Women play an important role in society. They shoulder the responsibility to take great care of children, husbands, and nature. This role could be clearly seen in the most eastern province of Indonesia. The women livelihood in West Papua varies in each region. It also depends on the area near their living residence.
Without a doubt, most women in West Papua focus on gathering natural materials from the nearby forests and rivers. They use these materials for other things such as food, marketable goods, and materials for making something new. However, the interference of many companies has affected the nearby forests and rivers. Some parts of the area were damaged without any responsible action or compensation.
Thus, this situation creates another problem. Papuan women might not be able to fully rely on the forest’s or river’s products. Yet, there are some ways for them to earn a living while utilizing the existing natural resources. What are they?
Women Livelihood in West Papua
Women in West Papua help their families to improve the family’s financial situation. Although some of their husbands work as fishermen, sometimes the earnings are not enough to feed the entire family. Thus, they find more ways to support the family.
Informal Agricultural Sector
Many women, along with their husbands and family, manage a certain plot of land for agriculture. They tend the garden or plantation to produce marketable crops for the market. Also, they plant some fruits and vegetables for familial food resilience such as corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, and others.
In another role, women also pay great attention to the wild forests. They cherish and care for the forests so that the forests will provide them with a sustainable source of nutrition. However, women’s and families’ ownership of natural resources still has not been recognized by the government. They only earn the right to access or cultivate the land for food production. This might leave a negative impact if there is a conflict or dispute with other tribes or companies.
Women Livelihood in the Market as Traders
Whether it is a forest product, marine product, or agricultural good, as long as it can fetch a price in the market, Papuan women will sell these things to the local market. There is plenty of fresh food available in the local market at affordable prices such as fish, vegetables, and fruits. Most of them treat the market as their main source of income.
Many informal markets in West Papua are managed by women. However, due to the urban development in the region, several traditional markets have been dismantled and changed into modern markets. This might create a better opportunity but many women experience difficulty because of the longer distance for transporting goods.
Crafting Traditional Products
Craftsmanship has been an important hereditary skill for women from generation to generation. They need to preserve this particular ability to weave many traditional dresses or accessories such as Noken (bags), Yokai and Sali (traditional clothing). In certain tribal traditions, women must prove their craftsmanship to be considered as mature.
Apart from the significant value, women in West Papua also struggle to make a living from crafting. Usually, products such as Noken and some body accessories will be sold to local and foreign visitors as a souvenir. There is also Malo (a traditional bark painting) which requires several weeks to paint. The painting has a unique motif that reflects the local value of harmonizing with all life.
Women livelihood in West Papua comes from managing nature. From there, they can produce food crops, create new marketable things, or gather natural goods to be sold on the market. They take this step to help the family’s financial situation.