Gunarti and The Kendeng Women Movement


“Wait a moment, please. I still have to do my daily chores cleaning the cowshed,” Gunarti told me that morning. She was busy doing her morning activities, cleaning the house and the cowshed, and off to the rice fields after that. Just as any ordinary woman in the villages of North Kendeng Mountains, Central Java, her days are full with domestic activities. However, ten years ago a plan to build a cement factory in her village has turned the course of her life. She has been transformed from an ordinary housewife into an expert in community organizing and campaigning for the protection of North Kendeng Mountains from the threat of mining industry.

The location for the planned cement factory is a productive farming area with main crops such as rice and maize. The agricultural areas in Sukolilo, Kayen and Tambakromo sub districts are the largest rice fields in Pati Regency. Unfortunately, these area are currently under the threat due to development projects which are no longer oriented for agriculture, such as the plan to mine North Kendeng Mountains by PT. Semen Gresik Tbk. Locations that have been included in the government data base related to the plan of cement plant construction covers four different districts: Sukolilo, Kayen, Gabus and Margorejo as well as thirteen villages with a total land area of 1,560 hectares.

Women movement under the threat of industrialization

The construction plan designed in 2005 is threatening the community, especially women farmers for at least two reasons. First, once the limestone of this area was cut, North Kendeng Mountains will no longer serve its function as water storage area. Yet, considering that the water supply from Kendeng Mountains is the only option for the families living in this area, if this happens then local women will have to spend more energy to get clean water for their families. "If water can no longer flow, then how can we cook and meet other needs that require water? " asked Gunarti. Women are the most vulnerable group that will be affected by this large-scale mining project. Secondly, the flow of labors due to the large-scale enterprise will certainly be followed by the construction of many infrastructure such as housing, health centers and others that will convert agricultural land into non-agricultural areas.

During the early years of the Kendeng movement, women were not as actively involved due to the lack of institutionalization of the women's movement into the general movement against the construction of the cement plant. The women's movement initiative finally found its momentum when Kendeng Community Care Network (JM-PPK) devised a strategy to attract support from public officials at the province level. Fifteen women from several villages in Sukolilo and Kayen sub-districts were given the opportunity to meet with the deputy governor to express their feelings as citizens threatened by the construction of the cement plant. "It was like a regular chat between old friends. Mrs. Rustri just told us to continue the struggle, "said Siti, one of the members of Simbar Wareh, that is how they call their group consists of women farmers -  about the meeting between members of Simbar Wareh with the Vice Governor of Central Java, Rustriningsih.

Recognizing the potential of women participation in the movement, Gunarti and Tatik, two women from Sedulur Sikep, as well as several other women started the environmental awareness campaign for women in villages of Sukolilo District. The meeting of women of Kedumulyo Village in the sacred mosque of Simbar Wareh in early 2008 marks the beginning of the Women of Kendeng Utara movement. In this meeting, Gunarti and Tatik talked about how the mining plan will be executed by the cement plant as well as the threats it will inflict. Hundreds of Kedumulyo villagers who crowded the mosque at the meeting were quite excited. But the meeting was not without obstacles. Religious issues were deliberately used by opponents to weaken the movement. A day after the meeting, words had spread that sedulur sikep, or more commonly known as wong Samin, had dared to trample on the mosque. "It was the first time we enter the mosque. We did not ask for this meeting to be held in the mosque. It’s people who invite us” said Tatik.

On how "Simbar Wareh" was formed, a group called Women’s Group for Environmental Concern (Kelompok Perempuan Peduli Lingkungan - KPPL). On May 3, 2009 coined the idea during a preparatory meeting to meet with the Deputy Governor of Central Java, Rustriningsih. There was a proposal to change the name of KPPL into a name that reflects the struggle of the group. Since the group was created based on their intentions to conserve the springs in the mountains of Kendeng, they chose the name “Simbar Wareh”, which combines the names of the springs in Simbarjoyo and the name of Goa (Cave) Wareh. According to an activist in Simbar Wareh, there were many activities that takes place within Simbar Wareh. “Activities in Simbar Wareh included social gatherings as well as savings and loans. Here the women were also taught how to plant medicinalplants and then process them into herbal remedies such as saffron-colored rice (beras kencur), turmeric, and tamarind, etc. The savings and loan meant that women were able to avoid borrowing money from loan sharks. The planting of herbs and processing them into traditional herbal medicine is taught so that people know that the mountains of Kendeng is fertile and cultivable and a placewhere medicinal plants can be produced”. (Maryani & Darmastuti, 2016)

Since then, the women’s group of Simbar Wareh impacts various actions on the ground. One of the main activities of this group is to visit villages to convey information about the dangers of cement plant mine. For this purpose a number of people become speakers ready to visit various citizens' meetings. Prior to these visits, they prepare materials to be delivered to villagers such as information about the natural damage that will occur, the Environmental Analysis process, etc. Campaigning fairly complex material by using relaxed and communicative local languages ​​has made far more women understand the issues they are facing. The result is more and more women farmers are interested to join the movement initiated by Simbar Wareh. For example Rasmi, an elderly woman who is always actively participating in the various activities of this Simbar Wareh, "I have to fight for my grandchildren," Rasmi said eagerly.

The struggle out from the kitchen to the field

Noleh memburi (looking back), as late Mbah Tarno, an elder of Sedulur Sikep community, said to Gunarti one day. Mbah Tarno said that in dealing with something one must also see what has been there before. This concept inspired Simbar Wareh to determine the form of household economic strengthening activities to run. Their own backyards has finally became one of the potentials they manage more intensively. Managed in more integrative manner, backyards would meet the nutritional needs of many households. Simbar Wareh encourages their members to plant chilies, vegetables, papayas and medicinal plants.

Although not yet fully reliable, managing backyards to meet families' nutritional needs began to be a choice activity of Simbar Wareh. In the midst of limited rice fields accessible by farmers, owning a backyard garden can have a supporting value for fulfilling the nutrient needs of families and minimize kitchen expenses. In Ann Stoler's notes, the management of backyard is important because aside from having ecological advantages, the yard is also a safeguard for the rural household economy in the face of poverty caused by crop failure, drought, or structural poverty. It is because one of the advantages of backyard plants compared to rice crops is that the owner of the yard can sell the plants to cover his daily needs when his cash supply is running low. For example: selling two or three papayas to be able to buy rice or to contribute to some community events.

Supporting household economic strength is an important pursuit that continues to be developed by Simbar Wareh. Health is one of the most costly needs other than food. A wide range of mild illnesses such as cough and cold would spread if the weather is uncertain. Seeing this situation, Simbar Wareh invites its members to plant medicinal plants and process them into traditional herbal medicine. They produce beverages such as ginger tea, tamarind turmeric drink, temulawak drink in powder form to relieve mild health problems. "Very useful for us. If you regularly consume ginger or temulawak drink, expenses for medicine can be saved,” said Purwati who also plants medicinal herbs in her backyard.

In addition to maintaining health, the production and processing of herbs by Simbar Wareh can also be used for media campaign. If all this time those supporting the construction of the cement plant has said that Kendeng Mountains is an unproductive parched area, then Simbar Wareh can give a different picture to the public. Simbar Wareh tries to convey that the North Kendeng Mountains is a fertile and very potential area to be developed as an agro-industry area. One example is the traditional herbs that are processed from plants growing abundantly in the North Kendeng Mountains. One of their greatest moments was when they won the struggle and PT Semen Gresik decided to cancel their plan for Pati in 2009.

However, this situation has seriously affected the activities of Simbar Wareh. After nearly five years of self-organizing and influencing peasant movements in southern part of Pati, members of Simbar Wareh are beginning to lose stamina. "Many members fail to attend the regular monthly meetings" said Gunarti about the current condition of Simbar Wareh. According to her, one of the causes is the passing of a critical period in the Sukolilo region. This "safe" situation resulted in members of Simbar Wareh in Kecamatan Sukolilo to be busy with the care of children and other activities. The exchange of information no longer occurs in monthly meeting forums but takes place spontaneously in informal encounters such as when members of Simbar Wareh are invited in a celebration or ceremony held by one of the members. "If you meet at such event, guests are usually gathered immediately to talk about the latest news on the cement plant," Gunarti added.

As its network continues to develop, Simbar Wareh built a communication media in the form of savings and loan activities called Lumbung Simbar Wareh. A form of rotating savings and credit association called 'Arisan' is already very familiar in several kampungs, has inspired Simbar Wareh board to form a group that is expected to become a microfinance institution capable of supporting financial strength of members of Simbar Wareh. During this time, some members of Simbar Wareh had to deal with loan sharks who lend money at a high rate of 10% since they are unable to access loans from banks. To end this dependency, Simbar Wareh lends its members a maximum of two hundred thousand rupiahs at 4 percent interest that can be repaid in four months. For the context of the life of rural farmers, these loans are very helpful especially to finance activities in the fields or to cover daily consumption expenses. This activity is a reminder of the cooperative spirit initiated by Hatta, one of the founding fathers of Indonesia, in moving the wheels of indigenous economy by utilizing the vibrant collectivist spirit of Javanese society.

Simbar Wareh hopes that these loans will not only be used for consumption but also for productive purposes such as developing creative economy businesses of the people of North Kendeng Mountains. Initiated at the end of 2009, Simbar Wareh currently has 200 members and continues to grow as the network extends to Kayen and Tambakromo districts. One of the things that contributes to the development of the network is the easy requirement to become its member. Those interested to join only have to pay twenty five thousand rupiahs as a due which is then added to the capital of Simbar Wareh to allow it to give loans. Then every month members are asked to attend the monthly meeting and paying a fee of two thousand rupiahs. In addition to due paying, this monthly meeting is also used to disseminate the latest information on issues related to the construction of a cement plant in North Kendeng Mountains.

Looking for brothers and sisters

Women farmers have become a part of the social movement that transpires in North Kendeng Mountains. The position that originally was only complementary in the local economic and political routine has transformed into an important element in determining the motion of the movement being built. Actions, campaigns, and other advocacy activities are carried out in their own way. The result is a movement of women who recognize the importance of protecting nature from exploitation by cement factories. This complementary relationship has become an important force for Simbar Wareh over the years. Women of Simbar Wareh no longer need to think about household affairs when they are doing Simbar Wareh's activities because their roles have been taken over by their husbands.

Such was the experience of Gunarti when she made a tour of ten cities in Germany. Before agreeing to go, she had a discussion with her family whether she would accept the offer from Heinrich Böll Stiftung or not. This discussion is important to determine the role-sharing mechanism in running family affairs. "I explained to my husband and my children about my going to Germany," Gunarti said. For her the tour to Germany was an important agenda which inevitably had to be done to find as much support as possible. In several film screenings and discussions she felt a deep sense of sincerity in the support given by people whom she never met before. "It’s been a pleasure to meet them. Although sometimes we have difficulty communicating because of language barrier, but we give each other support, "said Gunarti. On this occasion she also shared the concern during the company shareholder and met Mr. Bernd Scheifele, the CEO of HeidelbergCement afterwards and had the chance to tell him about what would happen if Heidelberg Cement still persist to continue the project in North Kendeng.

Solidarity protest in Germany during Stakeholder meeting

Living Prakitri (a living motherland), an ancient Indian term used by Vandana Shiva to explain the concept of femininity of the women's movement in India is accurate enough to illustrate what Simbar Wareh has been doing. Instead of extricating women from domestic routines, they use this to strengthen cohesion among women in public issues. "Simbar Wareh cannot be likened to other organizations. Let Simbar Wareh does its work the way village women manage things. Home affairs are important parts of the work because if the house is peaceful then those who are outside the house will also be peaceful", said Gunarti explaining the concept of their movement.


Maryani, E., & Darmastuti, R. The ‘Bakul Gendong’ as a communication strategy to reject the construction of a cement factory in Central Java. Public Relations Review (2016),