Indonesian Women SPEAK OUT for Better Public Services

The lack of female participation in local government in developing countries means women have no say in how public services and facilities are run. This can result in public health and education services which fail to meet their needs. Dutch humanist NGO Hivos has set itself the task of redressing the imbalance in Asian, African and Latin American countries. Through the SPEAK project in Indonesia, Hivos and its local partners help local civil society organisations and women’s groups voice their concerns and ultimately improve services.

Indonesian woman with mobile phone

Indonesian woman with mobile phone

First, Hivos and its partners (TI Indonesia, Bojonegoro Institute, Pattiro Semarang) organise training courses for women’s groups to help them understand the complexities of government budgets. The women then learn how to use digital platforms to make their concerns heard. The SPEAK project also trains female auditors to check the government's handling of complaints and implementation of services. This way, women learn how to advocate for gender-responsive budgets.

Breaking down cultural barriers

The project removes the obstacles of time and distance to see a government official. By using a digital platform, called the LAPOR Hendi portal, any citizen can lodge a complaint by sending a digital message via text messaging services or social media.

By removing communication barriers to local government officials, the portal makes it possible for women to speak out. The portal also breaks down cultural barriers in societies where it is unusual for women to question the authorities.

Any citizen can log-on to this portal online, or send a text or social media message. They can choose who to report their complaint to: the mayor, the governor or an anti-corruption commission. Complaints should receive a response within five days. The complaint must be resolved within 30 days.

Safeguarding privacy

Although the project has been successfully upscaled, there are still challenges. The quality and presentation of the government data makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to understand. And speaking out is not without risk. Under Indonesian law, defamation on the internet carries a 12-year prison sentence. So, it is crucial to safeguard the privacy of the portal’s users. They can choose not to reveal their identity on the platform. The women’s groups are also trained to submit all the necessary documents and data to avoid a defamation lawsuit or retaliation from government representatives or private persons.

The 4-year SPEAK project began in 2018 in two regions in East and Central Java (the Bojonegoro regency and the city of Semarang). It is co-funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Commission. The strategic partnership restores trust between local government and citizens. It is part of the Open Up Contracting programme. And the LAPOR Hendi platform has now joined the national Lapor platform. It will create a network of 240 women auditors, who represent 550,000 marginalised men and women in Semarang and Bojonegoro.

Mayor of Semarang supports SPEAK

The aim of SPEAK is to improve public services through empowerment, women-led advocacy, and social audit networks. This results in inclusive budgets for better health and education facilities in Indonesia. The first signs are encouraging as the mayor of Semarang supports the initiative.