Why volunteer? Words of wisdom from Rifka Annisa, a Womens Crisis Center in Jokjakarta, Indonesia

As a new AVI volunteer undertaking early language and culture training at Wisma Bahasa in Jokjakarta, Indonesia, I am taking the opportunity to meet up with Mbak Defirentia One , Public Relations Officer with Rifka Annisa, a local highly-regarded Women’s Crisis Center, well-known for its support work for women survivors of domestic violence.

Apart from learning about the scope of domestic violence work in Indonesia, I am keen on asking her if she has any advice for me as a first-time AVI volunteer starting work in the field.

I will be working as an English Language and Organisational Development Adviser at Komnas Perempuan (Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women) in Jakarta. At this early stage I am lucky to be accompanied by Rina Nur Anisah, Research and Development Manager at Wisma Bahasa and one of the dedicated band of teachers at the Jokja language school.

Lucky, because both colleagues speak good English, unlike my Bahasa Indonesia!

Sitting in the calm and serene courtyard of the Rifka Annisa office and guest house, water tinkling in the background, One explains how she herself started there as a student volunteer, then a part-time and eventually full-time worker. Like many AVI volunteers, it was One’s passion for the work of Rifka Annisa and her interest in gender issues which led to her choice of work. “While my degree is in International Relations from UGM (Universitas Gadjah Mada), and even though at 23 I am still young, I was sure this was the right path for me”.



Photo © 2013 by Mary D.; Caption: that’s One and Rina, R and L of Mary in the photo

Indicating the colorful campaign posters behind her, One explains that Rifka Annisa, meaning “Women’s Friend” from the Arabic, was established in 1993 by local activists. It has developed over time into a strong NGO with a comprehensive mission. “We aim to organise women, girls and the community to eliminate violence against women, to create a gender-just society through empowerment, critical education and strong local networks” she adds passionately.

Picking up on the theme of the posters, I ask about Rifka Annisa’s strong emphasis on male participation in community education against family violence and abuse.

One responds, leaning forward to emphasise her point: “In our patriarchal society, there are cultural and religious practices which make it very hard to empower women to leave intolerable situations. In 2009-2012 we documented more than 700 cases of spouse (wife) abuse. Our records testify to over 300 annual cases of violence and abuse against women, including rape and sexual harassment. So we need to support men to be aware of this violence and to identify their problem.”

“Men’s participation in public anti-violence campaigns like Alliansi Laki-laki Baru (New Men’s Alliance) sends a powerful message to the community” she says, pointing to photos of a recent local demonstration where guys in aprons with slogans like Rumah Bukan Ring TinjuA Home is not a Boxing Ring, push strollers through the crowd.

“We are interested in the new masculinity, but we try to use traditional community activities like theatre and Javanese drama to highlight the impact of some traditional male roles on the lives of their wives, girlfriends, sons and daughters”.

Both Rina and One, as proud Muslim women, are encouraged by this approach. “Javanese culture has so many positive messages for women that have not yet been explored” they say. Taking this message to local schools, campuses and local talkshows is also an important public education tool.

As we take a final tour of Rifka Annisa, including its guest house, I wonder how I can best contribute as an AVI volunteer to the important work of these organisations. I know there are several AVI volunteers here in Indonesia working in capacity building roles in women’s shelters or women’s human rights organisations as part of the Australian Government’s support for gender equality in the region. “What advice would you give to a newly-arrived volunteer wanting to work most effectively with their Indonesian counterparts to support women’s human rights?” I ask.

One smiles. That’s easy. “Be passionate” she says. “Find the unique aspect of the organisation you want to work with and contribute to that”. How to make that happen? “Well observe and listen at first, but don’t be shy to ask questions and remember to communicate your point of view”, she adds.

As we take the Wisma Bahasa minibus back to the language school, both Rina and I agree that I couldn’t have had a more articulate and to-the-point introduction to volunteering and women’s human rights work in Indonesia. It’s up to me now to go on it!

April 2013

Mary Denver

AVI Volunteer

This is an inspiring story of Mary Denver who visited Rifka Annisa Jogjakarta last April. Mary, thank you for sending me this article. We look forward to see you again.


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