By Ratu Aisyah Chairunisa (YES 2014-2015, Indonesia, hosted by YFU in Ann Arbor, MI)
My name is Ratu Aisyah Chairunisa, and I am from the small city of Meulaboh in the west of Indonesia, a place hit very hard by the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. In 2014, I got the chance to be part of the YES program. I was hosted in Ann Arbor, Michigan by a very open-minded host family who taught me to always speak up about what I feel and think.
In June 2015, I returned to my high school in Aceh and was very surprised to learn that girls could not run for student council elections at my high school. I found it even more disheartening to learn that some of my female peers felt that only men deserved to be leaders, not only at school, but also in Aceh’s congress. Aceh is a special autonomous region in Indonesia and the only Indonesian province practicing Sharia law. The culture in Aceh makes it hard for girls like me who want to empower women to stand up and fight religious-based oppression.
This inequality motivated my friends and I to apply for a YES Alumni Grant to conduct a project to empower high school girls in Aceh with “HOPE,” which stands for Home to Opportunity and Practical Equality. The project aimed to provide a deeper understanding of gender equality. In collaboration with Bina Antarbudaya Chapter Banda Aceh, the Indonesian YES Alumni Association (IYAA), Syiah Kuala University Debating Club (UDC), and Flower Aceh (a women’s empowerment NGO), we held a women's empowerment training camp. The camp took place in Gampong Nusa, Lhoknga District from March 8 to 10, 2019, and 36 female students from high schools throughout Aceh attended. Participants were selected based on submissions of online essays. During the workshop, participants were trained by field experts on the topics of starting a business, basic gender concepts, the importance of women in government, and the position of women from an Islamic perspective.
Participants had the opportunity to simulate parliamentary debates on gender equality facilitated by the debate club of the Syiah Kuala University. Participants were also taught to craft decorative flowers using organic waste by PKK Gampong Nusa mothers. Beyond being an opportunity for recreation, participants got to hone their creativity through this activity. Awards were distributed for the best essays and winning the parliamentary debate simulation.
Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer for Youth Outreach and Alumni Engagement Emily G. Abraham attended from the U.S. Embassy. She reported the workshop was very inspiring, and she was happy to have the opportunity to meet the participants, proclaiming, “I was so inspired by all of you!”
Nuraini, a student from Bandar Bener Meriah 2 Senior High School, said “The HOPE program can motivate Indonesian women to continue their careers and open their horizons to create gender equality in Indonesia.”
Although the event is over, my team and I plan to keep working with Flower Aceh to continue to support and motivate the participants of HOPE to speak up for their rights and promote gender equality. We also made a book compiled of participants’ essay which we plan to publish.
I want to offer sincere thanks to all the project partners and volunteers. I would also like to sincerely thank the U.S. Department of State for funding the YES program and YES Alumni Grants. Thanks to the YES Alumni Grant, we were able to raise awareness among female youths and help them face and challenge gender issues in Aceh.