity building and access to business licenses at the district level.

Addressing Health Concerns

Broadcasts on health contribute in educating villagers to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is a real virus, understand the importance of implementing health protocols and foster courage for vaccines. The radio also contributes to countering hoaxes around COVID-19 cures, such as curing the virus by eating eggs early in the morning. Previously, during the critical times of COVID-19, people on Sabutung Island and surrounding areas fought over eggs and caused chaos. After the education from community radio, this no longer happened. In addition, radio listeners also received education on women’s reproductive health.

Accessing Education

The broadcast of class lessons via radio contributed to reaching students who experienced barriers in accessing distance learning systems. There were 749 students who were able to access 471 tutorial broadcasts, which included 132 female and 137 male students in Lombok, and 255 female and 225 male students on Sabutung Island. Children in kindergarten and elementary school could access fairy tales so that they can divert their desire to play outside and gather during peak spread of the virus. 

Nurjanah B, a high school teacher at the Peral Marine Boarding School on Sabutung Island, said, “As a teacher, I am very grateful because [community radio] can help in learning. Some children on this island don’t have cell phones, networks and quotas. With this radio, it really helps learning during this pandemic. Hopefully in the future this radio will run as intended.”

Meanwhile, Harmawati, the Head of the Sabutung Island Health Center, said, “I call Sipurennu Community Radio an innovation. This is very helpful for the community, especially women, to inform them, help spread education, and especially for me as a health worker, of course, it is very helpful for us to disseminate health information to the community in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Lessons Learned 

There are important lessons to be learned in developing this Community Radio initiative. First, this initiative was born from a gender-inclusive perspective in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic disaster. This emergency radio contributes in minimising the information gap during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for children who lack internet access, electricity, and smartphone ownership.

Secondly, the radio management and broadcasting team was able to reach out to groups that were deprived of opportunities, namely women with elementary, junior high and at most high school education. They have improved their skills in communication and broadcasting technology. Women have begun to master the operation of equipment that was previously kept away from them because men were considered more capable.

Third, most of the radio managers and broadcasters are women who have received capacity building on women’s leadership through “Sekolah Perempuan”. They are able to synergize educational broadcasts on the radio with advocacy carried out outside the broadcast. This can be seen from the broadcasters who handle the complaints of victims of violence when they report their cases to the radio. They assist the victims carefully and thoroughly so that the case is handled by the authorities properly. This would have been different if the recruited broadcasters did not have the crucial training on gender sensitisation. 

Fourth, strengthening the network of community radio and emergency radio in various regions is needed because it will make it easier to push together for licensing applications that have been difficult. In Indonesia, there is a community radio network that conducts advocacy, namely Jaringan Radio Komunitas Indonesia (JRKI). Strengthening this network will strengthen the movement to push for the facilitation of community radios that provide accurate information services to communities in remote areas that still receive little attention from the government. 

Fifth, through community radio, citizen journalism is developing in the islands. Radio becomes a place to provide information on the whereabouts of fishermen stranded on other islands due to bad weather so that their families do not worry about the risk of their family members not returning home. Citizens helping fishermen who are stuck far from home inform radio managers to relay this information to their families through broadcasts. Information about bad weather is also communicated through the radio to reduce the risk of accidents at sea in shipping.

Gender inclusive perspectives are cultivated through a process of empowering women by building critical awareness and commitment to make changes.

Sixth, seeing the usefulness of this radio development initiative during the pandemic, the village and national governments have given attention(link is external) and support(link is external), especially expressed(link is external) by the village head, sub-district head, Pangkajene and Kepulauan district head, and the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection.

Learning from this experience, a major factor in this success is the gender inclusive perspective of the managers, broadcasters, accompanying organisations and initiating organisations. Gender inclusive perspectives are cultivated through a process of empowering women by building critical awareness and commitment to make changes.

The hope is that in the future there will be greater efforts carried out by the local and national governments and supported by local communities, to overcome inequality, especially for people in remote areas, and for women, people with disabilities, children and marginalised groups.

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