In The News

Q&A with Indonesian Fellow, Women’s Movement Leader Dwi Rubiyanti Kholifah

August 6, 2014

Asia Foundation 60th anniversary seriesIn Asia editor Alma Freeman recently interviewed Dwi Rubiyanti Kholifah, Indonesia country director for the Asian Muslim Action Network DwiRubiKholifah(AMAN), which focuses on the role of women in peace building and inter-faith cooperation. Kholifah was selected as one of the 10 inaugural 2014 Asia Foundation Development Fellows.

After a hotly contested campaign, in July, Indonesians elected former Jakarta governor, Joko Widodo as their new president. What are your thoughts on this election?

Amid uncertain and complex political circumstances across Southeast Asia, the recent election of Indonesia stood out as being free and fair, with a voter turnout of over 70 percent – this in an archipelago with over 17,000 islands and most not easily reached.

I think that Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, is one of the most distinguished leaders that Indonesia has known. As governor of Jakarta, he created a sense of hope and a space for dialogue and negotiation with the people. For example, he spent countless hours talking to different groups with different interests to resolve the issue of resettling urban poor to new apartments. He led the same inclusive approach when he engaged everyone on the relocation of street vendors from Tanah Abang Market to the nearby Blok G to reduce congestion and help address ongoing crime and safety concerns. The key to his success is that he listens to the concerns of the people and takes this into consideration before coming up with a solution.

These characteristics reflected strongly in his campaign for president. His slogan, “Revolusi Mental” or mental revolution, became a magnet for people from different backgrounds such as farmers, fishermen, youth, women’s groups, professionals, and educators, who believed that the main change needed in Indonesia is the mentality of people. While the “Reformasi” movement that began in 1998 has strengthened institutions of democracy, we are still facing serious problems in bureaucratic reform, rule of law, a culture of violence, and lack of infrastructure.

What impact do you think this will have on development in the country?

I hope that this election and new leadership will bring about bureaucracy reform, where professionals and strong, committed figures are promoted into his cabinet as opposed to always coming from political parties. Such reform would have enormous impact on public services and infrastructure development, transparency and accountability, and strengthening public participation.

My hope is that the vital role that civil societies play in Indonesia becomes more recognized. With Jokowi’s strong leadership and open mindedness, it is very possible that in the future CSOs could become real partners with the government. This could result in the Indonesian government allowing CSOs to engage in state policymaking decisions in a positive way and work together to respond to the global agenda.

We also need stronger rule of law and law enforcement – not only strengthening the commission of corruption eradication (KPK) and other national commissions but also to synchronize international covenant into national regulation and subnational regulation. I believe that Jokowi will take serious action to remove 342 discriminatory laws against women and minorities that exist at the sub-national level as reported by KOMNAS Perempuan. It is also important to take quick response to return the internally displaced Shia and Ahmadiyya communities who were expelled from their village because of their belief. This will help raise awareness among Indonesian people to not discriminate or attack others on the basis of different religions or beliefs. We also hope that women’s rights organizations will have more space to address women’s needs and that they can work more closely with related government ministries.

Indonesia’s constitution in the Muslim-majority country is committed to protecting religious freedom, yet religious intolerance and conflicts between different ethnic and religious groups persists today.

Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands with 700 dialects, and reflects diverse ethnicities, cultures, religions, and traditional beliefs. It is not easy to unite them under a single national identity called Bahasa Indonesia and “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (“unity in diversity”). According to the 2010 Survey of the National Statistics Body, just over 87 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, followed by Christianity (6.96%), Chatolic (2.9%), Buddhist (0.27%), Hindu (1.69%), Confucianism (0.05%), and other traditional religions (0.13%).

It is unfortunate that not all Indonesians have the same protection to practice their religions. In fact, violations against minority rights are higher now than in the past. For example, there are now 193 internally displaced Shia minorities in Sampang who are still staying at the GOR stadium since the attack in August 2012, which left one person dead and six people injured. In 2011, the same attacker also burned a mosque, school, and some houses belonging to the Shiite leader.

In Aceh, 20 houses of worship located in Singkil district were closed down, accused of “lack of administrative document supports.” Barongsai and Liong (traditional Chinese arts) were banned under Soeharto’s New Order because they were considered a distraction from Ramadan. In 2010, there were 75 cases of discrimination and violation against minorities, of which 50 cases were relate to Ahmadiyya faith minorities. Moreover, for many years, followers of traditional beliefs such as Sunda Wiwitan cannot access public service as consequences of their unwritten religious identity on the national ID card.

As the country representative of AMAN, how do you see religious conflicts and intolerance affecting women?

Minority women have multiple layers of discrimination – as religious and often ethnic minorities and as women. As minorities, they are vulnerable to sexual harassment, intimidation when violence takes place, and their position within internal group is weak, with limited leadership, and confidence, due to the strong influence of patriarchal culture.

AMAN Indonesia takes three strategies; first, to educate women with tolerance and peacebuilding perspectives using Islamic interpretation. Through Women’s School for Peace, AMAN Indonesia has set up regular classes both for majority and minority. Over 600 women have been trained in the program and 30 percent of them have become community activists. We are interested in replicating this model to minority groups like Ahmadiyya group in Tasikmalaya and Lombok. Second, we strengthen the ability of women to adapt and respond to national and local challenges relating to inter-intra faith relationships. We are facilitating the Women’s School for Peace as an organization and have expanded to other cities to spread women’s rights, tolerance, and peace.

Third, through advocacy work, we bring voices to the national level to challenge inconsistencies in regulations, which must follow the constitution and international standards on human rights. We are also creating a space to advocate the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at the international level for the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda and Beijing+20, a UN campaign to celebrate the anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

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