Indonesia’s Women Parliamentarians are Ready to Lead
April 25, 2012
A high-energy buzz filled the room as hundreds of women in fancy traditional dress from across the Indonesian archipelago chatted, laughed, and took photos with one another. Some 400 women legislators were gathered in this elegant ballroom on April 21 awaiting the star-studded opening of an unprecedented national meeting of Parliamentary Women’s Caucuses from across the country.
The ceremony hosted a line-up that included the vice president, the speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the head of Indonesia’s Senate (DPD), as well as the minister for women’s empowerment. The event took on special importance as it fell on National Women’s Day, which celebrates the birthday of Indonesia’s first feminist hero, nationalist Raden Ayu Kartini, who died in 1904.
Vice President Boediono expressed what he called his “heartfelt” belief that increasing the number of women leaders was the country’s best chance for clean governance, alluding to the numerous corruption scandals that Indonesia has suffered in the past several years. He appealed to female legislators to put a “woman’s touch” on the nation’s policy-making, to ensure that women’s rights are secured and that budget allocations have a gender perspective.
“Indonesia has made a Millennium Development Goal commitment to the world, and there are three MDG targets we are behind on: maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, and access to clean water and sanitation,” Boediono said.
The VP also credited the audience for the rising trend of women’s representation in elected office. In the national parliament, for example, the proportion of women legislators climbed from 11 percent to 18 percent from 2004 to 2009. “With your efforts, it won’t be long until we reach our target of 30 percent representation in parliament,” Boediono said, to lively applause and shouts from the crowd.
Boediono also vowed to do his best to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the government bureaucracy, and said he was pleased to see that women were at the top of the class among new civil servants entering the state administration.
The VP’s remarks about women in the civil service highlight some of the remaining challenges Indonesian women face in the public domain. Although Indonesia has only a limited number of remaining discriminatory regulations, women still face a variety of barriers that hamper them from moving into leadership positions. The civil service is a case in point, where a lack of meritocracy often prevents high-performing women from being promoted to higher-level positions. Similarly, political parties are mostly still run with an old-boys-network mentality that overlooks the emergence of new leaders from among female party members. This, coupled with obstacles like the absence of affordable child care facilities, keep Indonesian women from achieving their potential within government and the legislature.
Not to be out-done, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) chairman Taufik Kiemas – Indonesia’s former first “first gentleman,” the husband of the country’s first female president, Megawati Soekarnoputri – spoke about the key role women have played in Indonesia’s struggle for independence and democracy. He emphasized the importance of feminism in politics, and recalled the famous words of Indonesia’s founding president, Soekarno, “From start to the finish, don’t get left behind … Indonesia’s women are the most independent in the world.”
As Vice President Boediono sounded the gong to officially open the conference, the celebratory mood was heightened by audience members enthusiastically shaking maracas and beating wooden claves. Having worked with the Indonesian women’s movement for more than 20 years, my own heart swelled with pride hearing the unified voice of hundreds of women elected to represent the best interests of their people. I couldn’t help but recall the words of my own country’s famous feminist nationalist, Harriet Beecher Stowe: “Women are the real architects of society.”
Laurel MacLaren is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Indonesia. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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