Indonesian Women in Their Own Words




Lisa Siregar, Sylviana Hamdani & Elisabeth Oktofani


What issues are women most concerned about in Indonesia? What are their aspirations, hopes and dreams? How do they view gender issues? To commemorate International Women’s Day today, the Jakarta Globe interviewed eight women to find out what they had to say about these issues.

Sofia Kartika, gender and development studies observer

Sofia Kartika, 27, is a blogger and avid observer of gender and development studies. She thinks that there are two issues that most concern women in the country.

“The first is the Cedaw as the entry point for policy,” she said, referring to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Under the 1984 convention, government policies should not discriminate against women.

“It has almost been 25 years since we ratified the Cedaw, but it has yet to work properly,” Sofia said.

She cited the Antipornography Law and at least 156 bylaws in the country that she said discriminated against women.

However, Sofia, who also freelances at the Cedaw Working Group Initiative, also acknowledged that some policies protected women against violence and trafficking. “But enforcement of the law is yet to be optimized,” she said.

Another gender issue that Sofia thinks is important concerns the Millennium Development Goals. “This is an entry point to reduce the gap in terms of access, participation, control and advantage between women and men,” she said.

The MDGs seek a reduction in female illiteracy rates and the number of women dying during childbirth, as well as to empower women politically. But there is still a lot to be done. “Women’s issues have not been well-coordinated between the government, civil society and the private sector because policy makers do not have a complete understanding of women’s and gender issues,” Sofia said.

Dinda Alvita, model

Aside from being a model, Dinda Alvita, 24, is also a law student at the University of Indonesia.

She readily admits that in the fashion industry, it is the physical that matters most. “The pressure, in terms of being physically attractive, is huge,” she said. “Even though you exert your best effort, if they don’t think you fit the physical requirement, you won’t make it.”

Quoting famous French fashion designer Coco Chanel, Dinda said that one has to be unique to be irreplaceable. For models, that means that one has to be extremely beautiful or extremely ugly so that people will take notice.

Dinda said she was usually booked for runway shows rather than magazine shoots. Whether on the runway or in real life, Dinda thinks women in general will always be judged based on how they look.

“For example, men can be so picky in terms of looks when looking for partners,” she said. Women, on the other hand, prefer security over looks.

Looks aside, Dinda said that women faced challenges in the public and private spheres of their lives.

“My family expects me to look for a boyfriend, get married and start a family soon, but I’m not ready for that,” she said. “Is [doing so] really important? Because I can do things on my own.”

Nitta Nazyra C Noer, filmmaker

Young filmmaker Nitta Nazyra C Noer is in Aceh filming the documentary “Srikandi Pulang Kampung” (“Srikandi Returns Home”), which follows the story of a Jakarta transvestite who returns to his hometown.

“Srikandi” is sponsored by Kalyana Shira Film, a production house known for producing films that tackle gender issues.

Nazyra said that not all women in the country were empowered, adding that patriarchy had grown stronger in Aceh.

“What’s worse, women in Aceh don’t think that they are repressed because they think the [Shariah] law is right,” Nazyra said.

In her film, Nazyra’s goal is to capture how poverty affects the lives of the Acehnese, particularly from the transvestite characters’s point of view.

“For me, poverty is not only [limited to] material things or money, but it also [includes poverty of] information,” Nazyra said. “I see that women in Aceh are going backward with bylaws that are non-gender sensitive.”

Nazyra pointed out that during Prophet Muhammad’s time, women were still accorded respect even though they were placed second to men.

The filmmaker, however, said she was optimistic about women’s empowerment in the capital.

“In Jakarta, we see a lot of smart and ambitious women who are independent,” she said.

“But I don’t like it when men give women the advantage just because they’re women. If that happened to me, I’d be offended.”

Mila Melany, housewife

Mila Melany is a homemaker who lives in Tangerang. As a mom to a 5-year-old daughter, she is very concerned about child trafficking, an issue that she often reads about in the newspapers.

“I’m worried about my only daughter,” she said. “I read in the newspapers that schoolchildren are often lured with chocolate and candies by strangers and then kidnapped.”

To prevent this from happening, she has taught her daughter not to trust or accept gifts from strangers.

Mila is also wary about news reports concerning the Internet.

“Parents should really monitor their children’s online activities,” she said. “Teach them to say ‘no’ when a new friend from Friendster or Facebook asks to meet in person. It could be very dangerous for them.

“The police should also get to the root of this problem and uncover the syndicates [involved],” she said. “It would certainly make our lives easier.”

Roslina Verauli, psychologist

Roslina Verauli works as a psychologist at Pondok Indah Hospital. She has long observed that women are very susceptible to different kinds of stress.

“This is caused by the multiple roles they have in their lives,” she said.

“She is often a wife, a mother, as well as a career woman. These differing roles cause her tremendous pressure, which may lead to mental stresses.”

Roslina is of the opinion that the country should start doing more to develop family systems.

“Right now, parenting is still perceived as a mother’s responsibility,” she said. “When something goes wrong with the children, the woman is always blamed. This is not fair.

“Husbands should share the responsibility with their wives. When a wife is not too tired and is not under a lot of pressure, they’ll have a happier and healthier home life.”

Mien Uno, entrepreneur

Mien Uno, president director of Duta Bangsa College, thinks that women are still discriminated against in this country.

“Indonesian culture still puts an emphasis on the men,” she said. “As a result, men receive better treatment within their families and at workplaces.”

Mien thinks that women themselves perpetuate this cultural problem.

“We will be treated fairly if we’re qualified,” she said. “Do not succumb to gender inequality. Learn new skills. Expand your horizons.”

She believes that if women empower themselves, they will eventually be able to improve their roles in society.

“Personally, I think women are naturally built to be stronger than men,” she said.

“We can do more things and take on more responsibilities. I believe that if women foster their characters and continue to learn, people will respect and trust them more.”

Riri Kristiana, security guard

Riri Kristiana, 34, works as a security guard at an apartment complex in the capital. She has two sons, aged 7 and 12. Her not-so-traditional occupation was the result of a decision she made five years ago to support her family.

“I have had experiences with other types of work in the past. But because I love to try new things, I took this job as a security officer, which has been very challenging,” Riri said.

She said that most of the male security officers she works with do not underestimate women who hold the same job. In fact, they respect women who are brave enough to work in the field.

“The only problem that I encounter is complaints from both apartment guests or the management. It’s not a big deal, though.

“There are some guests who do not want to be checked and they complain about us and what we do. People in management complain about finding parking spaces,” she said.

While Riri still enjoys her current job, she is considering making a change to a career that would allow her to spend more time at home with her children. She is finding this a challenge, however, because of her age.

“Life is hard and I am willing to take whatever job I am given. As a woman, I think I can do whatever men can do,” she said.

Caroline, DJ

Being a female DJ and a lesbian is a complicated combination for Caroline (not her real name), a 20-year-old university student from Yogyakarta.

“We live in a society that has many stereotypes based on gender,” she said. “In addition, there is still a lot of ignorance about homosexuality.”

Caroline, who started her career as a DJ working at nightclubs while she was still in junior high school, said that it was not difficult to maintain a positive image, as long she avoided the temptations of alcohol and drugs.

“It’s a piece of cake to create a positive image as a female DJ. But as a lesbian, I always try to hide my identity from everyone except from my good friends. I don’t want people to start discriminating against me because my of my sexual orientation,” she said.

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2 thoughts on “Indonesian Women in Their Own Words

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