Syamsiah, standing, in front of a group of seven seated women in a classroom setting
Case study /
Helping others

Syamsiah: community leadership


In a part of Indonesia where most men are fishermen and most women earn a living preparing seedlings for seaweed farming, Syamsiah has risen to lead a local women’s group and represent her village in government meetings.

Syamsiah was born in a village in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. She earns extra income for her family by cooking and selling cakes and biscuits. She says, ‘in the past, nobody knew me. It was just me, Syamsiah from Kaili, and I made various food’. That has all changed now.

In 2014, Syamsiah joined Aisyiyah, a local women’s organisation with a presence across Indonesia. This organisation is supported jointly by the Australian and Indonesian Governments, through an initiative called the Australia – Indonesia Partnership for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment—better known as MAMPU. Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment is a priority for the Australian Government across our region—the MAMPU program has reached women in almost 1,000 Indonesian villages.

The MAMPU program provided knowledge, courage and everything for me.

Syamsiah, pictured form the waist up, holding a notebook and pen, near a poster with writing in Bahasa Indonesia

Ibu Syamsiah. Image credit: MAMPU

‘I have been wanting for a long time to dedicate my life to serve the community’, Syamsiah says. ‘Then the MAMPU program started. It’s through MAMPU that I have the chance to do this.’

With MAMPU’s support, Aisyiyah established village-based women’s groups which provide a place for women to meet and share knowledge. They also facilitate training in women’s health issues, leadership and community education skills. Syamsiah credits this as life changing. ‘I was still shy at the time. I was not brave enough to even hold a microphone and didn’t have the courage to talk to the public. That’s what I got from the first training I attended’, she says.

Syamsiah, standing in the middle of a group of women, fist raised, triumphant, holding a banner with writing in Bahasa Indonesia

Syamsiah with her women's group. Image credit: MAMPU

Now Syamsiah educates other women about reproductive health, the national health insurance scheme, domestic violence and issues associated with early marriage. She raises awareness among poor women of the importance of cancer screening tests and helps them get to the clinic, sometimes on the back of her own motorbike.

Syamsiah was recently elected chairperson of her local women’s group and has been chosen to represent her village at planning meetings with government officials, representing the view of poor people from her village. She uses her newly developed confidence and leadership skills to share the needs and concerns of her community with the government and to advocate for government spending on women’s health services.

Syamsiah has come a long way with the support of MAMPU. ‘For me I feel like my whole experience started from zero, now I have changed 180 degrees’, she says. ‘The MAMPU program provided knowledge, courage and everything for me. Now I am active here and there, I am known everywhere because of my activities for the community.’