Habibah: Inspiring fisherwoman from Marunda
Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People
She is a fisherwoman and along with her two companions — who are also women — she sails out to sea in the hope of catching fish. As they only use a small boat, they cannot be too far from the coast, so their hauls are not as large as the fishermen’s.
“We just catch the nearby fish. We sell the fish to help our husbands,” Habibah, the fisherwoman, told The Jakarta Post, smiling.
Recently, Habibah was selected as one of seven female food resilience heroines from Indonesia. The heroines are working to build a movement for good food — food that is grown well and shared fairly.
The event was supported by Oxfam and Aliansi Desa Sejahtera (ADS) to show that women play important role in the supply of food to family and community.
People in Marunda know Habibah as a multi-tasking woman. She can be a fisherwoman, scallop seeker, a fish trader and a shrimp paste maker. Habibah’s income is even higher than her fisherman husband, who depends on monsoons.
The 50-year-old fisherwoman lives in Marunda Kepu, Cilincing subdistrict, North Jakarta. She comes from a long line of fisherman who lived and plied Marunda’s shores and seas for generations.
After marrying Ghobang, 50, Habibah helped her husband to support the family. Habibah is the perfect portrait of woman from the north coast of Jakarta.
Koran Tempo daily recently reported that a study from the People’s Coalition for Fisheries Justice (Kiara) revealed that women living in north coast area in Jakarta spend 17 hours every day making money to support their families. It also showed that 48 percent of a family’s income was from the fisherwomen’s economic activities.
Habibah still remembers her youth and shared that although her parents were poor, they still could find fish or other sea creatures and so survived.
“In that time the sea water was clean and we had heavy mangrove areas. There were abundant fishes and crabs near us, so we did not need to sail far away from the coast,” Habibah shared.
The situation has changed dramatically as Habibah grew up and started her own family. The sea is now polluted. The massive sea reclamation and depletion of mangrove areas means that fisherwomen like herself face great difficulties when trying to catch fish or other sea creatures nearby.
Meanwhile, fishermen, like her husband, must sail very far from the coast just to find fish and their hauls usually are only small. The situation only gets worse during the west monsoon when no fishermen can sail.
Another problem Habibah faces is that she can no longer depend on her shrimp paste production anymore. In 1980 to 2000, Habibah was able to produce at least 50 kilograms of shrimp paste every day, thanks to the huge amount of shrimps bought home by her husband.
But now, she just produces only 5 kilograms of shrimp paste a day because it is difficult to find shrimp.
“I was thinking how do I help my husband? His income is less than Rp 30,000 (US$3) a day, so, I became a scallop seeker and began scavenging to support our family,” Habibah said.
Along with her children, Habibah seeks ontay (clam) on the sand beach after tides. One bucket of clams sells for Rp 10,000. Usually they get two and a half buckets of clam everyday during west monsoon.
Habibah’s family will consume half of the clams they find and sell the rest of it.
Besides ontay, she is a seeker for flat-footed scallop, locally known as kacho. This kind of scallop is easily found on the coast, but collectors must be careful because of its sharp shell.
From kacho Habibah earns Rp 70,000 everyday. “Ontay and kacho contain calcium that is good for teeth and bones,” she said.
Her effort to seek kacho and ontay inspired other women, frustrated with polluted sea water and unpredictable weather in Marunda, to follow suit.
“I encourage the women in my area to do something rather than nothing,” she said, adding that she gathers all the kachos found by Marunda’s women to sell.
She acknowledged that lessons from NGOs like WALHI and Kiara inspired her to established a womens group in Marunda called Mekar Baru. As many as 20 women are members.
Six months ago, Habibah established a cooperative with her group to prevent loan sharks.
Marunda is just like other poverty area, loan sharks often make the fishermen’s life harder. Habibah said her colleagues often borrowed money from loan sharks thst they had to pay back with a high interest rate.
“Today we have only Rp 4.5 million of capital in our cooperative, but I am sure it will increase,” Habibah, who is active in Persatuan Perempuan Nelayan Indonesia (PPNI), said.
Habibah is optimistic about the future of her coastal project.
“I want to establish a shrimp paste factory with my group as well as a free medical clinic for the fishermen here,” Habibah, who didn’t even finish elementary school, said.