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Excerpt from Mongabay

  • Across Indonesia, hundreds of communities are in conflict with companies seeking control of their resources. In some cases, the resistance has been led by women.
  • Journalist Febriana Firdaus travelled across the country to meet grassroots female activists and delve into the stories behind their struggles.
  • This article is part three of a series about her journey, which has also been made into a film, Our Mothers’ Land.

It’s cloudy when my plane lands at the airport near Luwuk. The town feels remote and isolated. It falls toward the end of one of the four long peninsulas that form Sulawesi, an island the size of Florida in eastern Indonesia. Luwuk is hemmed into the sea, by hills that rise steeply around it.

I’ve come here to meet an activist in her early 40s named Eva Susanti Hanafi Bande. In 2010, Eva was convicted of incitement and jailed after organizing farmers against a palm oil company owned by a powerful local family. She made headlines four years later, when she was pardoned by Indonesia’s newly elected president, Joko Widodo.

It feels an opportune moment to reflect on Eva’s fate. Her clemency was a high-profile symbol of the president’s commitment to resolve the hundreds of conflicts between rural communities and investors eyeing their lands. But today, the hope of a new dawn for Indonesia’s farmers has not come to pass. This year, the government pushed through legislation many fear will entrench corporate power. Which means the task of pressing for agrarian reform once again falls on grassroots organizers, like Eva.

By the time she was freed from prison, her case had already attracted public support from activists across Indonesia and Southeast Asia. But for many years, Eva and the farmers had fought out here alone, with no internet connection and barely any phone signal, risking their freedom to confront a company whose operations were apparently protected by the military.

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