The issue of forest fires which Indonesia has experienced every year for the last two decades has not only become a global concern, but also a disaster causing large-scaled deforestation. The forest fires in Riau Province in March 2014 recorded the most fire locations, with Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan, and Siak Districts contributing up to 52 percent of the total fire locations in Indonesia.
The fire disasters greatly impact the local community living nearby forest concession areas, as a majority of them are burnt. The Indonesian government often allows big private companies to manage the land or natural resources for economic reasons, by granting them long-term concessions (approximately 20-55 years), which damage the forest areas and ignore the rights of the local community. However, there has been no research on public participation in forest management and forest concessions in Indonesia, particularly in relation to gender issues.
In the last few years, forest fires have been one of the major environmental issues in Indonesia. In 2014, Riau Province recorded the most fire locations in the country. As an illustration, four districts in Riau Province, namely Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir, Pelalawan, and Siak, accounted for 52% fire locations from the total forest fires throughout Indonesia. Meanwhile, the area of forests which experienced deforestation reached 373,373 hectares.
The problem of forest fires, which causes various economic, health, and environmental impacts to the local people, largely—if not mostly—affects women. As women are considered to be responsible for domestic matters, they are expected to bear the responsibility of all matters related to the family’s continuity.
Women Research Institute (WRI), supported by World Resources Institute, recently completed a research project on Gender and Forest Concession. This research is a collaborative effort with organisations in Riau, such as Perkumpulan Bunga Bangsa, Riau Women Working Group, Jikalahari, and Scale Up.
This research is grounded on forest issues in Riau Province, which has escalated into one of Indonesia’s most serious environmental problems. This research analyses the extent to which the public, as the main beneficiaries, is actively involved in the process of forest concessions. It also aims to see the people’s formal and informal participations in forest concession and management in Siak and Pelalawan Regencies, Riau. In this research, WRI specifically used a gender-based analysis on forest management policies and public participation regarding forest concession.
Women Research Institute (WRI) is currently running a data-based advocacy traning program to promote gender equality in the effort to overcome problems related to forest concessions. The implementation of this program is supported by Global Forest Watch, a subsidiary of World Resource Institute. This training program has been carried out in two districts in Riau Province namely the District of Siak and the District of Pelalawan as a follow-up of WRI’s previous researches on gender, transparency, and participation in concessions.
Through our previous researches, WRI found that even though women play significant roles in the management of the environment and land, they were often not included in the meetings discussing policies related to environment and land management. Women seldom got the access to direct information while they experienced direct impacts of the decisions made.
Indonesia is a country where more than 88% of its 260 million citizens identify themselves as Muslims (International IDEA, 2000, page 241) which makes it the country with the largest population of Muslims in the world. However, since its independence in 1945, Indonesia has been ruled by secularized government. In the era of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, Indonesia was led by left-leaning government until 1967. After that, Suharto created and ran a right-wing authoritarian government until he was forced to resign from his position in May 1998. Even though this country was once ruled by a cleric, his government did not implement Islamic Sharia as a legal and ideological basis.