Jakarta, 29 Maret 2021 – There has been a widespread phenomenon of palm-turned-forests in Papua. Unfortunately, the impact it has caused is often missed by the media. On 29 March 2021 in AJAR Official Youtube platform, Mama Frida from Papuan Working Group (PWG), Elvira Rumkabu from Universitas Cendrawasih, and Andy Triani from Komnas Perempuan (National Commission for Women) had a discussion about how it specifically affected Papuan women.
Mama Frida talked about how forests were the essence of Papuan women’s life. Within their ethnic groups, women were tasked as nurturers—to give care and to maintain the livelihood of families. In the past, this was not a difficult feat as women were able to fulfill many needs by foraging. These needs included medicine, food, and housing. This is why forests are considered as a crucial part of Papuan women’s identity. Papuan women value forests to a spiritual extent. However, the decision on what to do with these forests never lies within their power. It lies within the ethnic groups’ leaders, who consist of men. These men chose to sell their forests in exchange for money. The money often fails to reach women, who have already lost their means of nurturing their families. As a result, women are unable to fulfill their role in society and lose their identities. This is a problem that is so deeply rooted that not even special autonomy alone is enough to solve. Unlike the accusation of going against development, this issue should not be politicized.
Elvira adhered to this and added a deeper perspective in regards to women’s position in ethnic groups. In general, despite having existed earlier than their respective states, ethnic groups have only received their international recognition in 2007 (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People). Within this incredibly lacking recognition, discussions which specifically highlight ethnic women are even rarer. This becomes a problem especially in the case of Papuan women and forests as ethnic women’s identity consists of management, knowledge, and authority. As forests that were initially managed by women were stripped away, women lost what they were knowledgeable of and lost the already-lacking authority within both ethnic groups and their respective state. Instead of acknowledging that forests are located within a certain ethnic group’s ground—thus belonging to said group—states see forests as their own and ethnic groups as a part of it. Both have completely different implications and the former should be what ethnic groups strive to share in order to have their rights—including Papuan women—acknowledged.
Andy further elaborated on how identity has always been an important matter for women. Identity is a matter of identifying oneself with certain social groups. Identifying refers to developing connections and it can be found between people, natural entities, and spiritual extent. Oftentimes one would find themselves identifying with more than just one group, thus having multiple identities. However, it is very crucial to acknowledge that the right to identify should lie within oneself and not others, especially in the case of women. History has shown that when an identity is forced upon women, they are constantly mistreated and oppressed. In conclusion, when Papuan women identify forests as core to their identities, others should not strip it away.
Watch the full discussion below