Covid-19 Exposed Women’s Vulnerability To Economic Shocks In Indonesia. This Entrepreneur Has A Solution

By Samantha Mei Topp

Azalea Ayuningtyas, the co-founder of social enterprise Du Anyam, on how her startup has established a blueprint to support women’s financial empowerment and independence across Indonesia

Tatler Asia
Cover  Azalea Ayuningtyas

Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, has made significant strides in lowering its poverty rate over the last two decades—dropping to 9.78 percent last year, compared to 19.1 percent in 2000. But its progress hasn’t exempted the archipelago nation from the consequences of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which is now threatening to engulf its progress, and to a greater extent, women’s progress.

The pandemic exposed women’s particular vulnerability to economic shocks, and further deepened the gender inequality that is already prevalent in Indonesia. It resulted in a dramatic increase in the burden of unpaid work—primarily carried out by women—and as a result lowered women’s ability to make financial gains outside of the care economy. A United Nations report, Counting the Costs of Covid-19, found that 39 percent of women employed in ‘informal’ work may not have employment benefits or a contract, and are therefore put at significant risk.

Azalea Ayuningtyas, an Indonesian social entrepreneur, believes that helping women become financially independent is key to lowering women’s vulnerability to future economic shocks. In 2014, she co-founded Du Anyam, a startup which provides women in rural areas of Indonesia with an alternative opportunity to earn an income by learning to weave with native plants and selling their crafts through the Du Anyam community.

Providing women with the opportunity to work and earn independently of their partners effectively changes traditional gender power dynamics in the home, Ayuningtyas explains. “When women don’t have decision-making power it then becomes up to the male head of the household to make all the decisions—even down to whether she should give birth at home or at a clinic.”

One woman in particular comes to Ayuningtyas’ mind as she talks about the importance of financial independence. “She was a master weaver, she was very good and she loved it, but her husband didn’t think it could bring them any good,” Ayuningtyas says, explaining that in some rural Indonesian villages women are expected to remain within the realms of cooking, cleaning and childcare.

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“But she kept weaving anyway. He got so angry and he wanted her to stop so much that he told her he would burn down all of her weaving materials and the products she created,” Ayuningtyas says. But she carried on weaving despite his threats, hiding all of her creations in her neighbours’ house. Eventually she had saved up enough money to cover all of the family’s daily household expenses and even sent her eldest daughter to the city for computer lessons.

“That’s when [her husband] realised there is actually a direct benefit for his family,” Ayuningtyas says. “He ended up being really supportive, to the point where he actually now helps out with the household chores and is a supplier for the raw materials. In the end, it ended up helping the whole family.”

Over the seven years it has been up and running, Du Anyam has employed over 1,400 women from more than 50 villages across the country. As it continues to grow, the startup is expanding beyond solely providing employment, and has also distributed over 5,000 packages of essentials to different villages and provided 175 scholarships to some of the children of Du Anyam weavers.

“We run focus groups with the weavers every year and we ask them what kind of support they need and what kind of programmes they’d find helpful,” she says. From these focus groups, Du Anyam determines the unique needs of the villages and works to address them, from providing weavers with glasses to help with their vision to building clean water wells.

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Their latest initiative, Krealogi by Du Anyam, is an app that provides information and training on how to build a social enterprise. It was born out of a desire to create greater impact and support people in remote areas who are looking to upscale or start their own company.

The app provides free and subsidised online learning modules to assist future entrepreneurs better manage their businesses, from how to price, package and plan your production to soft skills such as communication and collaboration. “It has been downloaded by over 5,000 users, the modules have been seen by 30,000 users and it has about 70 percent women,” she says. “And beyond helping small and medium enterprises grow, we also work to connect them to communities, financing and logistics.”

“Using this technology, we’re able to work with more women and communities all over Indonesia and hopefully in the future, all over the region as well."

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