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A Journey Against Defeat: Narratives of Women’s Rejection of Poverty

Going beyond the usual studies on poverty and gender, this research study records the powerful resilience of women in resisting impoverishmnet, in all its forms. Women’s resistance is long term and traverses sectors and venues, but without the necessary support and organisation, it can be sporadic and unsystematic.

The law offers hope to women. The law needs to be encouraged to serve as a support, since it is relatively neutral and universal. For gender equality the law needs to be constantly monitored and checked. Positive law needs to be aligned with the framework and norms of human rights particularly so for issues of violations of women’s rights. These cannot remain hidden away in domestic space or concealed by layers of culture.

In Indonesia, educating child brides remains a tough challenge

A groundbreaking report by UNICEF and the Indonesian government found that girls marrying before the age of 18 were at least six times less likely to complete senior secondary education compared to their unmarried peers.

SUMENEP REGENCY, Indonesia: Every morning, Dewi Khalifah greets students at the Islamic boarding school she runs, as they make their way to class.

The school, Aqidah Usymuni, is currently home to about 800 boys and girls who are housed on separate properties.

Lessons are held from 7am until 1pm, followed by Quranic studies at 3pm.

Students conclude the day with further religious studies before turning in for the night.

A student greets Dewi Khalifah in the morning. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

But this school isn’t like other schools in East Java province’s Sumenep Regency.

In fact, it is one of a handful of schools in the regency which encourages students to pursue their studies instead of getting married before the age of 18 – something that close to 70 per cent of the people in the regency have done, according to research done in June by an non-government organisation, the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation.

EDUCATION VS MARRIAGE

Child marriage is rampant in Indonesia.

A report launched in July this year by the government of Indonesia and UNICEF showed that over one in four girls married before reaching adulthood.

The report is the first of its kind for the country – it uses government data to set a baseline for monitoring progress on key sustainable development goals and targets for Indonesia’s 84 million children.

It showed that girls marrying before the age of 18 were at least six times less likely to complete senior secondary education compared to their unmarried peers.

Lessons are held from seven in the morning until one in the afternoon. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

It is also not uncommon to see child brides in Indonesia being discriminated against in schools.

Local media carry reports of students being turned away from public schools upon their marriage, despite no official laws requiring them to do so.

Experts in Madura’s salt-producing Sumenep Regency tell Channel NewsAsia that such is the situation in the regency as well.

There is also the issue of deep-rooted patriarchal views, which place women in a domestic setting, thus restricting child brides from continuing their education if they marry young.

SCHOOL FOR EVERYONE

According to Lies Marcoes Natsir, executive director for the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, facts on the ground have shown that if a girl marries before completing high school, chances are, she may never go on to complete it.

This is contrary to the way boys in the same situation are treated, who are still able to continue their studies post-marriage.

“Well it’s different; I will stop studying after I complete high school … I would’ve liked to have gone to college if I didn’t marry. But because I am married, I can’t,” said Sariyatun with a laugh.

The 17-year-old is joined by her friends as she shares her experiences, several of whom are younger than her and married, just like her.

The girls are all students at the Mambaul Ulum Institution, an institution in Sumenep that doesn’t believe children should stop studying simply because of marriage.

The Mambaul Ulum Institute has a total of about 200 students. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

The institution admits not just boys who are married but girls as well.

“They can study here on the condition that they are not pregnant. What happens then if they become pregnant? Well, we exempt them until they give birth,” said Fathol Haliq, founder of the Mambaul Ulum Foundation.

After a girl delivers her baby, she can come back to the school and complete earning her diploma, which she can then use to get a job in the event that she has an opportunity to work.

“We are providing them with an alternative means of education to empower them, so that they do not become victims of the cultural system that is deeply rooted in the practice,” Fathol added.

Founder of the Mambaul Ulum Institute, Fathol Haliq, speaks to a student. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani)

Over at Aqidah Usymuni, the efforts are slightly different, but the goals are the same – that a girl shouldn’t have to give up education over matrimony – but not every parent is comfortable with that idea.

“In Sumenep, everyone is afraid of remaining unmarried,” said Sumarni, whose daughter is a student at the school and recently turned 17 years old.

“By 17, girls themselves want to be married. I also have plans to marry my daughter off; I want to get her engaged, but Dewi Khalifah says my daughter is to continue studying at the boarding school, she can’t marry yet.”

Dewi took over managing the Islamic boarding school from her mother, who established the school to empower women. She explained that her mother was married off at 10 years old, and at that time the culture in Sumenep forbade women from obtaining an education.

Her mother sought to make a difference, and Dewi herself actively encourages her students to continue their studies and refrain from marrying as well, until they are at the very least 18 years of age.

Students who do get married receive support.

Aqidah Usymuni is the only Islamic boarding school in the entire regency which provides scholarships for children who marry, so that they may continue their education even after their nuptials.

Girls at Aqidah Usymuni make their way to class. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

The scholarship has greatly benefitted students like Ahmad Dardiri and his wife Misnama.

The two married young – he at 18 and her, at 16. The policy allows the couple to not only pursue their education, but to do it together.

“Traditionally in Madura, if you have to pay a fee to study and if you have to choose one between husband and wife, the husband is prioritised,” said Ahmad.

“A wife is still synonymous with the kitchen, you know; it’s only the husband who can continue his education, so we are breaking this ‘Madura culture’.”

Ladies with food baskets balancing on their heads carry supplies into the Aqidah Usymuni Islamic boarding school’s girl’s wing. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Tradition dictates that a woman’s place is at home, caring for her husband and children.

Completely erasing the patriarchal culture painted in tradition isn’t possible, lamented Dewi, as there are a number of factors dictating its practice including economic conditions, which also influence how families conduct themselves.

“Because once a girl is married, she isn’t her family’s responsibility anymore,” said Ms Dewi.

The educational background of parents also matter, particularly if they come from lower-educated backgrounds.

“They feel that, ‘I got married as a child so why shouldn’t my child do the same?’” Dewi said. “It saddens my heart that they still enforce this practice on their children.”

STUDYING AS A SOLUTION

Reports published last year by the National Statistics Agency supported by UNICEF showed that women who were married between the ages of 15 and 19 had a lower level of school participation compared to those who weren’t married.

Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, its aims include eliminating all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage.

The report launched by the government of Indonesia and UNICEF showed that 12 per cent of women – 1.2 million – nationwide aged 20-24 years were married or in union before the age of 18 in 2015.

A group of married girls sit together at Mambaul Ulum Institute after speaking to Channel NewsAsia. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Earlier this year, Marta Santos Pais, special representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence Against Children met with President Joko Widodo and several ministers at the State Palace in Jakarta.

Pais discussed children’s protection from violence and its role in national development, and raised the issue of child marriage.

Minister of Education and Culture, Muhadjir Effendy who was reportedly present at that meeting, explained that the government has a 12-year compulsory education programme in place.

He told reporters after the meeting that this was one way the government is trying to curb child marriage.

Effendy said the ideal age for someone to marry was above the age of 17 – this way, a boy or girl who completed the compulsory 12-year education programme would automatically be 18 years old.

Bringing the issue to public notice is one way to overcome it, but a more definitive solution would be to legally revise the rules of marriage and keep children in school for a longer period of time, according to observers.

“There should be local regulations governed by the executive and legislative branch that children should no longer marry at the age of 16 or 18; but at the very minimum, they should possess a college degree,” said Aqidah Usymuni’s Dewi.

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/in-indonesia-educating-child-brides-remains-a-tough-challenge-9488280

‘It’s tradition’: The child brides of Indonesia’s Sumenep Regency

SUMENEP REGENCY, Indonesia: Bold makeup in hues of red and black lined their eyes, hair adorned with buds of jasmine, a bejewelled golden plate rested upon their foreheads, while more gold complemented vibrant clothing cinched at their waists.

Their small hands were intricately lined with a type of dye resembling henna; and while they looked like miniature human dolls, their faces were glum.

Shifty-eyed, fidgety and trying to keep their nervousness in check, these are the child brides and grooms of Sumenep Regency at their wedding.

Both the brides and grooms have bold makeup on their faces. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Getting to Sumenep is no easy feat. The regency is 170km away from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on the island of Madura.

You’ll have to fly from Jakarta to Surabaya, which could take anywhere between 75 and 90 minutes and then embark on a four-hour drive; this is how we found ourselves driving into the regency one morning, passing dozens of salt farms along the way.

A RECEPTION TO REMEMBER

The children, six of them, were at their wedding reception being held at a field with a large tent in the district of Dungkek.

According to guests, the children had just married that morning – the oldest was a fourteen-year-old boy who married a 13-year-old; the youngest, a four-year-old child, was wed to a five-year-old boy, and the last couple were a pair of six-year-olds.

Parents of the brides and grooms took turns between standing at the entrance of the tent to welcome guests and accompany their children, who sat quietly on the sidelines of a feast held in their honour.

The youngest child at the wedding reception was a 4 year-old girl. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Alimatus Sadya, a mother of one of the brides explained that child marriage is commonplace in Madura.

“If anyone asks for the hand of your first child in marriage, you have to agree,” she said.

Her daughter, the oldest bride at thirteen years old, lurched forward and retched as she struggled to keep her emotions at bay. She was quickly pacified by Ms Alimatus and others around her.

The space under the tent was divided into two sections, one for men and the other for women.

Plush velvet sofas with golden frames sat atop a stage on one end. This is where guests were taking photos with the newlyweds prior to the feast.

A 13-year old child bride attempts to hide her emotions at by the side of her stage at her wedding reception. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

A band positioned at the centre of the tent played traditional music and female dancers were putting on a show for the men, dancing closely with them while being showered with rupiah bills.

A group of men and women in each section were also huddled together as they made a note of every gift that the families of the children received, both of monetary and non-monetary value.

Another parent, Fitri, who goes by one name as many Indonesians do, explained that the children had been matched by their parents – her son and daughter had both been married off.

“Well, over here it’s like that, they’re married off at a young age; it’s tradition,” she said with a laugh. “I am so happy.”

EMBEDDED IN TRADITION

In 2016, the National Statistics Agency supported by UNICEF launched two reports on child marriage.

The report showed that the rate of child marriage in Indonesia remains high, with over one in four girls marrying before reaching adulthood.

Based on data from 2008 to 2015, the percentage of “ever-married” women aged 20 to 24 who married before the age of 18 across 33 provinces in Indonesia ranked by average prevalence, placed West Sulawesi in the top spot, while East Java ranked 14th.

Research done in June this year by an NGO, the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation, showed that close to 70 per cent of the people in Madura’s Sumenep regency married before the age of 18.

The district of Dungkek had the highest number of child marriages in the regency, with about 80 per cent of its nearly 4,000 people – as per national population records in 2015 – having married as children.

Executive director for the foundation, Lies Marcoes Natsir, said that in Sumenep, it is usually because parents want a debt repaid.

“The people have a tradition, usually if they throw a party, they receive a lot of support from their neighbours – and this is a reciprocal occurrence, actually,” she explained.

Guests lay money on the floor for dancers at the wedding reception of the six children. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“So, they can throw a party because other people owe them a debt. Now, this has been in practice for a very long time, their ancestors did this and they always make a note,” said Lies.

“So if one family has a child, and they feel they want to collect what is owed to them from their neighbours – to whom they have already provided some sort of support – ‘tumpangan’ is what they call it – they will organise the marriage of their child, even if the child is still little.”

According to Lies, one of Indonesia’s foremost experts in Islam and gender as well as a women’s rights activist, the goal is to collect a debt.

So, in the event of a drought for example, or in times of financial difficulty, families tend to get their children betrothed and organise a party.

A guest at the wedding reception showers a dancer with rupiah bills. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In the case of younger children, the marriage is known as a “hanging betrothal”.

This arrangement means that while their marriage has been solemnised, they are “promised” to each other.

The children will only live together as husband and wife when they are deemed to be old enough by their parents to do so, which could be when they are as young as 14 years old.

Until then, the children live separately and continue their education, only for the “husband” to visit his “wife” during holidays and religious celebrations.

A SECRET AFFAIR

Fifteen-year-old Uus (not her real name) married her boyfriend last year when she was just 14. He was 19 at the time and he had asked her parents for her hand in marriage. The two had known each other for a year.

“We were only married by a religious teacher … compared to just being boyfriend and girlfriend, such an unclear status, it’s better to have something that is certain,” she said, a reason which resonated with several of the child brides Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

Traditional music accompanies the newlyweds as they ride out of the party compound on horses. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

Muslim marriages in Indonesia must be registered at the government’s Religious Affairs Office (KUA), something Uus and her husband have not done. This means that the two do not have a marriage certificate.

“We haven’t gone to the religious office; I’m not legal yet,” said Uus.

What the young couple have done is known as “nikah siri”, which translates to mean unregistered or secret marriages – this is highly prevalent in Sumenep.

Indonesia’s 2002 Law on Child Protection prohibits marriage under the age of 18 under any circumstances, and such a marriage cannot be registered at the Religious Affairs Office.

But the country’s marriage laws are murky. Under the 1974 Marriage Law, which sets the legal parameters for marriage in the country, parental consent is required for all marriages under the age of 21.

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 and boys at 19, providing they obtain approval from the religious court.

Parents can also file a petition at the religious court or district court to apply for an exemption and get their daughter to marry even earlier, with no minimum age limit, pending an approval.

“Well, if possible, we approve their request if the bride is 16 years old, because they are already mentally mature, so I think it’s okay,” Risana Yulinda, head of the religious court in Sumenep Regency told Channel NewsAsia.

“But sometimes in the event that the child is two months, three months shy of turning 16, we’ll also approve the request because it’s just a little bit of time,”

With parental consent, girls can legally marry at the minimum age of 16 in Indonesia. (Photo: AFP/ STR) 

Applications to marry off children below the age of 16 years were assessed on a case-by-case basis, she said.

“Are they Muslims? Are there any obstacles to the relationship such as them being siblings? Is there a proposal from someone else? If they marry, is their husband ready to provide for them? Are they pregnant? These are all factors that we consider,” said Risana.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that many parents skip getting an approval from the court.

Instead, couples apply for a retroactive confirmation of the marriage when they reach an age deemed legal by Indonesian law.

According to Risana, couples generally apply for a retroactive confirmation when they need to get their paperwork in order.

For example, if they need to make a passport, or if they need to make a birth certificate for their child, these situations require a marriage certificate.

There were more than 200 couples in 2016 who applied for confirmation, she said. With no way for authorities to prove that they were children when the marriage took place, such loopholes only make underage marriages all the more difficult to tackle.

While tradition is a main factor for the practice, according to observers, religion plays a key role in its support.

“Religion has made it legitimate for members of the community to say that getting a child married is the right of the guardian, and when they get a child married, they base that right on the fact that the Prophet married Siti Aisyah when she was nine years old,” said Tatik Hidayati, a lecturer at the Anuqqayah Institute of Islamic Sciences.

“So they use that as a justification that Islam doesn’t forbid it.”

These factors only add to the age debate.

AN UPHILL BATTLE

Records from the National Statistics Agency shows that there were 554 couples who divorced in 2016. There were also 55 cases of underage marriage sentenced by the Religious Court of Sumenep in the same year.

Sumenep is about 170km from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

While there is no official data on whether the two overlap, or how many of the divorced couples married as children, authorities say the high divorce rate can be attributed to child marriage, and that they are working to tackle the issue through community engagement, by implementing various programmes.

“In fact in our planning programme, the most ideal age for women (to marry and bear children) is 21 years old, for men it is 25, which is the most ideal. According to their mental state, they are ready,” said Herman Poernomo, Head of Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office.

“If you marry your child off and he or she isn’t happy or prosperous, then what’s the point?” asked Herman, with the question he said he generally posed to parents wanting to marry off their children.

But many parents in Sumenep feel bound to the practice out of fear of their girls becoming so-called “spinsters”, a status attached to societal stigma.

Sumarni was married at the age of 13. While she has a daughter of her own now, she said her parents were worried that she would always remain single, which is why they arranged for her marriage.

“The first night (together) I didn’t know anything, I only knew how to cry.”

According to Sumarni, once a child is married, they become their husband’s responsibility, and this also motivates many parents to marry their children off.

There is also a general sense of concern among parents in the regency of their children spending time in close physical proximity with members of the opposite sex, sparking fears among parents who worry that it “could lead to something.”

Authorities have said that they cannot force parents who are accustomed to these traditions forego the practice, but what they have been trying to do is familiarise them with the consequences in an effort to approach the issue with sensitivity.

Marrying as children is detrimental from a health perspective as well, parents are told.

A mother sits with her newly-wed daughter on her lap. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

“A child who marries below the age of 15 and then gives birth, from a physical point of view it is not her time to give birth yet, so a woman’s reproductive organs are not ready for pregnancy,” said Hajah Kusmawati, head of health promotion at the regency’s health office.

She also cited the list of possible health conditions a pregnant child might go through in the course of giving birth, the extremity of which, is death.

“Abortion or the aborting of a baby because the child isn’t ready (to become a parent), internal bleeding, having a baby born underweight, then there’s also asphyxia, and a long labour.

“On the psychological front, the child is still a teenager, she will still wants to ‘have fun playing’; automatically, she won’t be optimal in taking care of a child she gave birth to,” Hajah said, adding that the parents or grandparents will take care of the child in such cases.

Data cited by the regency’s health office said that of about 69,200 teenagers in Sumenep, nine were pregnant in 2016, lower than the office’s 15-person estimate for the year.

According to Hajah, while children in the regency still got married, nowadays, they were likely to wait to before having children, at least until they turned 18 years old.

The health office, just like Sumenep’s Empowerment of Women, Child Protection & Family Planning Office, also engages the community with their programmes, which propagate healthy marriages at the age of 21 for girls, and 25 for boys.

In addition to their familiarisation programmes, the department provides counselling for children and parents as well, including having a dialogue with those who attempt to legitimise the practice by bringing religion into the matter.

Despite these programmes, the regency’s authorities emphasised that the country’s conflicting marital laws are an obstacle in their efforts. According to them, the onus is on the central government to revise the rules.

MOUNTING PRESSURE

Religious teachers have always played a key role in advising members of the community on traditional practices.

“Some traditions need to be upheld while others, child marriage among them, don’t,” stressed K Safraji, head of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) in Sumenep regency, or the Indonesian Ulema Council, Indonesia’s highest clerical body.

K Safraji, head of the Indonesian Ulema Council in Sumenep regency walks by a group of boys sitting at a mosque after school. (Photo: Chandni Vatvani) 

In 2015, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court rejected an application to raise the marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18 years, on the grounds that raising the marriageable age would not guarantee a reduction in divorce rates nor would it solve health and social problems.

But, in a landmark moment, female clerics this year urged the government to do just that. They issued an unprecedented fatwa or edict against child marriage after a three-day congress held in Cirebon, West Java province.

While an edict is non-binding, it is influential – and serves as a guideline for Muslims to practice their faith according to the local context.

Earlier this year, the government also said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage.

In Sumenep, these movements have begun but haven’t made much progress yet, with majority of the clerics in there unaware of the efforts.

“So far, no one from the government has come to familiarise us with these efforts yet to prevent child marriage,” said Lestariyadi, a cleric and head of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organisation, for Sumenep’s Batang-Batang district.

He added that he was optimistic about a positive change, at least for Sumenep’s children, if authorities spread word about the programme and got everyone on board to carry it out.

Indonesian Ulema Council Head, K Safraji said they had already begun engaging the community to spread awareness on the problem.

The Indonesian government said that it would seek the help of male clerics, who deliver Friday prayer sermons in mosques to campaign against the practice of child marriage. (Photo: AFP/ Juni Kriswanto) 

The Council also implemented a strict vetting process when families approached them to get their children married he said, being sure to ask questions about age, and whether the couple had gone to the Religious Affairs Office to register their marriage.

One problem he said which still occurs and which they are trying to tackle is the manipulation of data.

“Just sometimes, there is some manipulation done by the parents, where they will tell the Office that a child is say already 16 years old, when in reality, he or she is just 11,” he said.

COMMITTING TO A SUSTAINABLE GOAL

Indonesia has committed to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, its aims include eliminating all harmful practices against girls and women including child marriage.

But the Indonesian Coalition to End Child Marriage (18+ Coalition) in November issued a statement saying there had been no significant decrease in the number of child marriage rates in the past eight years.

The group cited data from the National Statistics Agency which showed child marriage rates were 27.4 per cent in 2008, and while they declined to 22.8 per cent in 2015, the rates went up to 25.7 per cent in 2017.

The group has accused the government of failing to commit to its goal.

“This indicates that the alleviation of child in marriage Indonesia has suffered a setback,” the group said in its press release.

Indonesia is ranked 37 on the global child marriage index and is the second highest in Southeast Asia after Cambodia.

With statistics like these, Lies Marcoes Natsir of the Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation said the situation concerning child marriage had reached a “critical” phase – at “emergency” level.

But while the problem is multi-layered, Lies is optimistic that the issue can make headway on certain conditions which should be addressed ahead of others.

“There are two conditions that I believe should be addressed immediately. The first one, is the state’s willingness to explore the possibility of reproduction and sexual education,” she said.

Pregnancy is also one of the reasons children are forced to marry she explained.

“We conducted research in 2014-2015 in nine regencies across five provinces, and we found that out of 52 children who were married, 36 among them got married because they were pregnant, pregnant and underage.”

In this context, the Religious Affairs Office (KUA) and the Religious Court fall under pressure from parents.

According to Lies, if the Religious Affairs Office declines to approve their marriage, parents would then go to the village branch and marry off their children without officially registering them, or, they would manipulate data such as the date of births and make the marriage happen.

The second issue according to Lies has to do with mindset.

“I believe is that if the child is already pregnant, what should be done – the child has two choices – either abortion or to bring the pregnancy to full term without having to marry.”

Lies went on to explain that the government must be brave enough to be able to tell people not to punish the baby or the mother, whether for being illegitimate or having so-called “bad morals”.

“If the government or all of us can be open and honest about these facts, then there is hope,” she said.

“But if this is not carried out, even if there is a national effort, or a coalition among the ministries, but they do not want to be open about sexuality, then it will be very difficult.”

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/it-s-tradition-the-child-brides-of-indonesia-sumenep-regency-9478014

The journey of Lies Marcoes looking for women narrating their fight against poverty

Ini adalah tulisan Prof Karel Steenbrink, mantan dosen Lies Marcoes di IAIN Jakarta sebagaimana dimuat dalam web Prof Karel, Relindonesia, 15 Januari 2015.

Lies Marcoes was one of my first students in Jakarta, 1981-1983. She was at that time a close friend of Yvonne Sutaredjo, a Chinese-Javanese student from Surinam. The two were quite exceptional. They were the only female students who went swimming in Sawangan, Not only for sport, but also as a protest against rules for the female students in the boarding house at the Islamic Academy, IAIN in Ciputat.

Lies was very keen on field research and she took for her final thesis the practices of a Libyan brotherhood in West Java. She became the first assistant to Martin van Bruinessen in the project on the ‘culture of poverty’ in the Sukapakir district of Bandung, one square km with about 100,000 citizens living or rather surviving. Lies and Martin wrote a special issue for the weekly Tempo that was no a report of poverty in statistics, but in lifestyle and personal portraits.

That was in 1984. Nearly thirty years later, and in a kind of sabbatical (although officially as ‘early retirement’ from the work at various NGO), she has given us another fight against poverty or at least how to survive in extreme poverty in a book written with the Australian Anne Lockley and beautiful pictures by Armin Hari.

Against-Defeat21

I received a copy of the book from Lies during our ‘tribute conference’ of  18-19 November 2014. In fact, it was not really a gift for me, but rather for my wife. We read it together, watched the photographs and told again stories about the many places she visited for this journey. Most places are known to us: Ende and Maumere in Flores, Makassar and Ambon, Pontianak and of course places in West Java. Lies has made many friends in Aceh and my wife Paule never joined me to a trip there.

This is not a book with statistics (although in the last of the five sections it is underlined that hard figures can be useful in the fight for justice. Its major goal is to give concrete examples that picture in a representative way how women and their children manage to survive, grow up, give help to children and older people. There are abundantly stories of women who are KK, Kepala Keluarga of ‘Head of a Family’ because they earn also the living for their husband, whether he is simply a loser, a too pious preacher earning nothing, or simply sick and disabled.

There are also quite a few pages about borrowing money (chapter 5, 112-122). It will be a good and critical appendix to the (too) positive words I wrote in Catholics in Indonesia vol 3 about credit union as the most important welfare activity of the Catholic Church, and other religious institutions, in Indonesia.

LM

This author with Lies Marcoes in our hotel during the Tribute conference of 18-19 November last year.

The book reminded me in several respects of the funny, sometimes also sad book by Elisabeth Pisani, Indonesia etc. Both women have a good connection with people really below the poverty line. They are not too easy with remedies and know that external help can be very good, but does not help quickly and often not at all. Pisani is very critical about formal religion. Lies did professional study of Islam, but is also very critical about traditional (adat) and religious institutions. She has, like Pisani, a special chapter 10 on religion. I read that of course with more than usual interest. The chapter begins with some nice words about religion: ‘Religious organisations are often among the many institutions that try to overcome poverty…’ (187). But following this beginning there is criticism because religious activities like collecting funds for Dompet Dhuafa often lacks an analysis of the roots of poverty. Religions often only want to remove female from the dangers of globalisation, but do not stimulate them to become active.

Six concrete examples are given of this negative influence of religion: 1. a young woman, Sum, who lost her job because she was dressing in a ‘fundamentalist way’.  Birth control was impossible for her. 2. Fira was a qualified pharmacist who had good jobs, but then married a pious preacher who did not earn the money himself, but still wanted her to leave her job. 3. Many criticism about the application of shari’a law in Aceh; very young children, pre-school, are not allowed to dance. 4. Prof. Alyasa Abubakar, one of the architects of the introduction of Shari’a in Aceh has consented that children of women who experienced the punishment of caning also feel stigmatised; 5. in not-recognised sects like Sunda Wiwitan and Ahmadiyah children do not have a birth certificate and they cannot inherit legally from their parents; 6. one Anne in Palu (probably a Christian) had a mixed marriage with a Muslim and the difference of religion was a disaster and caused a break in this marriage. Lies also gives some positive examples of prominent Muslims, approaching women. Page 198 is a funny recording of female Muslim leaders who visited prostitutes in Yogyakarta and were shocked to see how these women gave everything for the life and education of the children.

Thank you very much, Lies, for this honest, sincere and vivid book. I will read now in a different way the monthly sold by Utrecht homeless people, also full with their personal stories. Our son Florsi did not marry in a formal way and he had to go the the municipal administration before the birth of his two children, in order to have them formally registered also as his children and to give them a birth certificate, but for him this was an easy thing.

Why do Indonesian women join radical groups?

Around the world, young women are disappearing, for a surprising reason. They are leaving their homes to join terrorist groups with religious ideologies, such as ISIS. Take Hasna Aitboulahcen, for example. She never appeared to be a pious girl and reportedly only started wearing a head covering last month. But last week she blew herself up during the police raid in Saint-Denis, Paris. Earlier this year, three British schoolgirls went to Syria through Turkey to join ISIS militants. Meanwhile, in March, an entire Indonesian family, including a toddler, a baby and a pregnant woman, slipped away from their tour group in Turkey and crossed into Syria. Indonesian terrorism expert Sidney Jones has said that her research has identified about 40 Indonesian women and 100 children under 15 in Syria.

The question is: why do these girls and women want to join radical groups? There is growing scholarly and media attention being paid to the role of women in violent jihadist movements, especially in light of the success of ISIS in attracting female recruits. Earlier studies have also examined the role of women in suicide bombings. In Indonesia, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) has documented marriages of women to ISIS fighters by mobile phone, used to “cement alliances, reinforce social hierarchies, satisfy the ‘biological needs’ of prisoners or bring women out to the Middle East”. Historically, however, analyses of the role of women in radical movements have tended to be simplistic and have deprived women of their agency, painting them as victims of stronger or charismatic men.

Obviously it’s not that simple. In the Indonesian context, the appeal of radical groups can be explained partly by the position of women in patriarchal society and the desire of these women to contribute to building “an ideologically pure state” grounded in the laws of God.

Last year, the Jakarta-based nongovernmental organisation Rumah Kita Bersama launched a book,Testimony of the Faithful Servants (Kesaksian Para Pengabdi), which documents the stories of 20 Indonesian women who are, or have been, involved with fundamentalist groups. The women expressed a range of reasons for becoming involved in fundamentalist groups, including in violent extremist movements.

There are two levels to understanding this phenomenon, and both can be applied to both the Indonesian context and the global situation. First, just like the men who are part of radical movements, the women who join them also believe in the idea of a caliphate, both as their mandatory duty according to shari’a and as an answer to social and economic disparity. These are not just silly, thoughtless girls. On the contrary, many young women join these movements because they care deeply about inequality, suffering and injustice, and are disappointed with the government’s inability to eradicate poverty. Sadly, they have not found a more sensible outlet for channelling their concerns.

Involvement in transnational organisations such as ISIS that support the idea of a caliphate – and even to some extent with similar local experiments like Darul Islam/Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) – can make women feel as though they are part of an important global movement. In comparison to groups like ISIS, the shari’a discourse promoted by small-scale conservative movements in Indonesia appears feeble and hollow.

Men and women who believe in the idea of a universal caliphate have long committed to memory the stages to achieve this end. They have been trained to act as small parts of a larger movement, while putting into practice the concepts of a shari’a state on a small scale: how to pay (or not pay) taxes, identifying allies and opponents, suffering quietly while guarding the movement’s secrets, and so on. Through radical organisations, they have a vehicle to realise the results of all this training. But because the jihadist movement has a masculine face, mapping and analysing women’s involvement in this process is often neglected.

The second level to understanding women’s involvement in radical movements is to look at the patriarchal social structure in Indonesia, particularly among conservative Muslim communities, which places women in a subordinate position to men. In fundamentalist movements, however, women feel equal. In groups such as ISIS there is an ideological recognition of their unique role in building an ideal state. Many women believe strongly that participation in jihad will ensure they become “angels” in the afterlife.

Of course, these desires for gender equality are not so easily realised. All jihadist movements and organisations are extremely patriarchal. The meaning of jihad is also reduced to gender stereotypes. “Hard jihad” occurs on the field of battle, and is the realm of men. “Soft jihad”, meanwhile, is waged by women, who are expected to give birth to new soldiers for the movement and “service” the men in their group. Their roles are the same as those of women in most traditional societies – serving men – but radical movements give them an ideological value.

For some women, dedicating their wombs and their roles as wives and mothers to the soldiers of God is a source of pride. Having many children is important, but having male children is even more so. In their view, only male offspring can become jundullah (soldiers of God). It is therefore not surprising that women in these groups do not reject polygamy or refuse to bear large numbers of children. Women from some traditional societies long for recognition of their role as mothers who give birth to the next generation of fighters for truth and raise them.

Not all young women are satisfied with the soft jihad route. Rumah Kita Bersama’s research also found that some women were highly critical of the subordination of women in fundamentalist movements and would leave these groups as a form of protest. As Sidney Jones and others have pointed out, many young women also wish to engage directly in the field of battle. It is important to remember that the concept of jihad contains ideas not only of gender but also of class. Hard jihad can be a means for poor men and women to rise in social status. Of course, not all women who join radical groups are poor, however hard jihad may be one of the few options available for poor women to gain greater respect.

So far, ISIS has largely excluded women from combat but this may change in the future. As other scholars have noted in relation to Al Qaeda, the recruitment of women as suicide bombers avoids the empowerment of women that would occur as a consequence of their involvement in armed conflict.

While ISIS continues to remain reluctant to let women fight, there are other ways that women can improve their social mobility in fundamentalist movements. One way is, of course, to be chosen as the wife, or one of the wives, of the group’s leader. Skills in IT, language, intelligence, espionage, bank account hacking, or virtual study of bomb-making can also lead them to being accepted as equal to men in the elite structure of radical movements and organisations.

There are strong motivations for young women to become involved in radical movements, even if the reality often falls far short of their hopes. Women crave recognition of their role in establishing a caliphate and ideologically pure society in line with their beliefs. These desires are understandable, when we remember how they are so often neglected or marginalised in their communities of origin. In fundamentalist groups women can feel needed, praised, and appreciated. Only in this way, they feel, can they become angels in this world and in the next.

A shorter Bahasa Indonesia version of this piece appeared in Kompas under the title Merindu Bidadari.

This writing was originally published on Indonesia at Melbourne.

The Role of Tegalgubug Women as A Symbol of Contemporary Khadijah

TEGALGUBUG is a village in Cirebon through which an inter-provincial transport flows; the Pantura (Pantai Utara Jawa – Java North Coast) route. Tegalgubug has been increasingly popular with its Pasar Sandang Murah (cheap clothing market) that contributes nicely to the dynamics of micro and macro economics.

Initially, Pasar Sandang Murah was integrated with pasar sembako (basic food supplies market) located next to the Village Office, Mosque and the Al-Hilal Madrasah Tsanawiyah (Islamic secondary school). A number of services for the community is located in one area; the market as a symbol of economic transaction and fulfilment of the people’s needs, the mosque as a symbol of religion and spirituality, the Village Office as a symbol of government, and the schools and the madrasah as a symbol of education. This strategic layout was said to have been created by the founder of the village, namely Ki Gede Suropati.

Previously, the Tegalgubug clothing market was only open on Saturdays, while the basic needs market are open every day of the week. The clothing and textile merchants would sell their products elsewhere; like in the Susukan sub-district market on Tuesdays, Jatibarang market of Indramayu on Sundays and Wednesdays, the Parapatan Penjalin Market of Majalengka on Mondays and Thursdays. Fridays are their day off, while Saturdays are used to shop for products in textile centers in Bandung, Tangerang, and Jakarta. Slowly but surely, the clothing market grew and the place it occupied could no longer hold it. The merchants then started to display their products around the designated market area, like in front of the Village Office, in front of the mosque, and on the sides of the streets. Consequently, the village officers in collaboration with local business owners finally built a 30 hectare market building located on the side of Pantura road, open on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

The market, is the beginning of all social changes that occurs.

Wadon Sing Ning Arep, Lanange Sing Ning Guri

There is a jargon circulating amongst the merchants in Tegalgubug which goes, “Kapa wong wadon sing ning arep dagangane payu/laris, tapi kapa lanang sing ning arep ora patian payu,” (If you put a woman at the shop front, you will sell more. But if you put a man, you will sell less). Sing ning arep or the one at the front means anyone who offers the products of the shop, bargains, and provide assistant with the customers. That girls should be sing ning arep (at the front), comes from the local people’s experience that the women are usually more efficient and capable in conducting a business. In fact, when purchasing products to re-sell (textile, clothes, etc.) from the factory or wholesale stores—although most would go as couples, the woman/wife with their man/husband—the women are usually more dominant in lobbying with the factory decision makers or wholesale traders. So, sing ning guri (the one at the back) are the men/husbands.This sing ning guri adage is also consistent with what is called konco wingking (sidekick).

The sing ning arep and sing ning guri relation is a true form of a parallel division of tasks, rather than a superior-inferior relationship. The image of women that are usually seen to only have duties in bed, kitchen and well, does not apply to women of Tegalgubug. The husband and wife relationship in Tegalgubug is a partnership between two subjects efficient in performing tasks; the women’s role is in bookeeping and regulating cashflow, diplomacy with customers and factory decision makers or wholesale traders, and analyzing what merchandise to sell in the market. While the husband’s task is to organize the products with the employees, prepare or assist customers in choosing and sorting, along with other manual work, in addition to assisting the wife. However, the distribution of these tasks are not steadfast, but only in general and does not apply to all people and circumstances. Because most of the times the women/wives also do what the husbands do. Especially for single parent women who certainly work on the job by themselves.

So why do the women have position of control? There are a few points of considerations; First, they are seen to be more frugal and careful in spending money. Second, they are considered as more meticulous, calculative and organized. Third, based on the experience, when the men are in charge of the finances, they would often spend it irresponsibly. More often than not, a hedonistic lifestyle, uncontrolled hobbies or succumbing to wayuan (polygamy temptations) results in the family’s bankruptcy. This very common bankruptcy story teach a valuable lesson for the merchants to withhold the wives’ position as the financial managers.

The women of Tegalgubug are taught business, entreneurship, and economic independence from the early age by their parents—in addition to supportive environment—they learn how to manage the finances, help their mothers at the market while observing how to properly do business, usually done during the school or madrasah holiday, they also learn various skills such as sewing, dressmaking, overlocking, button making, folding, etc.

To their sons, the mothers of Tegalgubug give advices on how to find the right wife; aja kang kaya pedaringan bolong (not those who are like a hollow rice basket). Pedaringan or rice basket is a symbol of woman who accomodate and manage the finances. So a hollow rice basket or pedaringan bolong is a metaphor for women who are excessive and unable to manage the finances, which in turn will be uncapable of creating a prosperous life. This kind of parent’s advice reflects the people of Tegalgubug’s awareness on economy and that an ideal wife is the one that can manage the money, rather than overspending it—of course in addition to other criteria like good background.

Interpreting Religion

The people of Tegalgubug are mostly Nahdiyyin Muslims. There are a number of pesantren (islamic boarding school) and the salaf pesantren (pesantren with traditional teachings) are considered as the favorite education institution. The santri (pesantren student) society can be identified by their daily clothing, the men usually wear sarong and black kopiah (hat), and the women wear a veil (instead of long hijab) and an outfit that would cover everything except their faces, hands, and feet.

written by by Mukti Ali el-Qum

New Women

Dr. Gaber Asfour*)

QASIM Amien published the book “al-Mar`ah al-Jadîdah” in 1900, or around 100 years ago, one year after the publication of “Tahrîr al-Mar`ah” which compliments the “al-Mar`ah al-Jadîdah” in establishing a basic project for the condition development of Arab women. The basic overview of this project is that it is not only limited to one side of the women issue of culture renewal, education for example, should not only propagate the particular social demands associated with the hijab, or revisit the absolute rights of men in divorce, or to determine the law of polygamy, and so forth. But all of the above and among other things should be integrated into a basic, holistic, and integral perspective for the women liberation process, be it in theory, social, economic, and political spheres. The root of this project stands on five principles that will not lose its efficacy even after a century of its creation

First, Islam—as the majority religion—should not be a hindrance to the liberation and advancement of women, irrespective of their level of intelectuality compared to the men’s, and should not prevent them from social, economic, political, and cultural rights, except in ta’wil jumud or extreme interpretations which dominated in times of retardation, infertility, defeat, and dictatorships.

Second, that the first step in the liberation of women is to open the doors to education and civilization from early childhood; and this is something that can replace dogmatic priorities with an ijtihad (independent reasoning) priorities in one’s conscience, to replace the rigid transmission of texts (al-naql) with a more rational mind, to freeze fanaticism by introducing tolerance, to replace seclusion and self-isolation with an effective presence that is open to a world of progress.

Third, that the issue of women liberation is the issue of “civilization” that does not contradict with the sanctity of divine religions or the tolerance for authentic spiritual values. In priority, it remains to be a civilization issue, so long as it is still the first requirement in the development of civil society or in the search for its characteristics of progress. This means that the issue of women’s liberation is in touch with the whole issue of civil society and is a prerequisite for its existence at the same time.

Fourth, that the advancement of women in civil society does not have to rely on the past in any way. The past consists of future stagnation and underdevelopment, aside from strength and glory. The past is not always relevant, for all the constantly changing conditions with its contemporary complexity or the terms to its modernity. The more important aspect of measuring with the past, is measuring by today’s progression. Which means measuring the progress of Arab women through what has been achieved by women in all developed countries, by relying on the foundations of future capabilities that were expected by the pioneering Arab women.

Fifth, that the liberation of women cannot be separated from the liberation of men and is an integral part of the liberation of society in all aspects of political, social, economic and thoughts. Therefore, Qasim Amien stressed that underdeveloped women is the root of an underdeveloped society as a whole, including its social enslavement and the enslavement of its men, their feeble political power shackled by the men’s dominance through the government in power, and that when women can enjoy personal freedom then the men would also benefit a political independence; these two things are related.

Until now, the above principles have not lost their value and deserves a retrospect as a dynamic principles that should be emphasized at this time when women is being dragged back to the Harem era and a tyrannical social, gender, and thought restraints. In addition, these principles can be used as a starting point to the next step of the liberation of Arab women. Hence, we do not view the principles as a basis that needs to be followed without careful contemplation, yet we view them as a revisitation of the Qasim Amien project in relations to his era, and from the perspective and priorities of our time. Not to stop at what he has accomplished since 100 years ago, but so that we can start from what he has accomplished and from what has been achieved by other liberation movement thereafter. This needs to be done in order to go beyond the a full that has shown more than what Qasim Amien expected beyond his imagination, both in positive and negative sense. This shows that the century of “Tahrîr al-Mar`ah” has passed on and is part of the past, leaving its state—in history—for a new century; a promising era with its requirements for change and a completely different relationships, especially as our planet earth transformed into a cosmic village, where no one can hide, or to slow down amidst the rapid movements. This circumstances ask for a review of everything, starting from the principles of Qasim Amien’s project in women liberation, as a starting point instead of an end point. Thus, laying down the principles in the realm of analysis, studies and criticism, in the conference, is a no less important issue compared with the issues in the future projects.

The Qasim Amien project is an early conclusion and an idea on the rise for all reform efforts that have preceded it, whereas since the second half of the nineteenth century, there have been simultaneous efforts taking part in it, in addition to figures such as Rifa’at al-Tahtawi in Egypt, Boutros al-Bustani in Lebanon, pioneers the caliber of Aisyah al-Taimuriyah, Zainab Fawaz, Hindun Naufal, Labibah Hasyim and other women figures. In a similar capacity, the Qasim Amien project is none other than an absolute milestone of the new era of women’s achievements that never stops proving its existence and to defend their rights throughout the Twentieth Century. It was no coincidence that the University of Egypt was founded just nine years after the publication of “Tahrîr al Mar`ah” and eight years after the publication of “al-Mar`ah al-Jadîdah”. It was also no coincidence that Huda Sya’rawi asked the Administrative Council of the University of Egypt, the following year after its establishment, for a woman to be granted permission to give lectures for women which was later granted by the Administrative Council of the university that Qasim Amien helped establishing. This was the university’s early step in setting up a promising paradigm for the new generation of women that soon rebelled against the hijab and chose to take it off their faces, just ten years after Univesity of Egypt’s inauguration. This happened during the 1919 revolution and regarded as the Arab Egyptian women’s initial political contribution in public life and their initial social liberation, in an extraordinary rebellion that still continues until today, despite the numerous difficulties, risks, danger, and challenges.

There is no doubt that as the “new women” stands at the gate of the twenty-first century, third millenium AD, they are required to rethink the results that have been achieved for over a century and to contemplate the formulas of the past and the present in an effort of new liberation, which makes a positive contribution in shaping their outlook of the future and who enters it with bold steps and raised heads, to the coming centuries with their beautiful dreams.

*)Thinker, critic and Chairman of the Translation Center and Chairman of the Culture Committee in the National Assembly of Women of Egypt