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Tuesday March 13, 2007

The 8th March was International Women’s Day. Initially launched by the UN in 1978 , Women’s Day was meant to support and press on with the fight of the feminist movement in New York at the time to gain universal suffrage (voting rights), and is aimed to raise this awareness internationally, writes Bisnis Indonesia. 

Today, however, women’s demands worldwide have widened to encompass gender equality, improved health services for mothers and children, and the fight against violence on women at work and in the home. Many of these demands have been incorporated into the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), which were endorsed by all UN member countries, including Indonesia, to be achieved by 2015. While, some twenty years ago, UN members signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which has also been ratified by Indonesia.  

For those of us not overly familiar with the MDG’s, here is the list as mentioned on the UN website:
Goal 1:  Eradicate extreme Poverty and Hunger
• Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day;
• Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Goal 2: Achieve universal Primary Education:
• Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary education.

Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women:
• Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.

Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
• Reduce by three quarters the mortality rate among children under five.

Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health:
• Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality rate.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS;
• Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental Sustainability
• Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources;
• Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water;
• Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.

Goal 8: Develop a global Partnership for Development
• Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction – nationally and internationally;
• Address the least developed countries’ special needs. This include tariff and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction;
• Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States;
• Deal comprehensively with developing countries debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term;
• In cooperation with the developing countries, develop decent and productive work for youth;
• In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries;
• In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies – especially information and communications technologies.

As far as gender equality is concerned, we in Indonesia, have in fact, been more familiar with Kartini Day, commemorated as Women’s Day, which is annually celebrated on 21 April. On this day the country pushes the emancipation of women from the limiting bonds of tradition that have tied women exclusively to the home, and to fight for the rights of girls to receive education equal to boys. Besides Kartini, there are a number of Indonesian women pioneers in many parts of this archipelago to whose efforts this day is especially dedicated, among whom are Cut Nya’ Dhien and Cut Mutiah from Aceh, Ni Ageng Serang and Dewi Sartika from West Java, Mrs. Walandouw Maramis from North Sulawesi, and Christina Tiahohu of Ambon.    
Born on 21 April 1879, Kartini, a princess from Java, spearheaded the emancipation of women in Indonesia through her letters to a friend in Holland, who later published these in a book entitled : “Letters from a Javanese Princess”. In these letters the young Kartini expressed her innate rebellion to rid herself from the shackles of tradition that forced her to remain illiterate, whilst the European girls of the time were already free to pursue formal education and could step out into the world with confidence. Following tradition, however, Kartini later obeyed her parents’ wish to marry the Regent of Rembang, thereby, foregoing a scholarship offered to her to study in Holland. She passed the scholarship in favour of a West Sumatran youth, who hailed from a completely different traditional background, who was none other than (Haji) Agus Salim, who later became one of Indonesia’s founding fathers.  

As the wife of the Regent of Rembang, and with the consent of her husband, Kartini started a school for girls in the premises of her new home, the second school on Java after the one she started in her hometown of Jepara. Kartini continued to teach until her death at childbirth at the tender age of 25!

Four phases in Indonesia’s Women’s Movement until today

As to the history of the women’s movement in Indonesia until today, Najamuddin Muhammad in Bisnis Indonesia writes that Indonesia has passed through four phases since Pre-Independence. These are firstly, the initial period prior to Independence when women fought for equal education for girls (this was the age of Kartini and her generation). The second phase came during the rule of Sukarno after 1945, when women voiced their demand to be actively involved in political decisions. The third phase came during the presidency of Soeharto when women demanded to be released from the stereotype role of having solely to become housewives. Women demanded to have access to and be active in public life. And the fourth phase developed during this age of Reform, whose themes are more liberal, demanding non-violence against women in public as well as in private life.

Although in the past decades Indonesia’s legislation had been strengthened to support the above demands, however, new realities have appeared, whereby women now find themselves marginalized in public life through capitalistic industrialism, where she finds herself marginalized in regard to her intrinsic rights as a human being.  For, says Najamuddin Muhammad, through the migration of women from villages into towns new interactions and new values have emerged that affect public ethics and morality, as can be seen in the increased cases of sexual abuse and rape of factory workers, for example, and the involvement of women in narcotics, and other such cases. 
Therefore, the emancipation of women and the essential goals that are mentioned in a number of the MDG’s are not new to Indonesia. The MDG’s however, renew the resolve of Indonesian women today, but more importantly of the government and political leaders in general, - regardless of gender - to continue to improve social and health conditions, especially of women and children, in line with global developments and values of the 21st. century.

Some Statistics on violence against Women in Indonesia

In this context, Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (Komnas Perempuan), Kemala Chandrakirana reported that violence against women in Indonesia during 2006 increased to 22,512 cases – up 2,121 cases, compared to 20,391 throughout 2005. Of these, 75% or 15,515 cases were violations against helpers, or maids in the homes, mostly found in Jakarta and Central Java. These numbers do not, however, adequately portray  what is actually happening, since too many cases remain unreported , said Kemala. Nonetheless, women are now less fearful, since 61% of total cases, or 13,700 were reported by victims themselves. Most violators were found to be from the civil service, followed by the police or the military. 

These data, said Kemala, were compiled from 258 institutions in 32 of Indonesia’s provinces, where each organization managed to handle only 40 out of every 95 cases, which is indeed still too limited.

On the above, Kemala commented that despite the fact that the Law on Violence against Women in the Home has been passed, but its enforcement is still far from adequate. The Religious Court (which deals with marriages and heritage), for example, still considers violence on women in the home as being outside its jurisdiction, although this court has already received a large number of cases (on violence against women) caused by economic and financial neglect by husbands. Additionally, the Courts also differ in the application of delivering proof between the new Law on Violence against Women, and the Criminal Code, where the former demands one submission of evidence, whilst the latter requires two. The District Courts, unfortunately, still adhere to the Criminal Code.

Meanwhile, following CEDAW Resolutions, other issues are raised by the Women’s Movement in Indonesia which include the adequate representation of women in national as well as local Parliaments, improved health care for mothers and babies at childbirth, better rights in marriage for women, and others.

Progress achieved in Legislation but still weak in Enforcement

Maria Hartiningsih and Nunuk Pambudy write in Kompas that many improvements have been made in Legislation. These are, among others, the enactment of Law No. 23 of 2004 on the Elimination of Violence in the Home; Law no. 12 of 2006 on Citizenship, that allows children of mixed marriages to be have dual citizenship until the age of 18 and are allowed to choose their citizenship at age 21. Then there is Presidential Instruction on gender mainstreaming in government, from the national level down to local level; and the Law on General Elections of 2004, that enforces a quota of 30 percent for women to be nominated as candidates for elections.
In women’s mortality rate at childbirth, Indonesia has been able to reduce this from 334 per 100,000 births in 1997, down to 307 in 2002/2003. Nonetheless, this number is still the highest among ASEAN countries, and still above that of Sri Lanka. Whilst, in the national Budget, Health is allocated a measly 4.3%, again the lowest among ASEAN countries. The health of teenage girls and older people, are also not yet taken care of.

In marriage, Law no.1 of 1984 , it is mentioned that the legal age for girls to marry is 16, while for boys this is 19 years. However, this law still distinguishes the role of the wife as housewife, and the husband as the head of the family, this is in spite of the fact that in many households today it is the woman who earns the living even while the husband is still alive.

Furthermore, although the Law specifically mentions that Indonesia adheres in principle to the monogamous marriage, yet in subsection 2 of Article 3, it is mentioned that a husband may take more than one wife when this is agreed by both husband and wife.

Finally, in politics, although Indonesia’s Constitution ensures gender equality, however, recent developments have shown that Regional bylaws in certain districts are discriminating women in dress code, prohibition to be out of the house alone in the evening, and the fight against prostitution, with specific target women prostitutes.

Furthermore, although by law 30% of election candidates must be women, yet, as political parties place women way below on the priority list, most women are not given the chance to sit in the legislature, with the result that many Districts do not have any women legislators.   

Indonesia’s Dr. Siti Musdah Mulia receives International Women of Courage Award

Meanwhile, Antara reports from Washington that Indonesian woman intellectual Dr Siti Musdah Mulia, last week received the International Women of Courage award from the US government for her efforts to change societal conditions in favor of women’s progress in Indonesia.  The award was presented by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at a function at the State Department to mark World Women`s Day.
Nine other women from other countries also received the award but Dr Siti was the only recipient from the Asia Pacific region. The others were from Zimbabwe, Latvia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Maldives, Afghanistan (two) and Iraq.
The award recipients were selected by the US embassies in the respective countries. Of the 100 names proposed, 10 women from various walks of life including academicians, physicians, journalists, politicians, women activists, were shortlisted.
Condoleeza Rice in her address on the occasion said women’s efforts to achieve equality in gender constituted a hard struggle. Even in the US, a country adhering to democracy, it took more than 130 years for women to obtain the voting right.
Meanwhile, Dr Siti told ANTARA in Washington DC she was quite surprised when the US embassy in Jakarta informed her that she had been chosen for this year’s award. She had been selected for her efforts to promote, defend or restore women’s rights from the perspective of religion through a renovation of Islamic laws, including the marriage law.
Dr Siti had proposed a number of changes in the law to ensure, among other things, equality in the positions of husband and wife, prohibition of child marriages, unofficial marriages, polygamy and the registration of all marriages. "I only wanted to see the restoration of the humanistic and women-friendly principles of Islam," she said.
Dr Siti was the first Indonesian woman to obtain a doctorate in Islamic political thinking. She works as a lecturer at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University and as senior adviser at the Religious Affairs Ministry. In 2004, Dr Siti and 10 other experts on interpretation of Islamic teachings and laws produced a counter draft to an Islamic Law Compilation which among other things covered the marriage, inheritance and donation laws. Her initiative met with resistance in the parliament and other circles so that the religious affairs minister eventually called off the compilation project.
Because of her struggle, Dr Siti had often been the target of acts of intimidation by or even death threats from certain groups of people. But the 40-year-old mother of two sons had remained undeterred and continued to fight for gender equality.
(Sources: Bisnis Indonesia, Media Indonesia, Kompas, Antara)   (Tuti Sunario)