Kate Watson, PhotoVoice’s Projects Manager, gives an update on our MAMPU project, which looks to address issues relating to Indonesian women affected by migrant work.
Indonesia’s diversity remains unmatched in the world. The country has over 17,000 islands, which are home to over 500 ethnic groups, each with their own language, dialect, traditions, religious perspective and cultural identity. It is the largest archipelago in the world and its geography is extremely varied - a short boat journey can take you from the thronging crowds and maddening traffic of metropolises like the capital, Jakarta (population 10.2 million and growing) to miniscule beach-fringed fishing and rice farming islands, which move at an entirely different pace. Indonesia is dynamic and diverse, a unique country characterised by juxtapositions and variety.
PhotoVoice’s has been working in partnership with ‘Empowering Indonesian Women for Poverty Reduction’ (MAMPU), is a 12-month project designed to understand and address issues relating to Indonesian women affected by migrant work. As part of the final phase of this project, we revisited the islands of Lombok and Lembata to follow up on work undertaken by PhotoVoice in March with two groups of Indonesian women, using participatory photography to capture their experiences of migrant work and build communications and advocacy skills.
700,000 Indonesians migrate abroad each year, with women constituting 75% of this figure (the majority moving to become domestic workers). This figure does not account for those who migrate informally and the number of undocumented migrants is estimated to be 2–4 times higher, with numbers rising.
What struck us was just how different each groups’ photography was and the variety of perspectives within the work, reflecting the diversity of participant experience of both the issue of migrant work and the project itself.
On Lombok, the participants had been selected from across three villages and represented a younger generation who had achieved a higher level of education, with some participants taking time out of their professions and university studies to attend the workshops. Through the activities of the local partner organisation and the recently established DESPUMI centre (Migrant Advice Centre), the groups’ work was engaged with the ‘key’ issues around migration. Their photos were current and topical, informed by recent policy development, and their work was largely outwards focused.
On Lombok, over the past 10 months, some entrepreneurial participants had used their new skills to embark on business ventures – wedding photography, make-up artist promotional materials and handicraft sales, documenting these income generating initiatives through photography to promote them as safer and/or more sustainable alternatives to economic migration.
They requested further support from PhotoVoice in honing their visual literacy skills to articulate their messages in refined advocacy and campaigns outputs, many already confident in appropriating the visual language of the advertising and campaigns around them to produce materials targeted at the policymakers setting the agenda on migration in the country.
On Lembata, the participants were from a group of older women who were former migrants, and used their photography to reflect on the direct and very personal experiences that they had. Their work and the language used to communicate their messages is honest and reflects this emotional attachment.
Lembata is a traditional island, where migratory work offers an alternative to the island’s small fishing economy and the potential for social mobility. Whist participants reflected on the challenges that come with the employment, such as time away from their homes and loved ones, vulnerability to exploitation from employers and recruitment agencies, and weakness in the processing systems which allow for this line of work, they conveyed pride in the life that this choice had provided for.
One woman’s photograph of a prickly cactus symbolised her experience; as a migrant worker she had been vulnerable to exploitation and violence from her overseas employers but in contrast, the bright cactus flower represented her overall optimism that regarded economic migration as a positive avenue, one that had enabled her to meet her husband and that had provided the opportunity for them to pay for an education for her child, which she otherwise could not have afforded.
On Lombok, driven by their success in securing protective legislation for migrants at a village level in all three of their respective villages, the group were now making plans to continue to advocate for a similar commitment from policy makers at a regional and national level.
While participants’ unique experiences with migration on both islands have obviously shaped their perspectives on issues, so have a multitude of other factors. The differences of course, were not limited to the islands but were also present in the different motivations, backgrounds, values, skills and personalities that existed within the groups themselves.
In advocacy work or any attempt to understand an subject as large as migration, it can be tempting to position one group as spokespeople who represent all those affected by the issue. It is often easier to assume that there is a common experience and this in turn defines a common goal or vision for change. Reducing economic migration or any issue, to a single fixed narrative fails to recognise the diversity of experience and aspirations within it, and the role that individual agency plays. Doing so precludes the nuanced understandings which can inform effective and sustainable developments. As this project highlighted, change can be imagined in many different forms and is informed by a plethora of experiences.
In contrast to other models of multi-culturalism which promote a ‘melting pot’ approach to a unified common culture, Indonesia has maintained a diversified coexistence – a vision which is reflected in the country’s national motto ‘Bhinneka Tunggall Ika’ – ‘Unity in Diversity’.
Reflecting on our experiences working with communities on Lombok and Lembata, the challenge for us as facilitators is to be adaptable, continuously reassess our practice and maintain a flexible methodology which is responsive to these differences. For MAMPU and Migrant Care, this project underlines the demand for a continued development of wider programme package which is inclusive enough to accommodate and support the diverse needs that the complex issue of economic migration necessitates.