9 March 2011

Indonesia Women struggle against poverty, discrimination and exploitation

Zely Ariane[1]

2011 International Womens Day. International women day is still largely unknown  among Indonesian women when compared with 1st May to Indonesian workers. This  is not very surprising since the struggle for  the liberation of women only developed several years after reformasi[2], with its  mushrooming of different kinds of women's organizations, communities, NGOs, research institutions, women's legal aid etc.,  that openly advocated women's social and political rights.

Before reformasi, for 33 years the Indonesian people lived under the dictatorship of Soeharto who destroyed politically and organizationally the ideas of women's liberation and equality. Not only killing the ideas, the regime also killed and imprisoned thousands of women activists from Indonesian Women Movement (Gerwani) in 1966. Soeharto maintained the idea that women are the counterpart of men and the kind of organizations that were introduced were “housewives” organizations and family welfare groups. 

Unlike the worker’s movement, there is no mass women movement in Indonesia that continuously campaigns for and organizes women based on women's issues. This reflects on the type of  Indonesian women's organizations, many of which are NGOs and research centers. They are usually involved in different kinds of women campaign committees to support legal or parliamentary lobbying, such as campaign on 30% quota for women, against domestic violence, etc. These women's rights campaign committees  are usually institutionalized in the hands of several big women NGOs and never really develop into a mass movement. This partly explains why international women's day is still largely unknown among ordinary Indonesian women.

The most exploited and discriminated

The poorest sections of Indonesian women are the workers, village housewives, young women, and urban poor women. They are the ones who suffer the most from the economic and political policies of the pro-imperialist government. According to the Indonesian Health Demography Survey (SDKI) in 2008 Maternal Mortality Rate of Indonesian women, which is the highest in Asia, is 320 per 100.000 births. The illiteracy rate of women in 2010 is 6,5 millions, doubly of that of men, and it’s not surprising  that  women's  participation in higher education is less. According to the Indonesian Statistic Bureau Regional Jakarta, unemployment among women forms 88% of the total unemployment rate in Jakarta alone.

These numbers are worsening because women are  fired  more often than men because they are not considered the head of the family. Since the economic crisis hit Indonesia in 1997 and  largely destroyed the manufacture industries (garment, textile, electronic and beverages), women workers who were mostly employed in those industries were the ones who were fired in massive layoffs. Not to mention the violations of women's rights  in the workplace. In general women workers right are still unknown to many women workers. For example they don’t  know that they have right to unionize, to maternal leave and to menstruation leave with full payment. Compared with  her  male counterparts women workers also receive lower wages, especially in terms of allowance.

In this condition, poverty is an urgent problem of Indonesian women. Capitalism and imperialism have destroyed women's chances to be economically independent. The cuts on education and healthcare subsidies and the privatization of higher education have cost women the most. It's no wonder the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) like the lowering of mortality and illiteracy rates  of Indonesian women,  completely failed.  Those facts are complementary with the impact of the recent capitalist economic crisis that makes the price of basic foods skyrocket.

There is no official prohibition of  women enrolling in school but under a strongly patriarchal culture women from poor families will always be second  in line to  recieve education. The pro-imperialist government has nothing to lose from the fact that women are still a minority in education, as they are also in favor of  Indonesian women  being the cheapest reserve army of labor. It’s not surprising  that millions of Indonesian migrant workers, without any proper skills,  unfamiliar with  workers or women's rights, were sent outside the country – mostly to work  as domestic workers. Many of them experienced sexual abuse, rape, unwanted pregnancy, tortured, physiological trauma and even killed themselves.

On the level of democratic rights, Indonesian women are losing ground as regards the right to control their own body. Right now we have 151 types of sharia regional laws and 'Pornography laws' which regulate women's bodies and  women's behavior. This is a bitter defeat  for women's rights amidst the positive 30% quota of women in political  parties-law and the anti-domestic violence law. It happens frequently that the sharia laws are used to criminalize women workers or prostitutes. And  they are also used as legal justification by certain Islamic reactionary groups that frighten and abuse women—mostly prostitutes or women who have to work until late at night—on the street.

These bitter facts mean  the right of women to fully control their own body, including access to save abortion, is still very far out of reach.

Perempuan Mahardhika (Free Women)

Perempuan Mahardhika (free women organization) was established in Jakarta in 2006 as a tool for women activists to struggle for women's rights in different field of society. Perempuan Mahardhika organizes women in their working place as women workers, students, villages women or peasant women and urban poor women. It has been fully involved in the struggle for liberation of the Indonesian people and of women through political activities, cultural struggle and in organizing women at the grassroots in all sectors of society. Perempuan Mahardhika is aware that fundamental change can only take shape if it involves the direct participation of women and all working people.

Perempuan Mahardhika believes that the struggle for women's liberation and equality is a struggle to change society, the economic system and the power. For that purpose unity  in struggle and  mass women's movement are key methods to win the demands of the majority of women. That is why Perempuan Mahardhika, always takes part in or initiates the common response of any women’s right demand in the form of mass action and mobilization. International Women Day is one of of the occasions on which Mahardhika has campaigned every year since 2006.

This year Perempuan Mahardhika, together  with different left and democratic forces, commemorated IWD in 7 cities in Indonesia. The cities  are: Medan-North Sumatera, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Makassar-South Sulawesi, Ternate-North Maluku, Samarinda-East Kalimantan and Mojokerto-East Java. The general theme was  “SBY-Boediono Presidency, Parliamentary Political Parties and Elites have failed to maintain democracy, to provide welfare, and to protect women from exploitation, violence, and sexual discrimination.”  In every city the  characteristics of women condition vary so there are specific demands  according to the situation in each city.

In Jakarta, Perempuan Mahardhika supported The Committee of Women's Liberation (KPP) who campaign mostly for women workers rightslike maternity and menstruation pay leave, against sexual harassment in the workplace, reasonable wages, protection for domestic workers and women migrant workers, employment which is productive and free from exploitation, free healthcare and education, against discrimination of LGBT people, etc.

In Yogyakarta, Perempuan Mahardhika supported Indonesian Women Movement (Gerpari) who has  more or less similar demands with the stress on the need to abolish or revise all discriminatory laws, such as the 'Pornography law', the 'anti-prostitution regional law' and Marital Law 1974. In Makassar, Samarinda and Ternate, the demands are also similar.

Ironically, in Yogyakarta  most of the women's NGOs in the committee named Yogyakarta Women Network (JPY) held an action to call Yogyakarta people to give a hug to each other to commemorate IWD.  They also gave hand shakes and said “happy women day” to people who passed the street of Malioboro, Yogyakarta. Do they know how rare “happy days” are for the majority of women in today’s economic and political system? History has shown there will be no achievement of women's rights whatsoever without confronting patriarchal and capitalist governments - and those confrontations were life and death struggles for most women.

*Some Foto documentations of 2011 IWD

Jakarta IWD 2011

Jakarta IWD 2011
Jakarta IWD 2011
Jogjakarta IWD 2011
Jogjakarta IWD 2011
Jogjakarta IWD 2011
Jogjakarta IWD 2011
Medan, North Sumatera IWD 2011

[1]               Activist of Perempuan Mahardhika and spokesperson of KPRM-PRD.
[2]               The moment when Soeharto dictatorship was toppled  in 1998 marked  reformasi.

1 comment:

About the Author said...

Poverty, Discrimination and Exploitation must eliminate in every country, it's only give bad reputation.