It seems that the rumour of the next Sultan of Yogyakarta has slowly been answered. On Tuesday (May 5), Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X has renamed his eldest daughter Gusti Kanjeng Ratu (GKR) Pembayun to be GKR Mangkubumi Hamemayu Hayuning Bawono Langgeng ing Mataram. Last year, an insider of Yogyakarta Sultanate told us that Sultan HB X would pass his throne to his eldest daughter GKR Pembayun. The succession plan, however, triggers family feud and controversies in Yogyakarta. [Continue reading]
Despite growing international condemnation of female genital mutilation, the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) is urging the government to resist any international or domestic pressure to ban the practice it calls female circumcision.
“On the issue of female circumcision, we do not consider it compulsory, but we forbid any action to ban it,” MUI Chairman Ma’ruf Amin told a January 21st press conference on the subject at MUI’s Central Jakarta office, according to multiple media reports.
He said that in recent times more medical practitioners have refused to perform female circumcisions, and he urged the government to act decisively against such individuals, based on its 2010 Health Ministry regulation on the practice, which effectively legitimises female circumcision and authorise medical professionals to perform it, the Jawa Pos National Network reported.
“Because we support that regulation, we ask the government not to heed any effort by any party that wants circumcision banned in Indonesia,” he said, according to Detik News.
“Circumcision is a part of Islamic teaching that is highly recommended for Muslims, whether male or female,” he said, adding that the law on the matter calls for specific procedures which, he claimed, do not damage the clitoris.
“The procedure for female circumcision according to Islamic teaching is removal of only the membrane, or in medical terms preputium [the clitoral hood] that covers the clitoris,” he said.
“It needs to be understood that Islamic teaching prohibits the female circumcision practice which is done by cutting or injuring the clitoris, as it is dangerous.”
The government has issued mixed messages on female circumcision. In 2006, the Ministry of Health banned it as potentially harmful. But in 2010, it issued guidelines on how the procedure should be done, raising the ire of some women’s rights activists.
Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas, the queen of Yogyakarta, believes the government must revoke the 2010 regulation effectively legitimising female circumcision and authorizing medical professionals to perform it.
“I am very certain that the 2010 regulation on female circumcision was issued because there was a big pressure from religious organisations to the Ministry of Health. Even recently, the MUI has demanded the government lift the ban on female circumcision,” she told Khabar Southeast Asia.
“I think that all the parties, which are involved, should have a wider point of view on female circumcision, particularly from the health point of view,” she said.
It is not known how many Indonesian girls undergo female circumcision, which is believed to reduce sexual desire and prevent promiscuity, and encompasses a wide range of practices in Indonesia, from cutting a small part of the clitoris to scratching it to pressing spices on the genitals.
Suratningtyas, a 46-year-old midwife at a private hospital in Depok, West Java, told Khabar that some parents do ask the hospital for female circumcision.
“I cannot reject their request because we are allowed to do it. But we make sure to do it properly so it will not harm the baby girl,” she said.
Condemned by the OIC
At odds with developments in Indonesia, there is growing international consensus against the practice of female genital mutilation.
On December 20th, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first-ever resolution on the female genital mutilation, urging states to “take all measures — including legislation — to protect women and girls from this form of violence”.
Earlier the same month, speaking in Jakarta at the opening of a conference on women in development, Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called on OIC member states to prohibit the practice.
“This practice is a ritual that has survived over centuries and must be stopped, as Islam does not support it,” he said, according to reports in OnIslam.net and Tempo. “Female genital mutilation is a violation of human rights of girls and women.”
A weak theological basis
The theological basis for female circumcision is a weak hadith, according to Maria Ulfah Anshor, secretary general of Alimat (the Movement for Indonesia Family Justice) and former chairwoman of the woman’s wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation.
“The hadith said that circumcision is sunnah for men [highly recommended] and makrumah for women [voluntary but meritorious]. Hence it cannot be used as a theological basis to conduct female circumcision, because it is optional,” she told Khabar.
The government does not need to regulate it, nor should it ban medical professionals from giving the service to a Muslim family that requests it, she said. But she said it is unfortunate that female circumcision is often conducted on infants, meaning that girls have no say in whether they want to undergo an optional practice.
“It is against human rights,” she said.
A Javanese tradition
Javanese tradition includes a ceremonial form of circumcision conducted without removing or harming the female body in any way, G.K.R Hemas told Khabar in an exclusive interview.
“Female circumcision in Javanese tradition is very different with what happened in other places. It is done by holding on to a piece of fresh turmeric on female genitals,” she said. Later the turmeric and other offerings are thrown to the rivers, she added.
The ceremony is conducted twice, at the age of five and when a girl begins to menstruate. These days, such ceremonies are rarely carried out in Javanese society, except for royal family members at the Yogyakarta sultanate.
“Once again, there is no woman’s body part which is being removed or harmed from those two traditions,” she added.
As the Chinese do on Chinese New Year, it is common among Indonesian Muslims for older relatives to give small sums of money to younger relatives after the children wish them a happy holiday on Idul Fitri
That tradition has created a business opportunity for people such as Iphan, 32, and Rukmiyati, 34, who on a recent day were selling small change – exchanging large denomination notes for small ones, for a small fee – to customers on Jalan Gajah Mada in Central Jakarta.
“I’m actually new in this business. I just started three weeks ago. In one day, I can make 300,000 rupiah ($32) in profit,” Iphan, who is originally from Medan, North Sumatra, told Khabar Southeast Asia.
“But it depends on how many customers I get per day. Basically, I can make 5 to 15 % profit from each transaction,” he added.
Iphan explains that every day he receives as much as 10 million rupiah ($1,053) from an agent, who takes a cut of his earnings.
First, he needs to go to the bank to exchange the big notes for small ones: 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 rupiah notes (10 cents, 50 cents and $1.05).
Because of the high demand at this time of year, Bank Indonesia, in collaboration with nine other banks, opened a mobile small-change service out of a vehicle at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta, which operated from July 23rd to August 16th.
“Every day, I need to wait in line at the small-change service in the National Monument (Monas) Park, Central Jakarta. But unfortunately, we are only allowed to change up to 5 million rupiah ($527),” Iphan said.
“So that is why I also change the money with an agent,” he continued.
Even though banks make change for free, many Indonesians patronise street vendors for their small cash needs because of the convenience.
Rukmiyati, who has been working in the business for the last four years, told Khabar that she would make less profit if she changed the money with an agent.
She said she prefers to queue at the bank to get small change, even if she has to do it twice in a single day, because the agent will take an additional cut of her profit, shaving a 15% margin to 5%.
“That is why it is better to change it in the bank,” she said.
There is another reason to rely on banks, authorities say: they can vouch that the currency is real.
Questioned about the source of her capital, Rukmiyati said she did not know where the agent got the money. She believes it came from a bank.
Difi Johansyah, a spokesman for Bank Indonesia, told Khabar that informal small-change services are not banned because there are no regulations against them.
“We are aware that there are informal money changers in public places such as traditional market or side streets. Bank Indonesia will not prohibit them from doing business. However, we suggest the citizens not change the money with an informal money changer service because the authenticity is not guaranteed,” he explained.
Many Muslim religious leaders from the Indonesia Council of Ulema (MUI) consider money changing in the street “haram”. Such transactions are forbidden in Islam because of the fees charged. But MUI has not issued any fatwa banning the practice among the Muslim community.
Iphan, who worked as a laborer for 10 years in Jakarta before losing his job six months ago, told Khabar that he sells small denomination banknotes to support his family.
“If MUI said it is haram, then that is not really my problem. I have to provide food for my family. It is very difficult to find a proper job these days, and I heard about this seasonal business so I decided to join with my friend,” he said.
Many small-change vendors in Jalan Gajah Mada wear face masks, in part because they feel a little shame, Rukmiyati said.
However, “The main reason is to avoid breathing the bad pollution as big bus and trucks are passing by this road,” she said.