The Bruno Manser Fund is setting out to make sure that the indigenous peoples are capable of standing up for their interests. It is helping tell them about their rights and the courses of action available to them and also to strengthen their cultural self-confidence. It is a fact that the indigenous inhabitants, and in particular the Penan, have been marginalised in Malaysian society right through to the present.
Marginalisation of the indigenous inhabitants
Sarawak’s indigenous peoples suffer many different forms of discrimination in society. One example is that they often have only limited access to public services and items of infrastructure, and another is that their indigenous way of life and culture are threatened by the aggressive policy on resources. The so-called development of Malaysian society is often brought about at the expense of the indigenous peoples.Traditionally, the Penan have lived a nomadic way of life and are thus severely affected by the destruction of the rainforests and the loss of their culture, which goes with that.
The Penan women and girls are in a particularly exposed situation. In 2008, the Bruno Manser Fund brought the first cases of sexual outrages against Penan women and girls out into the open, which resulted in massive public pressure. Despite it all, the Sarawak government has shown no interest whatsoever in investigating the offences.
The Bruno Manser Fund has launched its Community Empowerment Project aimed at supporting and strengthening the Penan. Its principal objective is to promote their autonomy and self-determination. In order to achieve that, the Bruno Manser Fund is setting out to strengthen their identity and to make sure that they are well informed about their rights and the actions open to them. The Penan are to be empowered so that they are able to stand up with self-confidence for their concerns and rights in dealing with the logging companies and plantation owners and also within Malaysian society as a whole.
There are regular visits to all the villages. At these meetings the communities can report on their problems and receive support and proposals. Furthermore, the various Penan regions send their representatives, the so-called regional coordinators, to supra-regional meetings. There these coordinators receive training in organisation and networking and are also educated in their elementary human, land and indigenous rights.
The Penan Peace Park project is pursuing similar aims and can also be seen as an empowerment project.
Protection and support for women
As a reaction to the sexual violence against Penan women and girls committed by loggers, the Bruno Manser Fund immediately launched an empowerment project for women. Professional advice and accompaniment is provided for the victims of sexual offences. Female contacts and lawyers working on behalf of regional human-rights organisations are also made available to counsel those affected.
A second crucial aspect lies in prevention by informing the women and girls about their rights and the actions available to them in problematical situations and how to cope with their experiences of sexual abuse. Seminars on these subjects are organised in the schools and villages.
Strengthening the indigenous communities
Faced with the threat of losing their traditional land because of dams, cooperation between the various indigenous groups has become more important than ever before. Penan, Kayan and Kenyah in the Baram region, where flooding due to a dam is threatened, are participating together in training and information events. By being better informed about their rights and possible actions, the indigenous inhabitants are fortified in their struggle against the dams and in defence of their land. The indigenous peoples ought to be able to play an active part in drawing attention to their interests.