Context Affecting Changes in the Organization
Founded in 1999, Himpunan Waria Musyawarah Kekeluargaan Gotong Royong (HW MKGR) is a community-based organization of waria (male to female transgender persons) located in the city of Palembang, South Sumatra. According to Health Ministry data from 2012, the estimated number of waria in Palembang is 725 persons, most of whom are newcomers from Banyuasin District, located around two to three hours from the city of Palembang. In Palembang, waria live in groups at points in various locations, such as Sukarame Subdistrict and Ilir Barat II Subdistrict. In these two locations, since 2016, together with Program Peduli, HW MKGR has conducted various group organizing activities to improve the waria’s lives and welfare. In mid-2018, the organization developed very significantly, as can be seen by the increased number of waria who received resident identity cards and the involvement of waria in various community social activities. This growth of the organization was influenced by the factor of the leadership of Ita Sandy, or Ismail Efendi, who had a close personal relationship with the Governor of South Sumatra at the time, Alex Noerdin.
Despite the very significant achievements in social acceptance for waria at that time, this success was not accompanied by internal consolidation of a strong organization. Within HW MKGR, there were differences of opinion between the senior and the junior waria. The junior waria, especially, felt they were only involved as participants in activities or recipients of social assistance. This kind of problem between senior and junior waria is actually often found in many locations of the waria pillar program. In Palembang, the problems between senior and junior waria are often rooted in the large number of juniors who work in salons and thus depend on the senior waria because they lack sufficient skills to live independently in the city. This inequality between the seniors and juniors is often a topic of discussion in waria groups in the city of Palembang. The junior waria are commonly addressed as ‘banci kaleng’ and forced to pay dues to the senior waria, and are even victims of violence from them. This situation made the junior waria unwilling to work with the senior waria, and created challenges for consolidation within the organization.
In February 2019, the death of Ita Sandy created a leadership vacancy in the organization. In the organization’s discussion, the junior waria were unwilling to again be led by a senior waria. The discussion, which took place in a salon owned by a junior waria, tried to bring together members of the organization who were still committed to the progress of the organization. There were a number of considerations for the further survival of the organization, such as the need to organize waria so that they do not become increasingly vulnerable, and the awareness that the connection that had been fostered between government stakeholders and the community was the key to realizing acceptance and inclusion for waria. After quite a lengthy discussion, in November 2019 a new chair of HW MKGR was elected, Helena, who was considered to have quite good leadership capacity and the ability to unite the senior and junior waria. HW MKGR also set up a new management structure for the 2019-2024 period, with a balance of senior and junior waria.
Efforts to Reestablish Relations with Government and Civil Society Network
Previously, HW MKGR held an organization certificate from the Provincial National Unity and Politics (Kesbangpol) Agency. The legal status of the organization in the form of a certificate of registration is essential for the organization to engage in cooperation and to access funds from government programs, but this document has a validity period and therefore needs to be renewed periodically. Following the death of the previous chair, the new management was unable to access the original document. The new management then took the initiative to arrange a new registration certificate with the Kesbangpol Agency, and at the same time to reintroduce the organization with its new management structure. As well as arranging the legal status, HW MKGR also send an official letter concerning organization’s restructuring to the stakeholders that had previously provided support for the organization’s work, such as the South Sumatra Provincial Social Welfare Service, the Palembang City Social Welfare Service, the South Sumatra Provincial Health Service, LPKA Anak (Juvenile Correctional Facility) Pakjo Palembang, and Lapas (Penitentiary) Merdeka Palembang.
As well as re-establishing relations with these government stakeholders, several HW MKGR officers who were involved in the regional HIV & AIDS programs started to routinely involve the organization in the network’s discussions. In March and July 2020, HW MKGR facilitated discussions by inviting organizations that assist people living with HIV/AIDS and key population groups to discuss the cases of violence that often occurs against sexual minorities in Palembang. A network with the name Jaringan Indonesia Positif (JIP, Positive Indonesia Network) was formed, with the functions of coordination and reporting cases of violence experienced by sexual minorities and other vulnerable groups in South Sumatra.
In the process of revitalizing the organization, HW MKGR recognized the importance of involving all actors that could support the organization’s vision. This process was inseparable from the role of one member of Program Peduli’s staff in MKGR who had previously been on the staff of the South Sumatra PKBI (Indonesian Family Planning Association), who greatly helped the MKGR staff with regard to program management. In every discussion that was held, both senior and junior waria were fully involved in the stages of planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of the programs. Although some senior waria were specifically involved as advisors to the organization, efforts were always made to have a balanced composition of ages in every meeting. The organization also held routine meetings to ensure continuous communication among the members.
On the other hand, the principles of gender equality and child protection were not yet strategic issues in the programs that were planned. Currently, all members of the organization are waria, but HW MKGR always strives to involve male and female cadres in the activities that are conducted, such as family forums and resident forums. Meanwhile, with regard to child protection, through the routine member discussions the waria have committed to not tolerate child labor, exploitation of children, or violence against children. This is considered important, since situations are often found in which children are “kept” by waria. This commitment to child protection will be made into an institutional policy and publicized to the waria community in Palembang.
As well as fostering external relations and strengthening the organization internally, HW MKGR’s new management has transmitted the spirit of organizational restructuring to waria communities in other districts in South Sumatra. This spirit has spread to the waria communities in Lahat and Pali districts, which learned from the process undertaken in Palembang and are enthusiastic to form branches (DPC) of HW MKGR in those two districts.
Adaptation, Learning, and Opportunities for Sustainability
Observing the steps that have been taken and the changes achieved by HW MKGR in the city of Palembang between January and June 2020, the main learning from this entire process is the importance of assistance and capacity building to run an organization for the waria community, which needs to be done continuously. This assistance and capacity building are essential to form a self-reliant and empowered waria organization so that the organization can manage programs engage in the cross-sectoral collaboration that is needed to promote social inclusion and enhance the welfare of waria in South Sumatra.
In addition, with this new management structure, the others important learnings from the achievements and impacts previously produced both by HW MKGR and by the waria pillar as a whole need to be conveyed to the current management. This process needs to be facilitated by PKBI as the umbrella partner for the waria pillar, to enable a transfer of knowledge and experience to the new management. The knowledge and experience from before can be utilized by HW MKGR’s new management to arrange work plans for the organization that are more directed and strategic, and oriented toward the process of long-term change.