It is widely believed that the overall development of a country depends on the maximum utilization of its people, both men and women. This means that women should actively participate from the very beginning of development planning discussions. Unfortunately, in most regions of Indonesia, opportunities for women to be actively involved in development planning discussion at all levels is limited compared to the opportunity given to men.

Nusa Tenggara Timor (NTT) province is one of these examples. Most Timorese people believe in the system of values and patriarchal culture in which women are subordinate to men. Women are identified with domestic life and public affairs are viewed as a male-dominated activity. Therefore, women are not accustomed to engaging in public discussions.

Even when Timorese women attend village development planning discussions, they are often busy preparing refreshments or just sit and passively watch the discussion. There are a few reasons for their silence: they lack the confidence to express their ideas and opinions; they feel incomplete because of the limitation of knowledge and skills regarding village development planning; and due to the traditional patriarchal system, they believe that outspoken women are not accepted. This practice leads to a low level of women’s presence and active participation in the forum of village development planning at all levels. Thus, the concerns and interests of women are left unspoken or unnoticed.

Partners for Resilience (PfR) Indonesia is aware of this situation. In accordance with the overall objective of the PfR programme, the team strives for resilience building of local communities across Indonesia using the Integrated Risk Management approach in a gender responsive manner. Therefore PfR Indonesia is building women’s capacity through a series of trainings related to village governance.

This ongoing effort led to something significant in Kupang district (NTT Province), on February 6th, 2018. At the district development planning discussion, Dr. Ayub Titu Eki allowed a few attendees to express their needs and concerns. Surprisingly, a woman stakeholder from Oelbitino village, Regina, raised her hand and said that she wanted to be a farmer. But, the first and foremost problem in her village is the water shortage during the second growing season (drought season, usually from May to September). She expressed that she expects the government to solve this problem by building a number of artificial lakes, locally called “embung” to store water reserves. In addition, she stated that she expects the government to renovate a school building in her village in very bad condition. Furthermore she stressed the importance of repairing the broken road.

Regina became the first female villager to freely express her opinion and actively engage in the male-dominated discussion full of top government officials. Surely, all attendees’ eyes instantly looked at her. They were surprised, yet her words had a real impact: her aspiration and concerns were promptly addressed. An action plan was developed to solve the issues she raised. To deal with the water shortage, the district government plans to build more embungs. As for the school, the government will soon begin the renovation. Lastly, regarding the road repairment, technical staff will survey and assess the current condition and then coordinate with village officials for the repair.

What Regina did is a small change and might be considered insignificant. But, by boldly and bravely raising her concerns in a public forum, she made a huge difference and will hopefully be the first among many women to stand up and speak out.