Key to Indonesia's smaller families: new economic roles for women

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Ni Wayan Rai, a Balinese dressed in a batik sash, proudly tells a visitor she is the first women in her village who received a loan to help her stop bearing babies.

The government loan of about $15, however, did not pay for contraceptives, but for a piglet.

Her venture into pig-raising, officials hope, will provide a new role as an income-earner -- and perhaps reduce her desire to have more children.

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At age 29, Rai has three children and lives in Lambing, a little-developed village on the island of Bali where moss-covered Hindu temples and verdant stairways of rice terraces are nestled below blue volcanos.

On Bali, with a crowded 2.5 million people, practicing family planning has become a badge of honor. Even the head of the island's program thinks nothing of passing out T-shirts declaring "two is enough" to hundreds of fellow villagers "celebrating" his father's cremation, which on Hindu Bali is a rather elaborate, conflagrative, and happy ritual.

In Lambing, for instance, the kelian,m or chief, maintains a large map in the village square on which each home is marked with blue, brown, or green, depending on what type of contraceptive is used among eligible couples. Each month, a large wooden bell, or kentongan,m calls the people for a meeting of the banjar,m or village, where husbands are expected to stand up and report -- often proudly --planning.

Before 1971, when Bali as well as the other overpopulated indonesian island of Java began population control programs, women bore five to seven children. Today, the average is less than three. The Indonesian goal for 1990 is two children per woman.

But after ten years of on-again-off-again contraceptive use, women such as Rai are beginning to ask if having fewer children really will bring economic prosperity, as officials promised. In many Asian countries, more and more women are dropping out of family planning, forcing officials to search for new ways to give women alternatives to childbearing.

Rai's piglet, which after eight months will quadruple in value at the market, is an example of the latest Indonesian initiative to maintain the progress of one of the most successful programs among developing nations.

By including women in more economic activity of Indonesian society, officials hope to further reduce the cultural tradition of large families. "We are expanding family planning to family welfare," says Dr. Ida Bagus Astawa, head of Bali's family planning program. "But sometimes Indonesian husbands think only they should earn money."

One explanation for Indonesia's quick drop in fertility during the 1970s is that family planning simply allowed women to have the number of children -- three -- that they wanted anyway but were unable to achieve with ineffective birth-control techniques. Now the program faces its most difficult period -- overcoming strong cultural resistence to having two, rather than three, children

"After being on family planning, the women find their life is not that much better --prosperous?'" says Harry Victor Darmakusum, deputy for BKKBN, the Indonesia acronym for the government family planing agency. "We can't hold onto them," he adds.

The obvious solution -- village development -- is meant to show people that a third child will have an economic effect on themselves, as well as for the country. Even with the fertility slowdown, Indonesia's population wil rise to 178 million by 1990 from today's 147 million.

In 1980 BKKBN began the credit program for village women. With only $150,000 from the United Nations Population Program, about one percent of the hamlets on Java and Bali have so far received loans to help women start "income producing" projects, such as raising piglets or rabbits, or marketing vegetables or banana cakes. The small amount of capital will be recycled into other villages, while the interest paid on the loan is used again and again in the same village.

Somewhat singular to Indonesia -- the world's fifth most populated country -- is that the population program has initiated a whole new political organization at the village level, where social cohesion known as "gotung royong" often means social coercion to stay on family planning.

In 1973 government officials noticed that women's groups in Java were forming to send one representative to distant government clinics to pick up contraceptives. Up unto then, even with the strong backing of Indonesian President Suharto, BKKBN had not recorded much progress.

The government quickly jumped on the idea of encouraging the formation of village "acceptor groups," where women who had accepted contraceptives would be responsible for motivating and recruiting members.

Most developing nations' family planning programs deal with convincing the individual to have less children. In Indonesia the approach is now to first obtain a village commitment.

The idea spread rapidly, even to the point where acceptor groups now demand roads, water supplies, youth activities, and other village improvements from officials. BKKBN, meanwhile, realized that many women were dropping out of family planning after several years, either to avoid contraceptive side-effects or to have more children.

To help children survive their first few years and reduce the need to have more, officials organized monthly "babyweighing days." Mothers began bringing their children to a market scale to record their weight. A large village chart indicates increasing weights for each baby. If the baby's weight dipped visibly , mothers -- and the acceptor groups --demanded government nutrition programs that would give women hope for their babies' survival. Thus, nutrition aid became linked to family planning.

Likewise, the credit program now piggybacks on acceptor groups, or kelompok akseptor,m which distribute the loans that will help the women earn money from brisk enterprises.

"The Indonesian experience shows you don't have to develop a country first before you start population control. In fact, population decline has been faster than economic development," says Jay Parsons of the UN Fund for Population Activities in Jakarta.

"Now the question is whether fertility will keep declining without greater strides in development, and what kind of development would be most convincing," he adds.

"The first choice is simply to directly provide village women a means of earning their own income. A few government officials had proposed simply giving money directly to women, thus reducing poverty and the need to have more children. But that was too mechanistic and does not strike at the heart of the problem -- how to raise the whole quality of life for women."

BKKBN officials now are trying to convince other government programs to weigh the impact of development on population objectives, such as getting women into jobs so that marriages and child-bearing will be delayed. A new Indonesian law allows a woman to deny her husband from taking a second wife -- an accepted practice in Muslim Indonesia --although awareness of the law is low in most Villages. another law prohibits women from marrying before age 16, which has contributed to increasing the average marrying age to nearly 20.

Another target of BKKBN are urban women, who have not cut fertility as dramatically as their rural counterparts. A campaign is being readied to use factory unions and mass media, reaching the more mobile urban women with such slogans as "Two is Enough," or "Boy or Girl -- Makes No Difference."

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