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Guest blog by Anisa Nindiahayati, PATTIRO Semarang*

Women in Semarang City in Indonesia have little opportunity to participate in or benefit from the city’s development. Research by our Open Up Contracting partner PATTIRO Semarang shows that the average budget of the city between 2010 and 2018 only included 0.4% for women’s participation.

Hivos believes one way of addressing gender inequality is by involving women in governance-led processes. PATTIRO Semarang trains women on gender-responsive planning and budgeting to encourage public participation of all citizens and make procurement more inclusive. In this article, Anisa Nindiahayati shows how one woman can make a difference.

Illegal taxes at school

Deviana Widyawati (pictured above) attended one of the training courses held by PATTIRO earlier this year. This is where she found out how easily people can be made to pay illegal taxes.

During the course, Deviana learned about Semarang’s total education budget and how it’s spent. It turns out that this budget has been growing steadily over the last few years. This made Deviana wonder why, then, was her son’s school requesting extra funds from the parents. Could this be an illegal tax like the ones discussed during her course?

Education budget Semarang

Deviana started gathering information on these payment requests and handed her findings over to PATTIRO Semarang. She told them she thought the requests for money were in fact illegal, and they advised her and the other parents to file a complaint with the school.

I decided to report the matter myself.

“I told the parents of other students about my concerns, but I didn’t get their support. Some were afraid. Some of them thanked me, but there were others who brushed aside my idea,” said Deviana. “So, I decided to report the matter to the Department of Education myself.”

Inspiring women

The Department of Education of Semarang City confirmed what Deviana had suspected all along: the school’s request for extra payments were indeed an illegal tax. The Department of Education promptly issued a warning to the school to get rid of the tax. Not only did the school do so, but the head of the Parent’s Association, who was involved in the illegal tax scam, stepped down from his position.

Deviana would like to see her success in stopping illegal taxes at her son’s school inspire other women to learn about planning and budgeting. “I hope more women become active in keeping an eye on public services and lose their fear of filing complaints or reporting their findings to the authorities. It’s important that we’re not shut out anymore,” she said.

* The writer is a program assistant at PATTIRO Semarang that involved in the implementation of SPEAK project (Strengthening Public services through the Empowerment of women-led Advocacy and social audit network) supported by Hivos and European Union.

A previous version of this article featured on the website of PATTIRO Semarang. You can read it here.