Indonesia: Presidential Poll Race Disappoints Women’s Activists

As the country prepares to elect its new president next week, Indonesian activists are trying to push gender issues onto the political agenda.
Three candidates will contest the presidential election on Jul. 8. The incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is a strong favourite to win, but neither Yudhoyono nor his challengers - current Vice President Jusuf Kalla and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri - have presented a platform for dealing with women-specific problems.
Gender issues have also been largely ignored in the debates leading to the vote, which have focused mostly on the economy, health and education.

Indonesia has ratified the most important international conventions that uphold principles of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Moreover, in 2007 it promulgated the Law on Human Trafficking, in 2006 the Law on Citizenship, which protects children of Indonesian mothers whose fathers are non-Indonesians, and in 2004 the Law on Domestic Violence.

Nevertheless, the implementation of these laws has not yielded equal benefits for women and men. Activists clamour that there is more to do and have been disappointed by the three candidates’ silence.

In response, over 70 women’s advocates met with writers and academics in Jakarta on Jun. 23 to discuss how best to proceed.

Spearheaded by the National Commission on Violence against Women, or Komnas Perempuan, the discussion led to the drafting of a document with a list of demands related to gender discrimination.

"This is the right moment to do that [draft the document], so that future policies will pay more attention to women’s rights," head of Komnas Perempuan Kamala Chandrakirana said during the forum.

Komnas Perempuan is a quasi-governmental institution. It receives funds from the government, among other sources, but acts independently. It is a branch of the larger Komnas Ham, the National Commission on Human Rights.

The document, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, was later sent to the three presidential candidates with the expectation that these demands will form part of the future government’s agenda over the next five years. It calls for a 100-day programme and a five-year programme.

The first set of demands includes the scrapping of the existing discriminative policies against women. These are mostly the Islamic law-inspired by-laws that have been issued in 56 districts in the last few years.

They also call for the establishment of an Education Gender Working Group to counter the gender-bias present in most compulsory books used in preschool, elementary and secondary schools. These still project inequitable gender roles and values and avoid discussion of reproductive health issues and rights.

The most prominent demand included in the five-year programme is a call to amend the 1974 Marriage Law, which contains discriminatory stipulations for women in marriage and the family, including the recognition of the husband as the head of the family and the wife solely as a housewife.

In addition, activists want to see a codification of female/women’s participation in the deliberation of public policies and an increase of the budget allocation for a series of women-related problems, such as reproduction health, education, services for the victims of violence, and women’s empowerment in micro business.

Women own 35 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises, and it is these enterprises that are driving Indonesia's economic growth. However, the Asia Foundation says that many female entrepreneurs have limited knowledge about access to financial institutions and still register their businesses in their husbands' names.

Masruchah, secretary general of Indonesian Women's Coalition for Justice and Democracy (KPI), said that she was not sure whether candidates were going to act on the document, but argued that it represented a good starting point for women’s issues lobbying in the years to come.

KPI is one of the largest NGOs in Indonesia. Its vision is the establishment of democracy, human rights, equality and gender justice with pluralism and feminism as its basis.

"It is also important to make sure that women reach at least 30 percent representation in parliament," Masruchah said to IPS.

After the April legislative election, women are expected to occupy 18 percent of the 550 seats in the next parliament.

Masruchah, who like most Indonesians has only one name, also mentioned that the three presidential candidates’ silence is a sign that politicians are not yet considering gender-specific issues as very important.

"I understand that gender issues are expected to be integrated in larger themes, such as economy and education. But the lack of a clear pro-gender strategy by the candidates is disappointing," she said.

"It would seem that they do not see women’s issues as interesting or vote-grabbing," Masruchah said.

30 June 2009

By By Fabio Scarpello

Source: IPS