Reflections from Jakarta with UNDP Indonesia: Siyuan (Sue)’s experience in gender work

I have been in Indonesia for around five months working on gender equality as a Junior Professional Consultant (JPC) with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In my position with UNDP, I am supporting gender equality campaigns and helping to do desk research for projects. All these tasks give me chances to meet people who are interested in this field and to dip into different development projects.

Most of my Indonesian friends are girls around my age. I met them at the office or events, or knew them through our mutual friends. When they know I am doing my internship with UNDP and working on gender equality issues, they tend to show their admiration, and sometimes I even feel that they are more motivated and passionate than me about what I am doing, which makes me feel ashamed. I met one girl at an event held jointly by UNDP and other women empowerment agencies. She was volunteering there while I was supporting our UNDP booth, and we became friends later. She revealed a lot about her own thoughts to me, about her choice to not wear hijab, about her dreams and ambitions in the future. She was born and raised in a traditional Muslim family which usually requires their daughters to wear hijab, but she is lucky as her mom respected her choice and told her that she could take off her hijab if she didn’t like it. So in her family, her sister and mom wear hijab while she does not need to. I was really surprised when I knew this since under my impression wearing hijab is never a choice but a must for them. She then told me more about her mom, a single parent who raised three kids by herself, and at the same time managed her own business. Although I never met her mom, an image of a strong, assertive, open-minded woman appeared in my mind. Apparently, her mom set a very good example for her and also for her siblings. She told me she planned to go abroad to pursue master degree in the future, and her mom was very supportive about this.

Her story motivated me a lot and I started to rethink about my work here. In the past few years, many campaigns and projects have been launched to promote gender equality and empower women in Indonesia. Workshops have been set in both urban and rural areas to provide information and skill trainings to women to empower them politically and economically, but I am always confused about how we measure the impact of these activities. We do have evaluation process but is it the real impact? Also, how can we make a long-term sustainable impact? My friend’s story enlightened me. Now I know our work does make changes, and it has actually benefited more people than we thought. I don’t know how my friend’s mom started her business at the very beginning. Maybe she attended some workshops and was inspired by them, maybe she didn’t. But workshops, trainings, information sessions do help a lot and can benefit women and their whole families. Increasing family income is just one aspect, more importantly, these women can share the value of gender equality with other people and will pass it to next generations. My friend is a good example. If her mom lacks the sense of self-support and have no job or business, how can my friend grew up to be such a confident and ambitious girl just like her mom? I feel grateful that I was given such a good opportunity to observe these issues closely, and finally got answers to all the questions stuck in my mind.

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