Is there still someone who sincerely serves to spoil the forest with his hands and feet? To make the forest Maha Taman a place to work? Or a place of worship to God? Questions are difficult to answer but must be listened to from this woman's journey.
Rita Wati (53) was born and raised in a village supporting the Kerinci Seblat National Park (TNKS) area, specifically in Pal VIII Village, Bermani Ulu Raya District, Rejang Lebong Regency, Bengkulu.
KSNP is one of the largest national parks in Indonesia. Its territory stretches across four provinces: Bengkulu, Jambi, West Sumatra, and South Sumatra. In Bengkulu Province, the area of TNKS is 348,841 hectares and covers an area of 105 villages in four districts. One of them is Rejang Lebong Regency, where Rita lives.
For Rita, the forest is a source of life, especially for women. Women are most affected when forests are damaged. The need for clean water for various daily needs comes from forests that are in good condition. The reason that triggers Rita to serve sincerely in managing the forest and keeping it sustainable. She is a pioneer and has served as Chair of Kelompok Perempuan Peduli Lingkungan (KPPL) Maju Bersama, which manages the TNKS.
Build awareness together
Initially, Rita never thought of being involved in managing and preserving the TNKS. This awareness emerged when she attended a training at the end of May 2017 that presented women's representatives from TNKS buffer villages. During the discussion, they shared information about the various impacts experienced by the TNKS buffer villages, most of whom were farmers. The lack of water availability during the dry season, the emergence of pests and plant diseases, and the decline in soil fertility are some of the impacts. The planting season for rice and secondary crops has also begun to be disrupted, agricultural yields have become erratic, the risk of crop failure has increased, and gardening activities, processing crops, earning wages, and social movements have also been disrupted.
The meeting with the women's representatives also brought about a new awareness that women have rights and participate in forest area conservation. Rita was moved to form a group to fight for women's rights related to forests and the environment. Together with three other Pal VIII Village women who also participated in the training, she invited dozens of other women to attend a meeting at the Pal VIII Village Hall on July 9, 2017.
However, only 13 women attended. Even so, his enthusiasm did not diminish. In the meeting, she discussed the importance of forests for women's lives, livelihoods, and knowledge and the negative impact of forest destruction on women.
As a result, the meeting agreed to form a group named Kelompok Perempuan Peduli Lingkungan (KPPL) Maju Bersama, and Rita was appointed chairman. Having been doubted by the people around her, Rita has taken strategic steps by opening the door for communication with various stakeholders, TNKS, traditional leaders, community leaders, and villagers until the local government.
His struggle was reaping the results. After a three-year process, on March 5, 2019, Rita, as Chair of the Maju Bersama KPPL, signed a conservation partnership agreement and successfully fought for the right to participate in managing and preserving forest areas with the TNKS Office. KPPL Maju Bersama became the first women's group in Indonesia to be involved in managing a forest area.
Rita has access rights to harvest and cultivates wild kecombrang in the 10-hectare Madapi Forest Area in the TNKS traditional zone. Kecombrang (Etlingera elatior) is usually for spices and local food, which has various benefits and can potentially improve people's welfare and quality of life. Now, they have developed and produced processed kecombrang into lunkhead and packaged drinks that are suitable for health.
"Women's involvement in forest management in Indonesia must be encouraged and strengthened. Because if forest damage occurs, women will be the most affected," said Ritawati.
In their daily lives, they also carry out activities and learn together with the younger generation who are members of the Women's Group for Saving World Heritage Sites (KPPSWD) to communicate the knowledge and aspirations of village women in managing, preserving the environment and forests which are a source of life, livelihood and expertise of women.
Their success in fighting for the right to participate in the conservation of forest areas has also had various positive impacts. Not only being able to build a business but also having the opportunity to develop capacity, influence policies, and be involved in decision making as well as being an inspiration to other women in the four TNKS buffer villages in Bengkulu Province.
The success of Rita Wati and KPPL Maju Bersama, which now has 25 members, has inspired women in other villages to fight for rights related to forests and the environment. In Bengkulu Province, at least KPPL Karya Mandiri, Tebat Tenong Luar Village, Women's Nature Conservation, Batu Ampar Village, KPPL Sumber Jaya, Karang Jaya Village, KPPL Karya Bersama, Village, Sambirejo, and KPPL Sejahtera, Sumber Bening Village have been formed.*(AM)
Rita Wati was one of the recipients of the Nature Award given by YKAN based on the story competition 'Perempuan untuk Alam' commemorating Earth Day 2022.