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10 Years of Reformasi: Towards Women’s Equal Status in Indonesia

May 28, 2008

It has been 10 years since Indonesia turned a new page in its history and entered the post-Soeharto Reformasi era. The women’s movement was at the very center of the Reformasi movement when a group of women, who called themselves “Concerned Mothers,” became the first mass of people to enter the streets of Jakarta to protest increased milk prices. After 10 years of Reformasi and four presidents, it is an ideal time to reflect on a number of important reform milestones in the area of women’s rights. Two reform efforts should be highlighted as achievements of the Indonesian women’s movement in demanding equal status and protection of women’s rights: the protection of women’s rights through institutional reform within the government; and the legal reform spearheaded by women activists and their counterparts in the national parliament to promote equal status of women.

Institutional reform to protect women’s rights

In October 1998, then to President B.J. Habibie issued a Presidential Decree to establish the National Commission on Violence Against Women. The commission was established in response to violence afflicted against women during the May 1998 riot in Jakarta and several other Indonesian cities. Commonly known as Komnas Perempuan, the commission is a quasi-government body with the mandate to disseminate understanding of violence against women, promote a conducive environment to eliminate violence against women, and extend efforts to protect women from violence. Komnas Perempuan, which was established with the support of The Asia Foundation, has since spearheaded a number of groundbreaking efforts such as establishing standards for integrated services for women victims of violence, drafting Indonesia’s progressive anti-domestic violence law, and appointing two special rapporteurs for Aceh and Poso to investigate cases of violence against women in those two conflict areas.

In 1999, President Abdulrahman Wahid appointed Khofifah Indar Parawansa as State Minister for Women’s Empowerment. The change in the name of the ministry, once the “Ministry for Women’s Affairs,” was a historic act as it marked the change of the state’s approach to women’s issues from the role of wives and mothers to promotion of women’s rights for equity and equality. The Ministry then headed nationwide efforts to mainstream gender into government processes and push for appointment of gender focal points in line ministries. In 2001, a Presidential Instruction was issued on gender mainstreaming in development programs. Since then, the directive has provided the legal foundation for a number of initiatives at the national and local level, including efforts to integrate gender perspectives into local budgeting processes.

Legal reform to promote women’s status

In September 2004, after years of effort, the parliament and the then-government of President Megawati passed the anti-domestic violence bill into law. The new law was a groundbreaking achievement that outlawed four forms of violence against women: physical, psychological, sexual (including marital rape), and economic neglect. The law not only protected women members of the family, but also made violence a criminal offense against all members of the household, including husbands, wives, children and extended family. It was a pioneering achievement, particularly with regard to some of its “controversial” content, like criminalizing marital rape. For Indonesians, the majority of whom are Muslim and for whom family law is largely based on Islamic law, the passing of this law also showed that significant support to combat domestic violence can be consolidated within the government and the national parliament.

Between 2005 and 2007, the Women’s Network for National Legislation program (JKP3), a coalition of women NGOs, advocated for the inclusion of progressive provisions into the Anti-Trafficking in Persons bill. The Asia Foundation supported the coalition’s efforts, and the national parliament passed the long-awaited law in March 2007. This law signals new attention given by the state to trafficking victims, who are mostly women. The anti-trafficking law includes the broadest definitions of terms in accordance with the Palermo protocol and is armed with progressive articles and severe punishments against traffickers. Even though there is uncertainty on how the law will effectively combat trafficking, at least now Indonesia has a specific law on human trafficking that underpins law enforcement agencies’ efforts to pursue traffickers.

Last, but not least, the most important legal reforms concerning the rights of women passed to date were the recent amendments to the election and political party laws in 2008. In a surprising turn of events, a coalition of women’s activists and politicians successfully pushed the parliament to pass two significant changes that will impact women’s ability to be elected. First, they adopted a 30% quota for women candidates on political party lists, with sanctions for parties that fail to comply. Second, they adopted a “Zipper” system, by which political parties have to alternate between men and women throughout party lists, with at least one woman for every three candidates. The above-mentioned requirements have stirred reaction from political party leaders who are still clinging to the argument that “there are no women interested in politics.” Indonesia during the 2009 general election will, therefore, be an interesting place to observe how women are able to push their way into politics.

With the milestones on institutional and legal reforms that have taken place in Indonesia over the past ten years, it is clear that Indonesia is moving forward with its commitment to promote and protect women’s rights. The issue will now be on how effective these reforms are at achieving their intended objectives. With constant challenges from corruption within the bureaucracy, conservatism, and economic hardship faced by Indonesia, including its women, it is important to ask the question if more milestones are needed in Indonesia’s Reformasi, or if we have to move on from symbolic institutions and laws into rigorous implementation of their functions.

Hana Satriyo is the Director for Gender and Women’s Participation for The Asia Foundation in Indonesia.

View all posts by Hana A. Satriyo | Bio

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