Gender and Revolution in Indonesia Essay - Essay Prowess

Gender and Revolution in Indonesia Essay


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Gender and Revolution in Indonesia


In Indonesia, gender is normally interlinked to the culture and religion of the local people. More importantly, religious and cultural identity forms a key part of the women’s role in Indonesia revolution (Martyn 2). Although approximately 88 per cent of the population in the country is Muslim, it is not an Islamic state since sharia laws and nation’s legislations are not conjoined. However, religious beliefs in Indonesia tend to influence the rights of women particularly those related to marriage rights and laws (Wieringa 20). However, the revolution led by feminist activists has taken place in the nation. For instance, during the colonial period, women’s movements played a key part in the national revolution as they broadly communicated the grievances of women (Smith-Hefner 21). Fortunately, they successful contributed to independence and liberation of the country.

Revolution on gender matters in Indonesia has been achieved through activism prior to the 1970s. For instance, activist women initiated a nationalist movement, which was geared towards protection of women rights (Martyn 12). The women’s movements in Indonesia were initiated in the twentieth century at the era of the nationalist movements. Forces of modern education, women’s rights, socio-economic growth, and enhanced communications fuelled them (Smith-Hefner 23). Initial feminism such as Kartini, a female whose life was impacted by western education philosophies, spread insights to other women that created aspirations and discontent for higher independence for women. Eventually, women started to created modern groups to demand their own issues and to express new perspectives in the media (Martyn 13).

In 1928, the first women congress was held which symbolized the beginning of revolutionary movement. The idea of women’s congress in the country foregrounded their pro-independence ambition. The majority of participants set their speeches in revolution terms, associating the search for women’s needs and interests to those of independence and national unity (Robinson 10). They mainly used issues affecting women such as early marriages and lack of education to establish nationalism. Different women organizations and federations pressured the colonial government on independence (Wieringa 25). For instance, the Indonesian Women’s Congress or Kowani enabled the success of these efforts. The federations were always founded on the model of Indonesia national unity because it was a top priority in the women concerns (Martyn 15). Similarly, issues that led to conflict among member federations were dejected especially differences between non-Muslim and Muslims women’s organizations.

By 1930s, Isteri Sedar was the most influential women’s organization. It decided to pursue equality and fairness in marriage (Wieringa 49). For instance, it rejected existing activities in the Islamic courts that allowed child marriage, and subjective divorces of women by their husbands. Similarly, it opposed men unlimited right to have four wives. Nonetheless, the Indonesian women’s congress favoured an approach that would maintain the peace of all religious organizations (Smith-Hefner 45).

Permitting nationalism as the basis for their unity encouraged women to subordinate their concerns. The women’s movement suffered from the anger of the Dutch colonial administration (Robinson 11). Eventually, the government imprisoned most of the women leaders such as SK Trimurti while lives of others were made harder because they could not organize meetings or work. Fortunately, their mistreatment acted as a catalyst for men who united and it culminated in nation’s independence in 1945. Women’s actions in the revolutions were recognized by the new democratic government, which introduced constitutional equality for women such as equal pay in labour and the right to vote (Robinson and Bessell, eds. 42).

In the post-colonial period, women’s movements continued in order to have a uniform marriage law. In this regard, they successfully lobbied for regulations that supported women from the government in terms of Islamic marriage. Previously, they needed the statutory provisions to address matters such as divorce by dismissal, child marriage, and polygyny (Martyn 20). In the post-independence era, agitation of women’s rights was advanced. However, authoritarian leaders such as President Sukarno dominated women’s movements such as Gerwani (Wieringa 40).

However, women in most parts of the country started a rebellion against violation of their rights by Sukarno’s government. Women suffered from massacres such as in 1965-5 when they advocated for better socio-economic development and their rights (Smith-Hefner 63). Under Suharto rule, the government was determined to cleanse the women’s organization by demonising and outlaw essential federations such as Gerwani. It imposed stringent regulation on women’s organization such as Kowani, misusing it for its own growth intention. The new occurrences encouraged the actions of the ‘wives’ federations such as Dharma Wanita. In addition, it facilitated the emergence of mass-based groups such as Family Guidance Welfare Movement (PKK) (Robinson 17).

Subsequently, in 1974, women in the country recorded major achievement in their pursuit of  equality and fairness in the gender matters. The Indonesian marriage law was ratified (Robinson and Bessell, eds. 59). Pursuant to this legislation, women were granted more protection concerning issues of polygamy and divorce. Furthermore, more efforts were launched in a bid to regulate religious laws (Martyn 27). The government supervises the religious courts and hire women as judges.

Nevertheless, the Marriage Law was beneficial to the government determined to set it development strategy on stable and small families. It was viewed as an exchange for acquiring support from women’s movement in the unpaid labour in the economy. The dictatorial regime executed restrictions based on a development and nationalist ideology (Smith-Hefner 65). More notably, well-educated women in the middle class were irritated at the supremacy of stale ‘wives’ federations. On the other hand, women in the lower class lacked any means of articulating their grievances and aspirations (Robinson 19).

Women belonging to the middle class initiated new explicit feminist groups that normally suggested working in the defence of the poor women’s interests especially global migrant workers. They benefited from the global support to advance their vision (Wieringa 50). The international community was backing women empowerment and participation as well as resisted domestic violence. The government was forced to establish formal bodies to handle women’s grievances such as Ministry for Women’s Role (Robinson 20).

In 1997, greater changes occurred as most of the customary rights were strengthened especially collective property rights of women especially after divorce (Smith-Hefner 70). The reforms occurred after rising level of anti-government movements. Women greatly participated in the demolition of ideological structure of the old system. They led campaigns for better governance, more freedom, and better economic conditions for Indonesian citizens especially women (Robinson and Bessell, eds. 63).

In 1998, Indonesia witnessed a period of free political space after installation of democratic government and the collapse of dictatorship under Suharto. Consequently, women demanded amendment of the 1974 family law to prohibit polygyny and further restrict the prerogatives of men on matters of divorce. The women’s movements bloomed in the new regime, which represent an achievement since the time of independence struggle (Martyn 30). Their fights are based on international ideas and local concerns such as feminism, human rights reforms and religious revivalism. The new press freedom helps to cover trends and issues freely. It has also enabled the government to address their complaints through the newly created Ministry for the Empowerment of Women (Robinson and Bessell, eds. 71).

Currently, women’s movement addresses emerging threats to their rights and freedoms in Indonesia. For instance, some men utilized the freer political environment to campaign for the re-establishment of their rights to polygamy. They suggested that such rights fulfilled their religious entitlement. Most of the people classified as Islamic feminists have advocated for marriage rights for women and repealing of the legislation (Smith-Hefner 77). They have contended that the Qur’an essentially supports equality in the society. The introduction of democratic space also presented an opportunity for Islamic organizations that are anti-liberals referred to as keras (hard). Their main philosophy is that the Islamic teachings call for masculine prerogative. In 2008, the several street protests organized by supporters of conservative groups such as Islamic Defender’s Front successfully compelled the national parliament to enact the law known as anti-pornography Act (Martyn 31). The legislative provision was primarily directed towards women who were unable to adhere to specific dress codes. Similarly, women who participated in certain pornographic activities in the public were liable for an offense. The conservative Islamic organization claimed that limitation on the behaviours and dressing standards of women were in conformity with Islamic traditions (Wieringa 70).

Nevertheless, supporters of women’s rights have rejected such law because it was chiefly an attempt to confine their freedom of movement. Additionally, it was robustly rejected by non-Muslims in parts of Papua and Bali. They suggested that the freedom of their uncovered breasts was a notable cultural standard (Smith-Hefner 79). Although the law has been generally dormant following its enactment, it has been strongly rejected by women who believe it as a symbol of formal endeavours to restrict their freedom as women based on Islamic reasoning. Various studies indicated that although Islamic women movements have rejected new form of rights violations. Women movements have been vocal in opposing such acts that control women (Robinson 29).

In addition, women’s efforts in Indonesia towards equality in the society are supported by foreign organizations, which have turn out to be increasingly crucial in the recent period. The foreign aid is useful to female movement in their revolution for gender parity (Robinson and Bessell, eds. 9). Aid agencies help them in areas formerly abandoned such as reproductive health. Moreover, women’s federations in regions such as Papua, Maluku, and Aceh are geared to elimination of violence, promote peace and offer subsistence reinforcement for internally displaced persons. The current government is also against women’s congress because it is viewed as an attempt to re-initiate a powerful coalition similar to Kowani. The Dharma Wanita and PKK are the key channels that women’s movement are pursuing social and political justice (Robinson and Bessell, eds. 10). They have found new voice in these groups hence they are able to reaffirm their effect.


Since the colonial period, women in Indonesia have used their gender to advocate for their rights and freedoms. Historically, nationalism has served as the main idea that has united women in the course of Indonesian revolution (Robinson and Bessell, eds. 13). Since 1928, women in the country have organized women’s congress to pressure the existing government for their interests and national independence. Organizations such as Kowani were also used in the post-colonial era against the authoritarian governments (Wieringa 90). More importantly, the activities of women groups played a part in the democratization of the country in 1998. They currently pursue equality and women rights in the society.

Work Cited

Martyn, Elizabeth. The Women’s Movement in Postcolonial Indonesia: Gender and Nation in a New Democracy. Routledge, 2004. Print.

Robinson, Kathryn May, and Sharon Bessell, eds. Women in Indonesia: Gender, equity and development. Vol. 8. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2002. Print.

Robinson, Kathryn. “7 Indonesian women: from Orde Bam to Reformasi.” Women in Asia: Tradition, Modernity, and Globalisation (2000): 139. Print.

Smith-Hefner, Nancy J. “Javanese women and the veil in post-Soeharto Indonesia.” The Journal of Asian Studies 66.2 (2007): 389-420. Print.

Wieringa, Saskia. “The birth of the New Order state in Indonesia: Sexual politics and nationalism.” Journal of Women’s History 15.1 (2003): 70-91.Print.



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