The Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase II (ATSEA-2) Project is committed to ensuring equal participation between women and men, aligned with the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) strategies, guidelines and standards advocated by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF). In Rote Ndao, the project has teamed up with local government and financial institutions to help women achieve greater financial agency, with the creation of small businesses that can also help build community economic resilience.

Following a baseline gender assessment from June-August 2021, relevant gender action plans were designed to improve women’s access to development and encourage their active participation in formal and strategic forums, such as village development planning meetings (musrenbangdes). Implementation in Rote Ndao District then began with a series of gender mainstreaming activities and gender discussions, held in June and July 2022.

The latest activities have focused on providing alternative livelihoods for women’s groups and strengthening their participation in strategic forums. These initiatives have been supported by an agreement between the Rote Ndao district government and the regional bank (Bank NTT) to support home-based production by women’s groups (specifically for the Ita Esa Community Group in Oeseli Village) and the provision of technical assistance for improved financial literacy.

A crucial aspect of development is the marketing of products created by the women and Ministry of Cooperatives and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) of Rote Ndao. Many of these groups have the enthusiasm to engage in business, but struggle to market their products due to a lack of market access. From 25-28 June 2023, ATSEA-2 provided training in seaweed processing and fish packaging, to help them bridge this gap and reach new market segments.

Participants engage in a discussion during the meeting

In July 2023, training on Halal certification was provided for all MSME actors, including the four villages targeted by the ATSEA-2 Project in Rote Ndao. This activity forms part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed between the Rote Ndao District Government and the Ministry of Cooperatives and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME), which aims to ensure that processed products from each MSME group meet the requirements for access to both local and national markets.

To date, the ATSEA-2 project has successfully initiated collaborations between women’s groups engaged in seaweed processing in Landu Ti’i and Daiama. Members of the Ina Landu Group were identified as recipients of initial funding from Bank NTT in May 2023, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. They will receive this funding by the end of the year. In March and April, Bank NTT also provided financial literacy training to communities in four villages.

ATSEA-2 continues to work on enhancing knowledge and skills in processing seaweed into products such as sticks and coffee, as well as in packaging dried fish. The aim is to increase the added value of these products and provide women with better access and ownership of businesses, enabling them to manage potential resources and play a more meaningful role in decision-making processes related to the management of marine and fisheries resources.

Following the conclusion of the latest training in June and July 2023, the Rote Ndao District Government, through the Ministry of Cooperatives and MSME, reiterated their commitment to continuously support and oversee all these efforts; to help facilitate alternative sources of income for the community, in order to help them withstand the impacts of climate change in Rote Ndao District. Through partnerships, funding and knowledge support, ATSEA-2 is helping to make this possible.

By Mikael Leuape