What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders

Looking for examples of true leadership in a crisis? From Iceland to Taiwan and from Germany to New Zealand, women are stepping up to show the world how to manage a messy patch for our human family. Add in Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and this pandemic is revealing that women have what it takes when the heat rises in our Houses of State. Many will say these are small countries, or islands, or other exceptions. But Germany is large and leading, and the UK is an island with very different outcomes. These leaders are gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power. What are they teaching us?



Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, stood up early and calmly told her countrymen that this was a serious bug that would infect up to 70% of the population. “It’s serious,” she said, “take it seriously.” She did, so they did too. Testing began right from the get go. Germany jumped right over the phases of denial, anger and disingenuousness we’ve seen elsewhere. The country’s numbers are far below its European neighbours, and there are signs they may be able to start loosening restrictions relatively soon.


List of Countries with Female Leaders and Coronavirus death rates

Data from the European Centre for Disease Control as of April 12, 2020



Among the first and the fastest moves was Tsai Ing-wen’s in Taiwan. Back in January, at the first sign of a new illness, she introduced 124 measures to block the spread, without having to resort to the lockdowns that have become common elsewhere. She is now sending 10 million face masks to the US and Europe. Tsai managed what CNN has called “among the world’s best” responses, keeping the epidemic under control, still reporting only six deaths.

Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand was early to lockdown and crystal clear on the maximum level of alert she was putting the country under – and why. She imposed self-isolation on people entering New Zealand astonishingly early, when there were just 6 cases in the whole country, and banned foreigners entirely from entering soon after. Clarity and decisiveness are saving New Zealand from the storm. As of mid-April they have suffered only four deaths, and where other countries talk of lifting restrictions, Ardern is adding to them, making all returning New Zealanders quarantine in designated locations for 14 days.


Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens, and will become a key case study in the true spread and fatality rates of Covid-19. Most countries have limited testing to people with active symptoms. Iceland is going whole hog. In proportion to its population the country has already screened five times as many people as South Korea has, and instituted a thorough tracking system that means they haven’t had to lockdown… or shut schools.

Sanna Marin became the world’s youngest head of state when she was elected last December in Finland. It took a millennial leader to spearhead using social media influencers as key agents in battling the coronavirus crisis. Recognising that not everyone reads the press, they are inviting influencers of any age to spread fact-based information on managing the pandemic.



Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, had the innovative idea of using television to talk directly to her country’s children. She was building on the short, 3-minute press conference that Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had held a couple of days earlier. Solberg held a dedicated press conference where no adults were allowed. She responded to kids’ questions from across the country, taking time to explain why it was OK to feel scared. The originality and obviousness of the idea takes one’s breath away. How many other simple, humane innovations would more female leadership unleash?

Generally, the empathy and care which all of these female leaders have communicated seems to come from an alternate universe than the one we have gotten used to. It’s like their arms are coming out of their videos to hold you close in a heart-felt and loving embrace. Who knew leaders could sound like this? Now we do.

Now, compare these leaders and stories with the strongmen using the crisis to accelerate a terrifying trifecta of authoritarianism: blame-“others”, capture-the-judiciary, demonize-the-journalists, and blanket their country in I-will-never-retire darkness (Trump, Bolsonaro, Obrador, Modi, Duterte, Orban, Putin, Netanyahu…).

There have been years of research timidly suggesting that women’s leadership styles might be different and beneficial. Instead, too many political organisations and companies are still working to get women to behave more like men if they want to lead or succeed. Yet these national leaders are case study sightings of the seven leadership traits men may want to learn from women.

It’s time we recognised it – and elected more of it.



A woman’s greatest enemy? A lack of time to herself

If what it takes to create are long stretches of time alone, that’s something women have never had the luxury to expect


A few months ago, as I struggled to carve out time in my crowded days for writing, a colleague suggested I read a book about the daily rituals of great artists. But instead of offering me the inspiration I’d hoped for, what struck me most about these creative geniuses – mostly men – was not their schedules and daily routines, but those of the women in their lives.

Their wives protected them from interruptions; their housekeepers and maids brought them breakfast and coffee at odd hours; their nannies kept their children out of their hair. Martha Freud not only laid out Sigmund’s clothes every morning, she even put the toothpaste on his toothbrush. Marcel Proust’s housekeeper, Celeste, not only brought him his daily coffee, croissants, newspapers and mail on a silver tray, but was always on hand whenever he wanted to chat, sometimes for hours. Some women are mentioned only for what they put up with, like Karl Marx’s wife – unnamed in the book – who lived in squalor with the surviving three of their six children while he spent his days writing at the British Museum.

Gustav Mahler married a promising young composer named Alma, then forbade her from composing, saying there could be only one in the family. Instead, she was expected to keep the house utterly silent for him. After his midday swim, he’d whistle for Alma to join him on long, silent walks while he composed in his head. She’d sit for hours on a branch or in the grass, not daring to disturb him. “There’s such a struggle going on in me!” Alma wrote in her diary. “And a miserable longing for someone who thinks OF ME, who helps me to find MYSELF! I’ve sunk to the level of a housekeeper!”

Unlike the male artists, who moved through life as if unfettered time to themselves were a birthright, the days and life trajectories of the handful of female artists featured in the book were often limited by the expectations and duties of home and care. George Sand always worked late at night, a practice that started when she was a teenager and needed to take care of her grandmother. Starting out, Francine Prose’s writing day was defined by the departure and return of her children on the school bus. Alice Munro wrote in the “slivers” of time she could find between housekeeping and childrearing. And Maya Angelou got away from the pull of home by leaving it altogether, checking herself into an unadorned hotel room to think, read and write.

Even Anthony Trollope, who famously wrote 2,000 words before 8am every morning, most likely learned the habit from his mother, who began writing at age 53 to support her sick husband and their six children. She rose at 4am and finished work in time to serve the family breakfast.

I think of all the books, paintings, music, scientific discoveries, philosophy I learned about in school – almost all by men. The conductor Zubin Mehta once said, “I just don’t think women should be in an orchestra,” as if they didn’t have the temperament, or the talent. (Blind auditions put an end to that notion.) I think of an interview Patti Scialfa gave on how difficult it was for her to write the music for her solo album because her kids kept interrupting her and demanding her time in a way that they never would of their father, Bruce Springsteen. And it strikes me: it’s not that women haven’t had the talent to make their mark in the world of ideas and art. They’ve never had the time.

Women’s time has been interrupted and fragmented throughout history, the rhythms of their days circumscribed by the sisyphean tasks of housework, childcare and kin work – keeping family and community ties strong. If what it takes to create are long stretches of uninterrupted, concentrated time, time you can choose to do with as you will, time that you can control, that’s something women have never had the luxury to expect, at least not without getting slammed for unseemly selfishness.

Even today, around the globe, with so many women in the paid labor force, women still spend at least twice as much time as men doing housework and childcare, sometimes much more. One study of 32 families in Los Angeles found that the uninterrupted leisure time of most mothers lasted, on average, no more than 10 minutes at a stretch. And in mapping the daily lives of academics, the sociologist Joya Misra and her colleagues found that the work days of the female professors were much longer than their male colleagues, once you factored in all their unpaid labor at home. Even so, she found that the men and women she studied spent about the same amount of time at their paid work. But the women’s time at work, too, was interrupted and fragmented, chopped up with more service work, mentoring and teaching. The men spent more of their work days in long stretches of uninterrupted time to think, research, write, create and publish to make their names, advance their careers and get their ideas out into the world.

In his Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen wrote that throughout history the people who had the ability to choose and control their time were high-status men. He dismissed women on page two, writing that they, along with the servants and the slaves, have always been responsible for the drudge work that enables those high-status men to think their great thoughts. Feminist researchers have argued that women have often had, at most, “invisible leisure” – enjoyable, but productive and socially sanctioned, activities like quilting bees, canning parties or book groups. Yet pure leisure, making time just for oneself, is nothing short of a courageous act of radical and subversive resistance. Easier to do, one researcher joked, if, like the writer, composer, philosopher and mystic Hildegard of Bingen, you became a nun.

Feminist researchers have also found that many women don’t feel that they deserve long stretches of time to themselves, the way men do. They feel they have to earn it. And the only way to do that is to get to the end of a To Do list that never ends: the chores of the day, as Melinda Gates writes in her new book, killing the dreams of a lifetime. Indeed, I’ve been trying to carve out time to think and write this essay for more than four months. Every single time I’ve sat down to start, I’ve gotten a panicked call or email from my husband, son or daughter; my mother, dealing with the strange frontier and endless paperwork of the newly widowed; a credit card company; or a mechanic about some emergency or other that requires my immediate attention to stave off certain disaster.

I remember interviewing psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, famed for identifying the state of flow, the peak human experience when one is so absorbed in a meaningful task that time effectively disappears. It’s the state that artists and thinkers say is a requirement for creating anything of value. I asked him if his research explored whether women had as much opportunity to get into flow as men. He thought for a moment, then told me a story of a woman who lost track of time as she ironed her husband’s shirts.

The poet Eleanor Ross Taylor lived her life in the shadow of her husband, the Pulitzer prize-winning novelist, short story writer and professor Peter Taylor. “Over the years, many times I would say to poems, ‘Go away, I don’t have time now,’” she told an interviewer in 1997. “But that was part laziness. If you really want to write, you can. I did keep the house scrubbed and waxed and that sort of thing.”

I feel such a sense of loss when I think of the great, unwritten poems that took a backseat to polished floors. And for a long time, I thought the expectation that others be tended to first and the floors be polished and that she was the one who was supposed to keep them that way was what kept those untold stories coiled inside her, compressed, as Maya Angelou writes, to the point of pain. But I wonder if it isn’t also that women feel they don’t deserve time to themselves, or enough of it that comes in unbroken stretches. I wonder if we also feel we don’t deserve to tell our untold stories, that they may not be as worth listening to.

The writer VS Naipaul claimed that no woman writer was his match, that women’s writing is too “sentimental”, their worldview too “narrow” – because, you know, men’s lives are the default for the human experience. And I’ve often wondered: would a woman who’d written a carefully observed six-volume novel based on her own life have received the same attention and international acclaim as the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle?

Virginia Woolf once imagined what would have become of Shakespeare were he born a woman, or if he’d had an equally gifted sister. (Think of the musical prodigy Nannerl Mozart, whose early compositions her brother Wolfgang praised as “beautiful” but have been lost, or remained coiled inside, unwritten, as she disappeared into an expected but loveless marriage.)

The female Shakespeare, Woolf wrote, would never have had the time or the ability to develop her genius – barred from school, told to mind the stew, expected to marry young, and beaten if she didn’t. In Woolf’s telling, Shakespeare’s sister, despite her great gifts, wound up crazy, dead, or shut up in a cottage in the woods and mocked as a witch.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Woolf imagined that, in the future, a woman with genius would be born. Her ability to blossom – and the expectation that her voice, her vision, was worthy – would depend entirely on the world we decided to create. “She would come if we worked for her,” Woolf wrote.

I do not claim to have any particular genius. But sometimes, I dream that I’m sitting in a dusky room at a kitchen table across from another version of me, who sits, unbound by time, quietly drinking a cup of tea. “I wish you’d visit more often,” she tells me. And I wonder if that searing middle-of-the-night pain that, at times, settles like dread around my solar plexus may not only be because there’s so little unbroken time to tell my own untold stories, but because I’m afraid that what may be coiled inside may not be worth paying attention to anyway. Perhaps that’s what I don’t want to face in that dusky room I dream of.

I also wonder: what if we really did do the work to create a world where the sisters of Shakespeare and Mozart, or any woman, really, could thrive? What would happen if we decided women deserved the time to go to their dusky rooms and stay awhile at the kitchen table? What if we all decided to visit more often, drinking a quiet cup of tea with ourselves, listening to the coil of stories as they unspool, knowing they have value simply because they’re true? I’d love to see what happens next.

  • Brigid Schulte is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist for The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine. She is also fellow at the New America Foundation. Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte is published by Bloomsbury in March 2014


Summary of Books on Fikih on Guardianship: Rereading the Right of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Forced Marriage and Child Marriage

Exposers of the Dark Current:

Exploring the Works of Muslim Intellectuals in Realizing Justice for Women

by Nur Hayati Aida


The world we live in now is one in which society still considers one sex as superior to the other. Nearly all arrangements in society are constructed from a male perspective, so it is not surprising that what is produced is a set of rules that tend to be detrimental to women and put them in second place. One factor that reinforces the imbalance in the relations between males and females is (the interpretation of) religion. Whether we realize it or not, interpretation of religion (and its texts) contributes to the perpetuation of practices of injustice toward females.

Yet in the midst of this patriarchal mainstream, certain persons have emerged who chose to fight the tide by building a methodology that reinterprets the misogynistic religious texts that have long been deliberately used to legitimize gender-based discrimination.

In the early 19th century, an intellectual who was also a scholar at al-Azhar named Rifa’at al-Thahthawi published a book that analyzed the gender relations between males and females in Islam. This book, entitled al-Mursyid al-Amin li al-Banât wa al-Banîn, addressed the unequal relations between men and women in Egypt at that time. With his deep understanding of religion, Rifa’at al-Thahthawi traced the elements in the classical treasury of Islam that were more friendly toward women. He also actively campaigned for the importance of education. Education and social interaction are the doors for the advancement of women. Without education, the ideal of progress for women would be a dream that is never realized.

With his intellectual capability, Rifa’at al-Thahthawi also built a methodology for interpreting religious texts using a feminist perspective through three basic principles: al-hurriyah (freedom), al-musâwah (equality), and al-hub (love). If these three foundations are used properly in the reading of every text, the interpretation can never lead to oppression of one sex by the other.

A few years later, Muhammad Abduh became prominent. One of Abduh’s intellectual works that can still be enjoyed today is Tafsir al-Manâr. Although ultimately this commentary was completed by his student, Rasyid Ridha, the basis and direction of al-Manar were constructed by Abduh. al-Manâr is a work that addressed the social problems existing at the time the book was written. According to Abduh, the interpretations prevailing at that time were unable to accommodate the problems experienced in the context of modern society. What Abduh did was an effort to engage the Qur’an in continuous dialogue with the current age.

Abduh fervently opposed polygamy because of its great potential to destroy the family, and also because it violates the sharia which function as the protector of positive benefits. This argument was based on the Qur’an, specifically al-Rum:21.

In the middle of the 19th century, there emerged in Egypt a thinker and activist named Qasim Amin. Qasim Amin wrote a book entitled Tahrîr al-Mar’ah. This book created a great controversy, leading to various responses, both positive and negative. In the book, Qasim Amin wrote about women and their private rights in connection with the family in Egypt. The topics that received the most public attention were polygamy and divorce.

At the same time, Qasim Amin also harshly criticized the fikih scholars who took the position that talak could be imposed without witnesses and even if done as a joke. Qasim Amin placed divorce on the same level as marriage. Like marriage, divorce is an action of sharia that leads to the loss of certain rights and the emergence of other rights, such as sustenance and inheritance. Therefore, divorce also requires witnesses.

As well as in Egypt, an intellectual also emerged in Tunisia who was greatly concerned with humanitarian issues, and especially women, at the end of the 19th century. This was Thahir al-Haddad, who constructed a concept of Islamic ethics using three instruments: al hurriyah (freedom), al-‘adâlah (justice), and al-musâwah (equality). These three instruments were used as the spirit in reading texts in the creation of sharia. Sharia grants freedom to individuals and the public based on a basic human right – the right to live free from domination by any type of person. According to Thahir al-Haddad, Islamic sharia must be a pioneer for change in society to emerge from backwardness toward progress. The greatest challenge faced by the community in the world of Islam is the excessive power of religious institutions in controlling family life.

Through his book Imra’atunâ fî al-Syarî’ah wa al-Mujtama’, Thahir al-Haddad voiced his social critique because Tunisian society placed women behind religious symbols created by the ulama based on religious knowledge as the center of truth.

Although his life ended in exile, Thahir al-Haddad’s concepts and ideas live on. Many years later, his name is used for schools in Tunisia and his photograph is displayed in government offices.


Indonesian Scholar/Thinkers who Spoke out for Justice for Women


Islam arose in a feudal social structure centered on the power of clans (bani), relying on patriarchy and physical force to conquer a harsh physical environment. Islam actively combined with the local culture through the Prophet Muhammad, and responded to the characteristic events and social traditions of the Middle East. The products of law, particularly the fikih, were constructed by the ulama of the early mazhabs based on the context of the region where they lived and studied, mainly in the Middle East. One context worthy of mention relates to the position of those who are weak or are made weak, such as women, children, widows and the poor.

Indonesia is obviously not the same as the Middle East. The two regions are different in terms of culture, geography, land, and social structure. If a nomadic society relies on trade, communities in Indonesia tend to settle in one place and be based on the traditions of an agrarian society. These differences have implications for changes in various religious practices. In the classical works of fikih, for example, istinja’ or cleansing one’s body after defecating is done using a stone. This practice of using stones for personal cleansing may make sense in a sandy desert region, but certainly does not apply to the context of Indonesia with its water-based culture.

These differences, as well as certain social issues specific to Indonesia, have forced Indonesian scholars and thinkers to reconstruct and reanalyze the interpretations of religion and the law of fikih. They have tried to provide a context to the rules of fikih which were taken from the locale where Islam first emerged, and particularly the more sensitive issues that are rarely addressed such as women, children, and minorities.

We can now mention the name of Husein Muhammad, a male ulama who has been most vocal in speaking out for the rights of women. His works and writings record how the (interpretations of) religion that have long been used as justifications to perpetuate discrimination can in fact be used as a means of resistance and a counter narrative to the negative views of women. Kiai Husein, with his mastery of the literature and the academic realm, has traced the classical texts of Islam, and proclaimed the news of ideas about the equality of humans, whatever their sex. Islam, according to Kiai Husein, is a religion that upholds the principle of equality. This is clearly illustrated in the confession of tauhid, belief in the oneness of God, as a confirmation that there is nothing and no one that deserves to be worshipped and elevated in rank by humans other than Allah. And humans, both males and females, have the same position and opportunity to engage in pious works. Men and women also have the same worth in the eyes of God. Those who are more favored before God are those who are pious and devoted, whoever they are, male or female.

As well as Kiai Husein, there are several other figures from the world of the pesantren who, while not specifically known as feminist, speak out on issues of benefit in society which are based on development of the law of fikih. No doubt fresh in our minds are the ideas of social fikih as conveyed by KH. Dr. (HC) Sahal Mahfudz. Social fikih is a form of religious accountability to respond to the needs and problems of society. More than that, social fikih is also a form of concern from Kiai Sahal, as he is known, regarding the assumption that fikih is a kind of transcendent truth. The general public has a mistaken perception that all truth is contained in (the books of) fikih. To produce social fikih, Kiai Sahal uses two methods: qawlîy, using an approach of qawâid fiqhiyah, and manhajîy, the approach of maqâshid al syari’ah, whereby the text and the context are brought together.

Kiai Sahal places great attention on the many cases of child marriage. He is of the opinion that by marrying off a daughter who is still a child, the parents have violated their obligation as parents to provide a decent livelihood and education for their child.

In the realm of the Religious Courts, Dr. Andi Syamsu Alam can be considered a pioneer in institutional management. He is very active in building effective working methods and a modern judicial system, and also encourages judges to pursue further judicial education.

Dr. Andi’s concepts in verdicts on family law, which should serve as a reference for religious court judges, include rejecting dispensations for a lower age of marriage, and granting inheritance rights to adopted children. Unfortunately, the first of these concepts is often not used as material in the consideration of verdicts. According to Dr. Andi, this is because judges’ thinking is stagnated, in that judges still interpret the Marriage Law as accommodating child marriage. In fact, the Marriage Law, despite its many loopholes that need to be criticized, was in fact an initiative by certain progressive figures and ulama to raise the age of marriage and to protect women and children from discriminatory practices. The minimum age for marriage for females, which was set at 16 years when the Marriage Law was enacted in 1974, was the result of fierce negotiation with conservative groups.

Two figures who were involved in the preparation and formulation of the Marriage Law are Prof. Dr. Hazairin Harahap and Teungku HM. Hasbi Ash-Shiddiqiy. Teungku Hasbi is one of several persons who have offered the idea of Indonesian fikih. According to Teungku Hasbi, the ‘urf (local wisdom) of Indonesia should be used as the basis for creating a special fikih characteristic of Indonesia, considering the differences in culture, habits and social structure between Indonesia and Middle East, the region where Islam was first sent down and which was used as the basis for creating the laws of fikih. This idea has received many responses from various groups and individuals, some of whom say there is no need for an Indonesia fikih.

Teungku Hasbi’s interpretations include a prohibition on polygamy, because the requirements for allowing polygamy cannot possibly be fulfilled. Furthermore, the narrative constructed by verse 3 of al-Nisa’ is a prohibition, not a recommendation. Polygamy, according to Teungku Hasbi, is only allowed in emergency circumstances, and emergency doors must normally be kept shut.

Meanwhile, Prof. Dr. Hazairin Harahap was Indonesia’s first doctor in traditional law following independence. He served as Minister of the Interior in the cabinets of Ali Sastroamidjojo and Wongsonegoro. After retiring from the world of politics, he entered the world of education as a professor at the University of Indonesia.

Like Teungku Hasbi, Hazairin also strove for the concept of an Indonesian fikih by reconstructing ‘urf and istihsân in ushul fikih. He severely criticized the practice of marriage in childhood which bases its permissibility on the concept of biological maturity (baligh). Biological maturity cannot be used as a justification for marriage in childhood. A person must have achieved the level of baligh rusyd (maturity in thought and action) as a requirement for permissibility of marriage. In addition, his ideas relating to receptio a contrario also contributed to the creation of the Marriage Law.

The figures mentioned above are just a few of those who have chosen the lonely path toward realizing justice. They have chosen the path less taken: intellectual work, a kind of work that requires great discipline in exploring both text and context, as these two aspects are interrelated and constantly pulling on one another. A text does not appear in a vacuum; context cannot stand firm without the support of text. And it is these lonely works that can expose the dark current of patriarchalism that has for so long prevented thinking and acting to achieve justice for women. []


Qiwamah and Wilayah Column:

[Over the next several months, this Qiwamah and Wilayah Column will appear in the Rumah Kita Bersama website. As well as reporting on the Roadshow for outreach on the book conducted in several cities, this column will try to reach a broader range of readers. Therefore, this column is presented in both Indonesian and English. This column is published four times, in cooperation with the Oslo Coalition]


Jakarta, 25 June 2019

Unchaining Fiqh from the Manacle of Asymmetric Relations in Gender’s Construction

JAKARTA. On Tuesday, 25 June 2019, Rumah Kita Bersama launched the book Fikih on Guardianship: Re-Reading the Rights of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Forced Marriage and Child Marriage. This book is the outcome of a study on classical and modern texts on the concepts of wilayah and qiwamah together with various religious figures, sociologists, anthropologists, legal experts, and activists conducted over several months.

This event took place in the hall of Griya Gus Dur at the Wahid Foundation, Menteng, Central Jakarta. The event was attended by sixty participants from various institutions: NGO activists, representatives of the government such as from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Supreme Court, Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Ministry for Women’s Empowerment, Commission for Prevention of Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), Commission for Protection of Children (Komnas Perlindungan Anak), university lecturers and students, and the media. Also in attendance were three representatives of the Oslo Coalition, Norwegian Centre for Human Rights: Dr. Lena Larsen (the Director of the Oslo Coalition, one out of six thematic areas at the Norwegian Center Department), Prof. Dr. Nelly Van Doorn, and Kathrine Raadim (the Director of International Department at Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo).

To discuss the book, Rumah Kita Bersama invited four resource persons: Dr (CH) KH. Husein Muhammad (head of Pesantren Dar at-Tauhid, Cirebon and former commissioner of Komnas Perempuan), Nursyahbani Katjasungkana SH (women’s activist from LBH Apik Jakarta), Drs. Mohammad Noor SH, MH, (Judicial Judge of the Legal Bureau and concurrently Public Relations officer of the Indonesian Supreme Court), and Ulil Abshar Abdalla MA (young intellectual from Nahdlatul Ulama). The event was led by Lies Marcoes-Natsir MA from Rumah Kita Bersama.

In her introduction, Lies Marcoes noted that normatively, Islam places the values of equality of men and women as a principal value, but in terms of fikih law – where the law regarding social relationships within the family is constructed – the relations between males and females are placed asymmetrically.  In the concepts of fikih, the relations between these two genders are linked in ways that are slanted or imbalanced. Nevertheless, this asymmetrical construct is (often) considered to be certain, fixed, and immutable, or qath’i. In reality, these asymmetrical relations are not always accepted, even by the fuqaha themselves. This can be seen from their interpretations, which very obviously seek to achieve a fairer balance in the relationship. In the book, many figures are presented, including some from the Middle East such as Rif’at Thohtowi, Qasim Amin and Muhammad Abduh. From within Indonesia, the book presents the ideas of Kiai Salah Mahfud with his social fikih, as well as breakthroughs by religious court judges in the Supreme court as exemplified by figures such as Prof. Hasybi Asydidiqie, Prof. Hazairin, and Andi Syamsu Alam SH. They offer new ideas, in terms of both methodology and interpretation, on family law and on how these methods can be applied in court hearings.

Many people assume that Islamic law is whatever is set out in the fikih. In fact, according to Ulil Abshar Abdalla, Islamic law is not just what is stated in the (books of) fikih, though fikih is one part of the big picture.

Meanwhile, Nursyahbani Katjasungkana stated that the concept of guardianship in Islamic law differs from the concept of guardianship in both the Civil Code and the Marriage Law. In both those laws, women are allowed to serve as guardians; something that is very different from the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah found in the book. Nursyahbani also noted that this asymmetry occurs not only in fikih, but also in the Laws on Islamic family law, such as in the Marriage Law, which states that the man is the head of the household and the woman is a housewife. This indicates that the Marriage Law does not refer to international law or conventions such as CEDAW.

Another problem, as noted by Kiai Husein Muhammad, is that to date men have been at the center of the lawmakers, and they enjoy luxury in many aspects, including in the issues of wilayah and qiwamah. This process of granting luxury to men, according to Kiai Husein Muhammad, is not solely a form of delegation of rights based on gender due to descent or to relations that arise from the occurrence of a legal event, such as marriage, but is instead related mainly to the man’s responsibility and obligation to protect the rights of the children or the wife. In other words, this is a gender construct relating to the obligations and responsibilities of men, and not simply about rights.

Unfortunately, this kind of reading that emphasizes the aspect of obligations, rather than rights, is not very popular in the community. The fikih that we currently use, Kiai Husein Muhammad explained, is a product of medieval Arabic culture, which granted greater leeway to men based on their situation and condition. Methodologically, there are certain principles that should be upheld throughout the ages: the humanitarian ideals of Islam, the ideals that place males and females on an equal standing as humans. Since the death of the Prophet Muhammad, nearly all religious teachings are interpretations. And interpretations are closely linked to time and space, so the interpretations of religious texts, even (interpretations) of the hadith of the Prophet, are products of culture, while in fact they (should) constantly refer to the ideals of Islam.

To achieve a reading of religious texts that is fair to both women and men, a new methodology is needed – a method that is willing to read the changing reality in society. Women nowadays are better educated and more self-reliant. Consequently, a method for reading texts is needed that is friendlier and more sensitive toward women. In this way, the texts will be able to read the special needs of women, which have to date been covered up by the misogynistic power of the texts.

Such efforts are often accused of being a Western agenda that promotes immorality. Lena Larsen said that this egalitarian approach that is undertaken in rereading the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah does not promote immorality. Rather, these efforts are simply to protect the family, especially children and wives, who are vulnerable to unjust treatment.

The efforts to perform reconstruction or deconstruction of texts are not easy. Over many centuries, the existing theological ideas and interpretations have become sacralized. Thus, a significant investment of time and thinking is needed in this regard. But this does not mean it is impossible.

One of the initiatives that has been undertaken by Rumah Kita Bersama is the publication of the book Fikih on Guardianship: Re-reading the Rights of Guardianship for Protection of Women from Forced Marriage and Child Marriage. Muhammad Noor says that this book produced by Rumah Kita Bersama is important. In his opinion, this book can be used as a reference by judges and those who provide direct support to the community in handling cases of family law, especially child marriage and forced marriage. (Aida, Lies)

My mother died because my father killed her. Full stop.

I watched as my father hammered multiple bullets into my mother’s flesh. In that moment, the world I knew completely vanished from existence.


Nour Naas

My mother was planning on leaving my father, and he knew it. Three days after my high school graduation in 2013, I watched as my father hammered multiple bullets into my mother’s flesh. In that moment, the world I knew completely vanished from existence.

Within minutes of her murder, the police arrived on scene. Upon demanding that my father surrender his gun, he aimed it at the responding officer and was fatally shot.

My mother lost her life to domestic violence homicide in 2013. As a Muslim immigrant, my mother’s strongest roots were with the Muslim community; for that precise reason, I expected the most support to come from community members and leaders. I quickly learned, however, that the culture even in this most intimate setting was no different than the culture outside of it.

In the wake of her death, I was told by my mother’s friends that she should have listened to my father, that she should have been more compassionate with him, that she should have left, that she should have been more patient.

In the wake of her death, I was told by my mother’s friends that she should have listened to my father, that she should have been more compassionate with him, that she should have left, that she should have been more patient.

What continues to outrage me is the fact that my mother continues to be held accountable for her own murder. Friends of my parents would pin the responsibility on her, while demanding me to be silent about my father’s actions. This pattern made it clear to me that their refusal to acknowledge my father’s crimes has nothing to do with respect, as many of them claim. If it was about respect at all, my mother would have been afforded the same.

But my mother did not die because she did not listen to my father. She did not die because she did not dress the way my father wanted her to. She did not die because she chose not to go to a shelter. She did not die because she did not give my father enough attention. She did not die because she filed a police report against my father once. She did not die because she returned to my father the first time she left him. She did not die because she was not patient enough. She did not die because she talked back. She did not die because she chose to resist in whatever ways she knew how.

My mother died because my father killed her.


Nour Naas.

My mother, Nadia, was a remarkable woman. She was well known in the community for her cooking, a skill she inherited from her own mother. Her cooking and gardening were the two constants in her life. At the height of her suffering, she continued to carve out time to care for and to nurture the lives of those around her. Even as my father pressured her into isolation, even in the face of all that she had lost, her capacity to give made me marvel.

Growing up in an abusive household made me restless. The first time my father hit my mother was in February 2009. The days following the incident, my father began making more and more peculiar demands of us. The most vivid included meeting him promptly at the front door once he got home from work each night. He expected not to have to knock or use his own key. He wanted the world to revolve around him. Mine certainly did. For weeks, the closer it got to 6pm, the more my fear swelled. I would sit by the door, heart pounding, and stare out the window to await his arrival. When I opened up the door for him each night, like clockwork, I would greet him with a smile and hug him.

The more time that passed, and the more abuse I was exposed to, the easier it became to testify – even if only to myself – that I no longer loved my father. I wondered what had happened to him. I would daydream about preparing the suitcase nestled in the corner of the room that my mother and I shared, and leaving with her and my brothers in the middle of the night.

The abuse carried on for years, until the week that I finally graduated from high school. My mother was planning on leaving my father, and he knew it. Three days after graduation, I watched as my father hammered multiple bullets into my mother’s flesh. In that moment, the world I knew completely vanished from existence.

It was so difficult to watch my mother suffer. Even though the abuse affected us all, my mother bore the brunt of it. I watched as she and the rest of us became more and more isolated from the community. The community iftars during Ramadan we had regularly attended growing up, we began to avoid. My father would gossip about my mother to people within the Muslim community – and when my father talked, people listened.

The abuse carried on for years, until the week that I finally graduated from high school.

When the coroner released her body four days later, we had the Islamic janazah funeral for both my parents. During the khutbah, the imam stated to the entire congregation that, had my mother listened to my father, this would not have happened. I spent most of my time holding back tears, stifling my anger, my rage, running away from the guilt I carried from being there that afternoon but being unable to stop what was happening.

I didn’t know how to encounter grief. My community didn’t seem to know how to, either. For a long time, whatever way I chose to express my emotions was discouraged. The day my mother died, I sat crying on the couch of an aunt’s home and was told to be strong, that my mother wouldn’t want to see me crying. I was told that the more I cry, the more my parents will suffer in the hellfire. When I expressed anger at what my father did, I was told I needed to forgive him.

I was told that the more I cry, the more my parents will suffer in the hellfire. When I expressed anger at what my father did, I was told I needed to forgive him.

My father was given an esteem that was not extended to my mother. She was often blamed for my father’s decisions. And because so many people minimised what happened, because so many people around me discouraged my right to be human, to feel pain, nothing felt normal to me anymore. I became desperate for a sort of blueprint. I spent so many hours googling, searching for my people, for kids like me, brown kids, first-generation kids, Muslim kids, who lost their mother to domestic violence. How were they handling it? Did they cry, too? Did they also lie in bed and whisper to their mothers in the quiet of the night? Did they also look for someone like themselves? Someone like me? I was desperate to know, simply, that I was not alone.

I found no one.

I was thrown into a depression that presented me with severe mood swings. I lost myself in my own body. The days of me swallowing my rage and heartache turned into years. I spent the six months following her death in shock, mostly. I was in so much shock, in fact, that I could hardly feel anything at all. But once my numbness subsided, I was thrown into a violent awakening. I spent most of my days not eating, or drinking. My hair fell out in clumps. I ended up getting fired from a job that I had somehow managed to hold down for one year, then dropped out of college and left the country in hopes of distracting myself enough to forget my own trauma.

It took me almost a year to come back to Vallejo in San Francisco’s Bay area. It was my home city and I had grown to detest it because it was where I had lost so much. It was the city that uprooted me. But when I returned last spring, the city felt better, softer. I came back to make it in time for a domestic violence training in Oakland, which was a life-changing experience. I am currently taking separate domestic violence training with the San Francisco Asian Women’s Shelter.

The days of me swallowing my rage and heartache turned into years. I spent the six months following her death in shock, mostly. I was in so much shock, in fact, that I could hardly feel anything at all

The same year my mother died at least 1,615 other women in the United States did as well. Now, almost five years since my mother was killed, I am realising how the work I do around eradicating patriarchal violence has become like a sort of shield for me. It is a way to divert from the reality of my mother’s homicide. It is the only space, truthfully, that I have so far been able to talk about her death and the grief I inherited in a way that I deem as empowering to others, and myself.

The perfect victim has not, does not, and will never exist. Women are asked to be silent. We are expected to be obedient. We are scolded for being defiant, or for not being defiant at all.

Women, particularly those who speak out about their abuse, are oftentimes subjected to scrutiny and skepticism. They will inevitably be asked at some point or another, “Why didn’t you just leave?” Friends will, more often than not, proclaim how they would have left the second a hand was laid on them. The authenticity of a victim’s claims will be inspected – and routinely rejected – based on a litany of criteria such as her attire, how late she was out, or what kind of a wife or mother she was.

During the khutbah, the Imam stated to the entire congregation that, had my mother listened to my father, this would not have happened.

This standardisation of victimhood does a couple of things. For one, it pressures victims of patriarchal violence to remain silent about their suffering because it has been proven, time and again, that they will not be believed. Secondly, it continues to strengthen a society in which violence against women is condoned and encouraged because victims of violence will never be deemed as such to begin with; rather, the violence against them will be justified in both overt and insidious ways.

This cultural phenomenon, known as victim-blaming, is a tool that is used to perpetuate patriarchy and patriarchal violence against women. And women, especially those at the margins of society, will be held accountable for the actions of their abusers. So while the victim is subjected to unrelenting criticisms and demanded to examine her own part in the abuse, the perpetrator is granted reprieve from accountability.

Women who resist patriarchal violence – even if their resistance is in accordance with the law – are penalised simply for surviving. And for women who, like my mother, lose their lives to violence, they continue to be liable for the actions of their perpetrators even when they are the victims.

I am still enraged by the things that were said to me five years ago. I am still enraged because it is not just about me, but about the millions of other women in communities everywhere who will have to face the same things that I did, who will have to go through the hell that my mother went through.

I am enraged on behalf of women everywhere who will be bold enough to demand space for themselves and their experiences, but who will not be believed. The women who will never be good enough or perfect enough for anyone’s sympathy.

I am enraged on behalf of women everywhere who will be bold enough to demand space for themselves and their experiences, but who will not be believed. The women who will never be good enough or perfect enough for anyone’s sympathy. The women who will look to their family and friends for support, but who will only be met with blame. I am enraged on behalf of my mother and of every single woman out there who, like here, did not make it out, and to those who will not; to those who continue, even in death, to be held accountable for their own murders.

Let us honour those who had no other choice. Let us honour those at the margins of society who are deemed as unworthy victims. Let us honour those who will have blame associated with them to their graves. Let us honour, and let us remember.

It is time to address the root of patriarchal and gender-based violence, sanctioned by our communities, law enforcement, and government. Unanimous denial of patriarchal indoctrination and the devastating impact it leaves on the lives of women will save no one. There are women who will suffer in the future because we choose to collude with and support violence in direct and indirect ways.

Nour Naas is a American-Libyan writer and domestic violence advocate. You can follow her on her website at

Family violence and mental health services:


Gender-based Violence and Gender Knowledge: How Evidence-informed Policy Can Improve Justice for Women

By Mirisa Hasfaria

Violence against women is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development.”

(Speech by the Acting Head of UN Women, Lakshmi Puri, on Ending Violence against Women and Children, at the ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly on 18 June 2013 in Brussels)


Gender-based violence[1] is violence against women that occurs due to women’s subordinate social status. It includes any act or threat by men or male-dominated institutions that inflicts physical, sexual or psychological harm on a woman or girl because of her gender. In most cultures, traditional beliefs, norms and social institutions legitimize and therefore perpetuate violence against women.[2] Violence against women impacts on and impedes progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security.

The Codification of Women’ Rights

For a long time, international human rights law did not recognize gender-based violence as a problem. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, but the international bill of rights for women, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), was not adopted until 31 years later. In the 1980s, violence against women was still considered a private, domestic matter not requiring state intervention, so it was unsurprising that CEDAW contained no provision on violence against women. The gap was closed in 1992 when the CEDAW Committee adopted General Recommendation No. 19 (CEDAW GR 19) on violence against women, which clarified that gender-based violence against women was a form of discrimination and therefore covered by the scope of CEDAW.

The women’s movement made another remarkable achievement during the Second World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna on 14 to 25 June 1993, which culminated in the concept of violence against women and girls as a violation of human rights (see Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action). The two events led to the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW)[3] in 1993. Both CEDAW GR 19 and DEVAW explicitly encompassed violence perpetrated by either state officials or private persons such as family members, acquaintances or employers. Furthermore, they closed an important gap under international human rights law that originally excluded the private sphere from the human rights agenda, the sphere in which many women’s rights violations occur. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted in 1995 and further expanded the definition of DEVAW to include violations of the rights of women in situations of: armed conflict; forced sterilization, forced abortion, coerced or forced use of contraceptives; prenatal sex selection; and female infanticide. The inclusion of gender equality as Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development made ending violence against women and girls a part of the global development agenda.

The State of Gender-Based Violence in Indonesia

The Government of Indonesia ratified CEDAW through Law No. 7 1984. The National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) was established in 1998 as a mechanism for the protection and promotion of women’s human rights and was recognized by the CEDAW Committee[4]. Concerns about gender-based violence in the private sphere were addressed in the Law on the Elimination of Domestic Violence in 2004. As part of its reporting tasks, Komnas Perempuan produces an annual report (commonly referred to as Catatan Tahunan or CATAHU) every March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day. The report is a compilation of data on cases of violence against women handled by civil society and state agencies around the country, including women’s crisis centers, hospitals, police stations and courts. CATAHU 2016 reported 321,752 cases of violence against women. Over the years of national data compilation, domestic violence[5] is consistently the most-frequently occurring form of violence against women. This evidence highlights the urgent need for action as well as legislation if it is to achieve any real effect.

Child marriage is another form of violence that remains prevalent in Indonesia. Indonesia is among the ten countries with the highest absolute numbers of child brides – 14 percent of women aged between 20 and 24 years are married before they were 18 years old. In figures, this equates to 1,408,000 child brides annually.[6] Child marriage is a harmful practice and a fundamental violation of human rights. It limits girls’ opportunities for education and development and exposes them to greater risk of domestic violence and social isolation. Research confirms that girls who marry in childhood are at greater risk of intimate partner violence than girls of the same age who marry later.[7]

Nevertheless, Indonesia has made some progress towards reducing gender inequality. It was ranked 88 out of 144 in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report.[8] The report examined four areas of inequality between women and men, namely economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.


The Availability of Data


Levels of violence against women are not the same in all places and at all times. By identifying the social, cultural, legal and economic factors that influence such violence, it is possible to predict its occurrence and to understand how to prevent it. Equally important are relevant, reliable and timely gender statistics to understand the differences between women and men in a given society. Such information is critical to policy and decision makers and to advancing progress towards gender equality.

However, the use of disaggregated gender and social inclusion data and analyses is not commonplace in Indonesia. This is due to the fact that the prevailing development ideology in Indonesia is economic growth, in which equity is enforced as a form of security control, not in the context of the fulfillments of equal rights among citizens. Researchers, policy analysts and policy makers therefore tend to focus on economic issues rather than those which impact on equality and inclusion. This further limits the type of knowledge available to other policy stakeholders (such as civil society organizations and various media outlets) who rely on robust knowledge to lobby for change and to inform the broader community.


Proposed Actions


Three things are required to ensure that gender equality and gender-based violence are addressed when designing and implementing policies. First, the availability of gender, and gender-based violence knowledge should be improved. It can be in the form of research results, quantitative and qualitative data (including sex-disaggregated data), analysis and reflection of research/studies related to gender inequality, gender-based violence, development of gender mainstreaming and other relevant policies.


Secondly, the effectiveness of gender knowledge for policy making also requires intermediaries to carry out intensive communication and advocacy. Activists, NGOs, gender focal points at government institutions, and centers for women’s studies at universities can manage data in a way that can provide practical recommendations.


And finally, for gender equality to be improved and gender-based violence to be reduced, these ideas need to be embedded in the ethical principles of legislation and justice. This is unlikely to be fulfilled unless there is equal participation of women and men in politics, and these politicians have a deep understanding of the importance of gender knowledge. The World’s Women 2015: Trends and Statistics cited a study conducted between 2006 and 2008 among parliamentarians from 110 countries and reported that women in parliament were more likely than men to prioritize gender and social issues such as childcare, equal pay, parental leave, pensions, reproductive rights, and protection against gender-based violence. Thus, equal participation of women and men in politics is central to more inclusive and democratic governance. [Mirisa Hasfaria]



[1] The term, along with violence against women, is often used interchangeably, as most violence against women is gender-based, and most gender-based violence is inflicted by men on women and girls.

[2] Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (2003), Handout of What is Gender-based Violence, accessible through

[3] DEVAW is currently the main international document addressing the problem of gender-based violence. Each year, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women–which is on 25 November–marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, calling for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls, and promoting the rights and principles of the declaration.

[4] Article 18 of CEDAW required national reports to the CEDAW Committee, stating that: “1. State parties undertake to submit to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, for consideration by the Committee, a report on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures which they have adopted to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention and on the progress made in this respect: (a) within one year after the entry into force for the State concerned; (b) thereafter at least every four years and further whenever the Committee so requests. 2. Reports may indicate factors and difficulties affecting the degree of fulfillment of obligations under the present Convention.” The existence of Komnas Perempuan is in accordance with Article 2c of the Convention.

[5] Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, dating abuse, and intimate partner violence (IPV), is a pattern of behavior which involves the abuse by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, cohabitation, dating or within the family. Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects, battery), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation (TEARS Foundation, accessible through:

[6] UNICEF, The State of the World’s Children 2016: A Fair Chance for Every Child, accessible through:

[7] Gene B. Sperling, Rebecca Winthrop and Christina Kwauk (2016), What Works in Girls’ Education: Evidence for the World’ Best Investment, accessible through:

[8] Compare this to the previous rankings: 97 out of 142 in 2014 and 92 out of 145 in 2015.


Mirisa is a social scientist with 11 years working experience in evidence informed policy making, good governance, political education and conflict resolution; 3 years of which in post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction. Area of expertise includes management and support to policy research and communication, knowledge production and publication, policy research and analysis, human development and gender equality, good governance and advocacy, international relations/political science with a focus on human rights as it relates to gender, poverty alleviation and conflict resolution.


New Moroccan law fails to protect women from forced marriage: activists

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A new law criminalizing violence against women that came into effect in Morocco on Wednesday does not fully protect women against forced marriage or domestic violence, activists said.

Campaigners broadly welcomed the new law, which criminalizes “harassment, aggression, sexual exploitation or ill treatment of women” in Morocco.

But they criticized loopholes that would allow girls under 18 to marry and said a failure to define forced marriage would make it difficult to enforce a ban.

“How are women supposed to be protected when there is no definition of what is forced marriage?” said Stephanie Willman Bordat, co-founder of rights group Mobilising for Rights Associates.

“For some women, choice doesn’t exist. When you have family pressure, social stigma on single women, poor economics … all of these things – so what does forced look like?” Bordat told the Thomson Reuters foundation by phone from the capital, Rabat.

Nearly two-thirds of women in Morocco have experienced physical, psychological, sexual or economic abuse, according to a national survey.

A video of a young woman being sexually assaulted by a gang of teenage boys on a bus in Casablanca last year sparked outrage in the country.

According to the advocacy group Girls Not Brides, 16 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 in Morocco, where they are allowed to wed with judicial consent.

“More must be done to ensure girls are protected from the harmful consequences of child marriage,” said Matilda Branson, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at Girls Not Brides.

“The law also places the onus on girls to report their own marriages, who may face reprisals from their husband and family as a result,” she said in an emailed statement.

In 2014 Morocco overhauled a law that let rapists escape punishment if they married their victims. The change followed the suicide of a 16-year-old girl forced to marry her rapist.

Activists said Tunisia, which passed its own law protecting women against violence last year, had set a strong example. Unlike Morocco, Tunisia explicitly outlaws marital rape.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Middle East expert with the global advocacy group Equality Now, welcomed the law as a “positive step” to protect women, but said implementation was key.

“We want to see the implementation of this law – forced and child marriages are very much happening in Morocco.”

Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit


Women in Religious Court

Women’s access to justice requires a broad horizon of knowledge which understands the reasons why women sue for divorce. Many people have asked, including the Minister of Religious Affairs, Lukman Syaifuddin, when we went to report the results of research by Rumah KitaB on child marriage last April: Why is the number of women who file for divorce so high?

This is the story of Nurani (not her real name). We met her by chance in the hearing room of the Religious Court (Mahkmah Syariyah) in Lhoksukun, North Aceh, in April 2014. It was 10 in the morning, and the waiting room at the Lhoksukun Religious Court was already packed. Four long rows with five seats each were already filled. Extra seats had been provided, but they were all filled as well.

Most of those waiting were women, nearly all of whom were still young. There were only three men: two were there for an inheritance case, and the other was an elderly man who was being sued for divorce by his wife, also quite elderly. The rest were women who were suing for divorce.

In fact, nearly all the people sitting in the waiting room were women in pursuit of a divorce. One woman, escorted by her daughter who was also an adult, was there for a divorce hearing. According to the daughter, her mother could no longer bear to face her father, who had severe anger issues and often physically beat her mother.

Squeezed in among the many people waiting for their hearings was Nurani. She is from the Mantang Baru village in Lapang Lhokseumawe district. Nurani had just turned 17 years old. She was eight months pregnant at the time.

Nurani was suing her husband for divorce because he did not fulfill his responsibilities. She is the first daughter, the second of three siblings. Her parents are farmers and fishers. She had come to court with her mother. Though he was not at sea at the time, Nur’s father did not accompany his daughter since he felt socially awkward. Nur’s older brother is married and lives with his wife in another town, while her sister Nurlela, 13 years old, had only graduated from elementary school and was working as a nanny in Malaysia.

Nurani had completed her education up until the second year of junior high school, but as she went into her third year, she fell seriously ill. Every night she threw a tantrum and ran a fever. Many believed she was sick due to a curse. Nurani is quite beautiful; many were attracted to her, and she told us she had had to refuse men who wanted to go out with her more than a few times.

Eventually she was cured by a local shaman. This shaman forced Nurani into marrying him. He claimed that if she did not, she would stay ill due to her curse. Not long after her treatment process, they were married with the promise that he would pay jeulame for their household furnishings plus a dowry of 10 mayam (1 mayam = 3.3 grams) of gold, of which only 3 mayam had been paid.

> On the second day after the marriage, Nurani was brought to the home of her in-laws. She felt as if she was being treated as a house-maid. For two months, Nurani lived at her in-laws’ house. Entering the Haj season, she had an excuse to go home for meugang, to celebrate Idul Adha. Before she went, Nur tried to collect the dowry she was owed by her husband, as well as the jeulame. Not only was she not paid, she was sent away with curses from her husband and her in-laws, two months pregnant.

After she had been at home for a few days, the village chief (known in Aceh as geucik) came with a message from her husband that he had divorced her. Nurani continued to demand her jeulame and the rest of her dowry. She went back to her in-laws’ house to make her demands, but instead, her ex-husband slapped her. And there was another woman at the house: his new wife.

And so, eight months pregnant, Nurani went to court along with her mother. She demanded an official divorce so that her marital status would be clear. If home is truly heaven for women, it does not make sense to others if they sue for divorce. This phenomenon of an increasing number of women in the religious courts is a clear indication of how many men are not fulfilling their responsibilities as husbands.

Child marriage: Written in the verses?

Published in The Jakarta Post, Paper Edition 27 May 2016.

In many studies on child marriage in Indonesia, economic motivation is said to be the major driver behind this practice. This premise is not completely misleading. However, I once met a teenager who wanted to get married because she felt sinful after hanging out alone with a boy who was not her muhrim or closest family.

In another case, a girl “insisted” that her male friend marry her after they exchanged several text messages. Deep in her heart, she liked this boy, but she feared exchanging text messages could lead her toward “unwanted feelings and behavior”. Getting married therefore became the only solution for her to express her affection toward the opposite sex.

After the lovebirds got married, she and her “husband” promised to refrain from having sexual intercourse until they both graduated. They still live separately in different boarding houses and only meet for dinner. Her “husband” is not yet able to support her, as his own daily needs are still covered by his scholarship. But she said proudly, “this is what I call ‘dating after marriage’.”

Cases such as those aforementioned, involving 17 to 20-year-olds in my encounters, do not occur only in small villages or remote areas. Such cases also occur in urban areas, at universities and in educated, middle-income Muslim society.

To these people, the body, particularly women’s bodies and sexuality, are alarming. Women’s sexuality leads to worries about the many horrible things that could possibly happen. Women are not allowed to express their sexuality in any way outside the institution of marriage. They have tried to limit their contact with the opposite sex by covering their heads and avoiding any skin contact. But even using hijab is not enough. They need more assurance.

People learn these viewpoints and believe them as truths taken from various sources, including religious texts and references. These views often apply a purely textual approach in interpreting the texts and neglect the context in which they arose. This approach constricts their imagination about social interaction; anything related to male-female relationships is forbidden, except as legally avowed through marriage.

Furthermore, within circles holding such beliefs, marriage is used as a means to legitimate subordination of women, and even their repression. Women are not allowed access to contraceptives because, in their view, family planning is not in line with sharia. Furthermore, their religious beliefs also call on them to multiply the Prophet Muhammad’s followers by giving birth to as many children as possible.

Their desire to fulfill God’s command is commendable, but the gender division of labor and women’s continuous reproductive work are the consequences of this imbalance in gender relations.

For girls, public space excludes them and is male-dominated. For example, when a girl gets pregnant and gives birth, if she is still at school or university, she will automatically take maternity leave for at least one semester, or simply drop out. She will gradually stop being involved in student organizations and will not be allowed to socialize, except perhaps for running household errands. The husband, on the other hand, continues at school or in his job, and all the domestic work is handled by his wife.

The cases above indicate that textualist religious viewpoints are very powerful in legitimating child marriage. Typically, children do not have a voice in decision-making. However in a few cases the girls insist on an early marriage by persuading their parents using religious texts and references.

Follow-up studies are needed to further explore the religious views and interpretations used to encourage child marriage. Our research outfit, Rumah Kita Bersama ( Our Collective House ), has initiated this effort by publishing a guide to religious texts on child marriage, Fikih Kawin Anak. However, further support is still needed from a more progressive Islamic perspective to counter prevailing arguments.

Surely every marriage is supposed to bring about virtue and harmony. However, when a marriage is not supported by equal rights between husband and wife, marriage always becomes an arena of subordination which pushes women into the domestic space, with increasingly unbalanced gender and power relations.

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.