Sayani’s predicament is widespread as Indonesians across the country cope with additional economic hardship amid COVID-19 and in the wake of other disasters. A February 2022 joint UN report shows that unemployment rates have increased, with more than one out of two vulnerable households having at least one household member lose their job between 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, approximately 75% of households experienced a loss of income during the pandemic, with households with children and households in urban areas experiencing greater income loss, according to another joint UN study.
In parts of eastern Indonesia such as West Nusa Tenggara, away from Java’s economic centers, the economic impacts have landed especially hard on the informally employed, many of whom are women. In women-headed households, thousands of women like Sayani are not only their family’s main breadwinners, but often the primary caregivers too. They face the double burden of bringing in money and taking care of children, parents and sometimes husbands.
The situation of caregivers in Indonesia is consistent with the huge challenges women are facing globally in the wake of the pandemic. In 2020, UN Women and Women Count estimated that 435 million women and girls will be living on less than US$1.90 a day. This includes 47 million who will be pushed into poverty.
To address the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations in West Nusa Tenggara Province, an UN-backed initiative launched in 2021 is providing Sayani, and thousands of other women in vulnerable employment situations, with the tools to generate new revenue streams to support their families. The UN’s Joint SDG Fund-backed Innovative Finance programme in West Nusa Tenggara, a collaboration between NGO Transform West Nusa Tenggara and the United Nations Development Program Indonesia (UNDP Indonesia) offers courses in disciplines like sewing, cooking, and accountancy to people who have small businesses or start-ups, including on the job training and apprenticeships. It operates under the auspices of the UN’s larger Joint Programme for Adaptive Social Protection.
The Joint SDG Fund, which finances the Joint Programme for Adaptive Social Protection, brings together UNDP, UNICEF, UNEP, and UNIDO, under the oversight of the UN Resident Coordinator for Indonesia. It draws on support from partners including Kementerian Keuangan Republik Indonesia, Kementerian PPN/BAPPENAS, Kementerian Koordinator Bidang Kemaritiman, Kemenkop UKM, Kementerian Dalam Negeri, Otoritas Jasa Keuangan, Mandiri Capital, BRI, the APEC Business Advisory Council, Kadin Indonesia, and ASPPUK.
“The Innovative Finance schemes give economic relief to people that were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says UNDP’s Indonesia Representative Norimasa Shimomura “Through this scheme, people have the opportunity to up-skill and reclaim some of the economic opportunities lost from the pandemic and previous natural disasters.”
Indeed, West Nusa Tenggara’s vulnerability to disasters had made the financial situation of many informally employed women in Mataram City precarious even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2018, a series of shallow earthquakes hit Lombok, the area’s deadliest since 1992, killed some 563 people and damaged more than 67,000 houses, leaving more than 20,000 people homeless.
Laksmi, a 37-year-old Mataram City Resident who started a home catering business in 2015, says that she used to deliver food to houses up to 10 km from her home by motorbike. But the 2018 earthquakes made it more difficult to sell her food products because many Lombok residents were struggling with their own recovery and could only afford to purchase food in their immediate communities. “Now with the pandemic, I have a maximum of five orders a day. Much less than back then,” Laksmi says. “We were still recovering from the damage of the earthquake. The pandemic has made life even harder”.
In 2021, Sayani and Laksmi joined the Joint SDG Fund-backed Innovative Finance scheme along with 1,600 other economically vulnerable people, families and MSME owners in Mataram City. The program is for people registered in the local Social Welfare Database that have not yet received social protection assistance from the government. It aims to provide social assistance and training programmes through innovative non-government sources of finance. It also provides participants with a sense of community and support from the other members of the programme.
Sayani, who took a sewing class, says she learned how to make dress patterns. She also made friends with two other women caregivers, who had been selling soup and doing laundry to support their families. Sayani used the IDR 400,000 (US$27) she received from the programme to buy a new stove so that she could reopen her fermented soybean chips business. But the training and community support also inspired new business ideas. "I want to develop my sewing skills,” she says. “Then, hopefully, I could get an additional income rather than just selling chips."
Meanwhile, Laksmi, who took a baking and cooking course to expand her culinary capabilities, says the programme helped instill a new sense of confidence. "I learned how to make modern cookies and dumplings and explored new skills that I never knew before,” she said, “I sold the dumplings online, and I got many orders even though it was my first time making it outside the training!”.