Press Release

Aceh: Tsunami's Women Survivors Demand Greater Role in Recovery and Reconstruction Efforts

For immediate release
Date: 23 June 2005

Media Inquiries:
Oisika Chakrabarti, Media Specialist, UN Women Headquarters, +1 646 781-4522,

United Nations — The first Acehnese women's meeting since the tsunami disaster of December 2004 concluded Sunday in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, gathering close to 400 women from Aceh's 21 districts to discuss women's participation in the recovery and reconstruction process. The All-Acehnese Women's Congress, held to coincide with the six-month mark since the tsunami struck, was the largest gathering of Acehnese women in five years, representing a wide cross-section of society, from farmers, fisherwomen, students and business women to religious leaders, government officials and academics.

According to congress participants, as Aceh transitions from an emergency to a reconstruction phase, women's concerns must be included in key decision-making processes. Women's participation has been lacking in the development and implementation of Aceh's "blueprint" for reconstruction, despite the significant role women have been playing in emergency and recovery efforts.

For years at the forefront of survival strategies that sustained their families and communities during conflict, Acehnese women assumed critical roles in the tsunami emergency response effort, taking in relatives and children orphaned by the tsunami, offering care and support within camps and shelters for grieving survivors, and participating in aid and health care distribution and evacuation of the dead. More than 70 per cent of local civil society organizations working in Aceh are women's groups, or groups staffed mainly by young women.

"Women must be at the heart of all recovery and reconstruction processes. For decades, they have been the lifeline of their communities, leading survival systems and mutual-aid networks, including among the internally displaced and refugee communities. Women are not just victims, they are survivors, and they need to be part of the solution," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), who recently returned from a visit to Aceh, where she held consultations with various women's groups in preparation for the congress. "The reweaving of the social fabric of life is the foundation for reconstruction and a necessary part of the healing process. It is women, in their families and their communities, who are playing this role," she added.

According to Heyzer, Acehnese women identified four critical issues: the urgent need to re-establish livelihoods; the issue of land titles and ownership, including inheritance rights, particularly in the case of children who lost their entire family; the creation of adequate settlements and housing, and the lack of gender sensitivity in the planning and management of temporary barracks; and the need for more opportunities for women to interact with local and national authorities and participate in decision-making to engage with the reconstruction process.

These concerns were amplified at the congress. Participants created their own blueprint for action with recommendations, which were submitted to the Aceh Reconstruction Agency, the main coordinating government body for reconstruction efforts. Top of the list of recommendations was the re-establishing of Balai Inong, or "women's houses." Before the tsunami struck, every village in Aceh had a Balai Inong where women could meet to network, convene and work together on projects. Participants felt that starting up these women's houses in villages would be an effective way to ensure that women's concerns were being heard, while also providing a safe space for women to grieve, share experiences, and develop skills to sustain their livelihoods.

Dr Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, director of the Aceh Reconstruction Agency, welcomed the recommendations of the congress, acknowledging that the group represented a valuable network for his agency to tap in order to address the needs of women at the grassroots level. The agency has appointed UNIFEM as its advisor on women's affairs, and its liaison with the Aceh Women's Council, a network created by the congress to represent the women of Aceh.

As a next step, the Aceh Women's Council will present their findings and recommendations to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudoyono.

Noeleen Heyzer with bangkuang weavers in Meulaboh, West Aceh, an area badly affected by the tsunami. UNIFEM is supporting the weavers in rebuilding their livelihoods. Bangkuang hats have a domestic market � tsunami survivors working in cash-for-work programmes use the hats as protection against the sun.
Noeleen Heyzer with bangkuang weavers in Meulaboh, West Aceh, an area badly affected by the tsunami. UNIFEM is supporting the weavers in rebuilding their livelihoods. Bangkuang hats have a domestic market � tsunami survivors working in cash-for-work programmes use the hats as protection against the sun.