Grass roots collective action and women’s empowerment: Gender, power and influence in Indonesian villages

Dr Rachael Diprose1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

The introduction of Indonesia’s new Village Law has had profound implications for village governance and local power dynamics. Questions remain as to if and how women are benefiting from these changes, and the role that civil society organisations play in influencing the Law’s implementation. This paper explores how the strategic actions and grassroots initiatives undertaken by civil society organisations concerned with gender equality and women’s empowerment might influence contemporary village governance so as to have benefits for women. Drawing on empirical research from a diverse range of Indonesian villages, it investigates the mechanisms by which such initiatives –  particularly those that support women’s collective action – interact with and influence village and district power dynamics, and if and how this might give voice to village women. It also explores the conditions that constrain or enable women’s collective action and the pathways by which civil society initiatives have helped shift social norms and produce material benefits for women in some cases. The paper provides important insights into how women’s empowerment initiatives might influence village dynamics so as to give greater voice and benefit to some of Indonesia’s poorest women under the new decentralised authority granted to more than 74,000 villages.


Rachael Diprose is a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies and the SSPS Senior Lecturer in Indonesian Studies. Her research in Indonesia, Southeast Asia and West Africa has focussed on the multidisciplinary themes of state building, conflict transformation, multi-level governance and political order, natural resource management, inequalities, gender and development.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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