The Future is Equal

Dab hands

Traditionally men’s work, Oxfam is training women as painters in Aceh to improve their lives and communities.

Beumgin, Indonesia: Mahmulia, 26, paints the woodwork of a new OXFAM house. She supports her family with income she receives from this work, putting one of her sisters through school. Credit: Jim Holmes

Mahmulia’s navy blue t-shirt is flecked with yellow and her hair is speckled with brown paint. “This is my second day of painting,” she giggles. Oxfam is training Mahmulia and 36 other women to paint the new homes being built in their village, Beuring In, which was destroyed by the tsunami.

Before the tsunami, house painting was a male-dominated occupation. Women’s activities tended to centre on working in the rice fields or running a street stall. The unprecedented scale of construction work in Beuring In means there’s high demand for skilled painters, which creates paid job opportunities for local women.

Ainy Fauziyah of Oxfam explains: “The women asked if they could paint, and we said yes. In this area, they will paint 48 permanent houses built by Oxfam. Each group of two or three painters is paid 350,000 rupiah ($35) per house by Oxfam.”

Today, Mahmulia is painting a living room ceiling, and some window and door frames, as a practice run before the project starts for real. Working in small groups, the women will be expected to paint one home a week.

With so many new houses under construction, they are likely to have work for a long time to come. Once the Oxfam homes are completed, Ainy plans to recommend the women to other house-building agencies in the area.

For Oxfam, this project is about more than simply creating jobs. It is also about women becoming empowered to improve their lives and their community.

Mahmulia says, “I want to be equal and have the same way to make the money as a man. In the future I will marry and have a baby, and it’s good to earn money so that the baby doesn’t have to wait to get the things from the man only.”

The trauma of the tsunami weighs heavily on the trainee women painters, but they look forward to this new opportunity to make a living.