Women have an important role in the tradition of silk weaving in South Sulawesi. However, women who work in the silk weaving value chain, both upstream and downstream, are still struggling to live a decent life. Without any policy intervention, this may discourage young generation to take up the baton from their elders and develop the industry.
This was one of the findings from the study of the value chain of the South Sulawesi silk commodity which was presented in the event entitled “South Sulawesi Silk Industry in the Perspective of Gender Equality and Sustainable Livelihoods”. This online event was organized by BaKTI Foundation with the support of the Indonesian government's cooperation program and the Australian Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI) on Thursday (23/9). The speakers at this event included a member of the implementation team for the study of the South Sulawesi silk value chain from the aspect of gender, disability, and social inclusion (GEDSI) Lusia Palulungan, a member of the implementing team for the study of the South Sulawesi silk value chain from the livelihood aspect, Nurhady Sirimorok, Head of the Office of Women's Empowerment and Protection Children of South Sulawesi Province Fitriah Zainuddin, and Head of the Manpower Office of South Sulawesi Province Darmawan Bintang. Fadiah Machmud was the moderator of the event, and sign language interpreters were also assigned to support those who needed.
BaKTI Foundation Program Coordinator Rahmad Sabang when opening the event said that this forum was expected to provide input and contribute ideas for efforts to restore the glory of silk in South Sulawesi. Moreover, silk was once one of the leading commodities of South Sulawesi and contributed about 80 percent of the national demand for natural silk. "Now the situation is changing. Meeting the national needs is beyond our reality. In fact, we even have to rely on import to meet the local needs," he said.
A member of the implementation team for the study of the South Sulawesi silk value chain from the GEDSI aspect, Lusia Palulungan, said that 70-90% of the weavers were women. However, they experience gender inequality: they have double burden, low wages due to low levels of education, lack of access to capital, equipment and capacity building. Consequently, women working in the silk industry have no bargaining power in determining the hours and the quality of work, as well as with whom they should collaborate. “It has been recommended that to support women, access to capital has to be widened to allow them to have a better bargaining position," she said.
A member of the implementation team for the study of the South Sulawesi silk value chain from the livelihood aspect, Nurhady Sirimorok added, the silk industry in South Sulawesi currently did not look promising as a source of livelihood. Currently only as few as 75 farmers who are still growing seeds in their nursery,and they live in several districts: Sopeng, Wajo and Enrekang. As many as 75 percent of them are women, most of whom are over the age of 50 with low level of education.
In the upstream sector, the industry depends on imported seeds despite its inconsistent quality, which often leads to crop failure. To make it worse, the use of pesticides can kill silkworms. Many farmers are deterred and choose to plant other commodities. In the manufacturing sector, the average wage received by weavers is IDR 10,000 – IDR 25,000 per day. This value is much lower than the wages of garden workers, which reach Rp. 50,000 – Rp. 100,000 per day. The low wages make many weavers discourage their children from from following their foot path. "The fortress guarding the long weaving tradition in South Sulawesi only gets Rp. 10,000 per day," said Nurhady.
Nurhady added, in the long term, the current situation will have an impact on the regeneration of weavers. For this reason, it is necessary to have the right policy to save this long tradition of South Sulawesi silk from extinction. The policies must place importance on the weavers rather than the silk as the object, so that there will be adequate interests to sustain the industry. Communication with silk industry players from upstream to downstream is important. "Any technology will not attract farmers if there is no balance between the energy they put out and the income they get," he explained.
Head of the South Sulawesi Province Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Agency Fitriah Zainuddin said the results of the silk value chain study were very important because they showed how the gender gap occurred. Thus, a policy to restore the glory of the South Sulawesi silk can be formulated by taking into account the results of the study.
According to her, a policy related to the dynamics of women in the silk industry should linked to the national policies pertaining to women's empowerment and child protection. The policy should be implemented through building a data system, building the capacity of women in the silk industry, developing policies to protect them, ensuring their engagement in the decision-making related to silk development policies, and promoting basic silk weaving skills into the basic education curriculum. “Entrepreneurial empowerment has been included (in the regional medium-term development plan (RPJMD)), we just have to select the location. With the input of this study, we can do a lot more and the potential is huge,” he explained.
Regarding the low wages received by silk workers, especially weavers, Head of the South Sulawesi Provincial Manpower Office, Darmawan Bintang, said that as they worked in the small and micro business sector this was subject to the agreement with the employer. Because of this, the government cannot force employers to pay the minimum standard of wage. This is why silk industry needs to be restored and strengthened as this is important to increase in the wages of the workers. Howevers, on the workers’ side, effort has to be made to ensure that they understand their obligations and rights at work. "We encourage the district manpower office to provide assistance, to make workers aware of their rights at work," he said.
The study “South Sulawesi Silk Commodity Value Chain” was resulted from the collaboration between the Regional Development Planning, Research and Development Agency (Bappelitbangda) of South Sulawesi Province, BaKTI Foundation, and Payo-Payo, with the support of KSI. It applied a multi-actor and multi-disciplinary collaborative approach to adopt the multi-helix concept, which brought a new experience to evidence-based policy making process in South Sulawesi. As support to South Sulawesi Government's initiative to restore the glory of silk, this study captured the realityof this industry from upstream to downstream in Soppeng, Wajo, and Enrekang Regencies. Findings and policy recommendations presented by this study are expected to provide inputs for the South Sulawesi Provincial Government to develop policies needed to boost its silk industry.