Indonesia: Female ex-fighters start small businesses in Aceh

IOM has helped 818 female Acehnese former combatants to rebuild their lives by providing them with training and the means to start small businesses, as part of a broader programme to reintegrate some 4,957 former GAM (Free Aceh Movement) combatants and political prisoners.

The Japanese-funded reintegration programme, launched in July 2006, has helped the women, known locally as Inong Balee, to set up small businesses, farm or raise livestock through ten Information, Counseling and Referral Service (ICRS) centres across Aceh.

"Women often bore the brunt of the conflict. When the men went to the mountains, it was the women who were left behind to look after their children, the farm and the villages. And they often risked their lives, facing detention or sexual abuse," explains Mark Knight, who heads IOM's Post Conflict and Reintegration Unit in Aceh.

"Whether they carried guns or not, if they supported the GAM, working as spies, cooks, providing logistics, or giving other assistance, we consider them to be female fighters," he notes.

The former women combatants have set various different types of small businesses, many of them highly successful.

Tya, a former Inong Balee in Aceh Besar, has set up a mobile phone shop, which she hopes will allow her to eventually go to university. "The profits from this can help me do further study. I hope that with the results of this business, I can fulfil my dreams to become a doctor," she says.

Another former Inong Balee in Calang started a kiosk with goods supplied by IOM. She then put the profits from the kiosk into a coffee shop and her daily income has now increased fivefold.

In Aceh's central highlands several other former female combatants have set up or revived coffee businesses with assistance from the reintegration programme. Acehnese coffee is some of the finest produced in Indonesia.

ICRS staff provide one-on-one counseling to former combatants, help to identify appropriate and sustainable small business, agricultural and fishery opportunities and oversee the purchase of materials to get the businesses up and running. Each former fighter is entitled to Rp 10 million (US$ $1,100) in goods and services.

Further information, please contact Marianne Kearney at IOM Banda Aceh. Tel. +62 812 698 9308. Email: