Indonesia’s oldest women’s Islamic organization, ‘Aisyiyah, is taking a proactive approach to protect communities and the environment from the impacts of climate change. With the looming threat of a strengthening El Niño and its potential to accelerate wildfires in Kalimantan and Sumatra, ‘Aisyiyah is gearing up to establish clean air sanctuaries. Through its environmental and disaster management wing, the Lembaga Lingkungan Hidup dan Penanggulangan Bencana (LLHPB), the organization aims to safeguard the most vulnerable, especially children and women, by providing them with clean air during wildfire crises. Rooted in its spiritual struggle, or “eco-jihad,” ‘Aisyiyah’s commitment to combating climate change and protecting communities is a testament to its enduring mission since its founding in 1917.
‘Aisyiyah’s Environmental Arm
Founded in 1917 to advocate for girls’ education rights, ‘Aisyiyah has grown into a formidable organization with over 4 million members across Indonesia. In 2015, recognizing the urgent need to address environmental issues, ‘Aisyiyah established the LLHPB. This arm has since responded to environmental damage and the harms caused by climate change, adding to its existing gender initiatives such as preventing child marriage.
Spiritual Struggle to Confront Climate Change
In 2022, Hening Purwati Parlan, then head of LLHPB, penned a persuasive paper advocating for an “eco-jihad” among ‘Aisyiyah’s followers. Drawing from the Koran, Hening emphasized the urgency of addressing climate change’s impact. The Surah Al-A’raf, verses 56-58, served as inspiration for ‘Aisyiyah’s commitment to confront climate change as a spiritual and moral duty.
Lifeline during Wildfire Crises
In 2019, wildfires consumed 3.1 million hectares of Indonesian land, causing hazardous air pollution. To protect vulnerable individuals from the polluted air, ‘Aisyiyah volunteers set up Rumah Oksigen, or “Oxygen Homes.” Equipped with air purifiers, these emergency shelters became a lifeline for those affected by the wildfires, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to protecting communities during environmental disasters.
Impact of Air Pollution
Studies conducted by Harvard and Columbia universities revealed that air pollution from the 2015 wildfire catastrophe in Southeast Asia may have led to 100,000 premature deaths. Recognizing the severity of the issue, ‘Aisyiyah emphasizes the importance of education and awareness among women and children, empowering them to protect themselves and their communities during such crises.
Preparing for the Future
With the Climate Prediction Center confirming the return of El Niño conditions, Indonesia braces for potential wildfires. ‘Aisyiyah’s leadership advises volunteers in vulnerable provinces to be prepared to reopen Oxygen Homes if needed. Having successfully maintained two Oxygen Homes in West Kalimantan since 2019, ‘Aisyiyah’s volunteers stand ready to respond to the emergency situation should it arise again.
Government Initiatives and ‘Aisyiyah’s Role
The Indonesian government, in response to the 2019 wildfire season, initiated legal crackdowns on small-scale farmers burning biomass and invested in increasing the capacity of farmers and community firefighters to prevent wildfires. While these measures have yielded positive results in reducing wildfire damage, ‘Aisyiyah’s proactive approach remains crucial in preparing for the challenges presented by El Niño.
As Indonesia faces the looming threat of El Niño and potential wildfires, ‘Aisyiyah’s steadfast commitment to protecting communities and the environment remains at the forefront. Through its ‘eco-jihad,’ ‘Aisyiyah embodies the spirit of collective responsibility and urgent action required to combat climate change. By establishing Oxygen Homes and raising awareness, ‘Aisyiyah empowers women and children to safeguard their communities during environmental crises. In collaboration with government initiatives, ‘Aisyiyah’s efforts stand as a beacon of hope, demonstrating the power of grassroots organizations in building resilience and safeguarding lives in the face of climate challenges.