Southeast Asia has one of the highest records of gender-based violence in the world and Indonesia was recently ranked as the second most dangerous place for women in the Asia-Pacific. What is the state of women’s rights in Indonesia?
It is true that Indonesia has high rates of violence against women, however, it’s difficult to know the realities of women’s experiences because, in the past, the data has been somewhat unreliable. This has been due to reasons such as a lack of reporting mechanisms available to survivors of violence and the fact that discussing sexual violence is a taboo and, if reported, can result in stigmatization which limits the number of survivors who have come forward.
However, the first reliable nationwide survey on gender-based violence in Indonesia was conducted in 2017 by the Indonesian Ministry of Women and Child Protection and the United Nations Population Fund. Interestingly, it showed that Indonesia’s rates of violence against women are on par with the global rate, which is that 1 in 3 women are affected by sexual violence in their lifetime.
It’s therefore difficult to generalize that Indonesia is an unsafe place for women because it’s an extremely diverse country. There is a growing middle class while there is pervasive poverty. There is religious diversity, where the eastern-most province of Aceh is the only province in the country where Sharia law is enforced, whereas in the western-most province of West Papua, the dominant religion is Christianity and the ways of life are completely different.
Nevertheless, violence against women is high in Indonesia and can happen in all places – rich or poor, east or west – and has different manifestations, from street harassment, to trafficking, to domestic violence.
In some parts of the country, there are high rates of child marriage too and, according to UNICEF, 14 per cent of girls in Indonesia are married by the time they turn 18 which is shocking when we think about how child marriage limits girls’ access to education and makes them more vulnerable to sexual violence and therefore restricts their futures.
Child marriage is high in Indonesia in part due to rooted gender norms, low levels of education and discriminating legislation, such as the marriage law, which states that, although it is legal to marry at 21, girls can marry at 16 and boys can marry at 19 with parental consent. But, this can be even lower, meaning parents could get their daughters married at as young as 13. So the law is fundamentally unfair between girls and boys and the women’s movement in Indonesia has been fighting extremely hard to reform legislation that discriminates against women and girls.
From the country’s first female president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, to incumbent finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati – who was voted ‘Best Minister in the World’ in 2018 – and maritime and fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti – who has become notorious for her tough stance against illegal fishing activities – how are women progressing in Indonesian politics?
Indonesia has come a long way since becoming a democracy in 1998. Before that, the second president and dictator, Suharto, ruled the country for almost 32 years and increased the inequality gap between men and women during his reign.
Since the fall of Suharto, however, gender equality is explicitly enshrined in Indonesia’s constitution and the country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
The country has also been undergoing a process of democratization which has involved slowly decentralizing its power. This means that greater authority has been distributed to the 34 provincial governments outside of the capital of Jakarta.
Furthermore, to aid gender equality, a quota system requiring political parties to be made up of 30 per cent women has been put in place, although remnants of Suharto’s old system of cronyism remain, limiting the impact of the quotas translating to more women in provincial parliaments.
But the defining approach to furthering gender equality in Indonesia has been through gender mainstreaming and gender-responsive budgeting which can be seen throughout provincial administrations in the country.
This means there is the intention to ensure infrastructure, health and education outcomes include results that address specific gender equality gaps. The challenge for effective gender mainstreaming, however, is the political will to translate the approach into well-resourced programmes from one province to another.
Nevertheless, we have just seen Indonesia go through the most incredible presidential and legislative elections last month which was won by the current president, Joko Widodo, who has often been called the ‘Barack Obama of Southeast Asia’, and whose existing cabinet has the highest number of women in the country’s history. This is not simply a matter of filling seats in the cabinet with women – such as the wives and sisters of male politicians – because it’s required by law. But, rather, there are some incredible female political figures who are there because they are strong, smart and capable.
You’ve rightly mentioned Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Susi Pudjiastuti, who is a fabulous role model for a lot of women particularly women who have not had tertiary education because she entered politics through an unorthodox route.
Then there’s Minister of Finance, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, who is also the former leader of the World Bank and is such an inspiration to a lot of women who are looking to work in public life because of her experience as well as her work to include gender mainstreaming in state budgets.
There is also Minister of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Yohana Susana Yembise, who is a Papuan woman, as well as many more female public figures.