The Sisterhood Helps Displaced Women Living in Indonesia

This community center offers a vital lifeline of support and hope.


(Courtesy The Sisterhood Community Center)

Women have always helped other women. If its arranging meals for a new mother or organizing a fundraising drive for women leaving shelters, it is simply what we do.

Whether it is helping on the community level at a faith center or neighborhood or large scale like organizing a nonprofit to help women displaced by war, you can always count on women to care for other women. And that 's the way it is in the Sisterhood that is helping refugee women in Indonesia.

Traditionally, Indonesia has always been a short stop over spot for refugees or asylum seekers as they make their way to resettle in third countries. Today, there are 14,000 refugees registered with UNHCR. They came from war-torn Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and Myanmar but it is unlikely that are leaving.

There have been large increases in the amount of displaced people – it has more than doubled in the past 20 years – and with the near closing of refugee acceptance in the US and Australia, many refugees have nowhere to resettle to according to the United Nations.

That means that the refugees who have found their way to  Indonesia will have to stay there despite the country not having signed the 1951 Refugee convention. They are allowed to stay in the country but the government is under no obligation to protect them or give them legal status that will allow them to work or their children to be educated.

This leaves women and children very vulnerable. They have no place to go to socialize and according to The Sisterhood, they spend most of their day cooking for their families in small cramped rooms. 

“Women survive by just being silent about their situation. They just suffer,” one refugee woman told the organization.

Because of these conditions,  a small group of refugee women in Jakarta formed a supportive community, a sisterhood, for women in 2018. The Sisterhood Community Center is run by refugee women for women as a way of restoring a sense of hope, dignity and resilience according to the organization. 

The community center is housed in  a former orphanage that was donated rent-free for three years and this has given the women a place to run free classes, do health checks, dental checks, provide free legal advice, and to distribute hygiene and period products. 

In the first year, the classes included basics like cooking, self-defense, and skills that will allow the women to  support themselves like sewing classes. There is a playroom on premises that allows the women to bring their children with them. Most of the women are aged 18 to 40.

According to UpWorthy, the courses have evolved depending on the needs of the women. Self-defense classes taught the first year have been phased out and yoga and mindfulness phased in. There are currently English lessons and computer lessons being

Learning new skills is vitally important for these women to stay strong but one of the founders told UpWorthy, the most important part of the Sisterhood Community Center is the safety it provides.  "We are not in a safe and secure situation yet," said the founder.

The women cannot begin to face the trauma and violence they fled from until they have a secure living arrangement and learning new skills is vital if they are to be successful in the future. The women all hope that they will be able to be resettled in permanent place and want to be ready when that happens.

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