Parenting in a pandemic: will Covid-19 boost equality in parenting?

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced adjustments in every facet of life, including family life. Parents of children aged under five years have been challenged to adapt their households to rapidly changing conditions at work, at school and in public life. The result has often been a more intensive relationship between parents and their young children, with implications for early childhood education, as well as parents’ division of labour, employment status and mental health.


Under the age of five, children rapidly develop foundational knowledge and skills. Interaction with caregivers at this stage of life is a crucial building block for early childhood education.


SurveyMETER conducted a phone survey, supported by the Knowledge Sector Initiative, to investigate the state of parenting under-fives during the pandemic. We wanted to see how the impacts of the pandemic – including school closures, directives to work from home, and job losses – affected parents and children at this critical stage of life.


We received responses from 1,302 households with young children in a subdistrict of Nganjuk district, East Java – providing a limited but insightful sample for early analysis of pandemic conditions in the home.


The results showed both positive and negative impacts of the pandemic on parental interactions with young children, household economic conditions, the mental health of caregivers, and opportunities for learning at home. The survey also provides lessons for policy on early childhood education and support for new parents.


Parental interaction with under-fives increased by 38% during the pandemic, but work was not shared equally between mothers and fathers. Mothers remained the dominant parent, with 52.1% reporting similar levels of interaction to before the pandemic, and 44.4% reporting spending more time interacting with their children. Meanwhile, 44.4% of fathers reported no change to their pre-pandemic parenting, and 38.5% reported spending more time caring for children.


Care and attention from both parents is important for cognitive and emotional development for under-fives, and mothers and fathers can contribute equally. The idea that educating and caring for children is solely a mother’s responsibility is of course false but remains common in Indonesia, due to cultural and religious influences.


A draft bill on “family resilience” slated to be discussed in the House of Representatives (DPR) this year threatens to enshrine such outdated domestic roles in law, stipulating that mothers, and not fathers, are responsible for the care of children. This approach is not supported by research on childhood development, and many aspects of the bill continue to be widely criticised by academics, activists and the broader public.


Mothers often develop a close relationship with their children through pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, leading to their subsequent role as the dominant caregiver. To encourage a more equal division of caregiving labour, fathers should be urged to accompany their partners to appointments at community health centres (puskesmas) and with midwives through pregnancy and delivery. They should also play a supportive role during breastfeeding.


Health extension workers, who provide basic health services and facilitate connections between health services and communities, can also play a role by equally providing mothers and fathers with information about parenting before birth. This can help fathers foster an earlier attachment with their children, and support children’s holistic development.


Unfortunately, the increased time spent with young children in some households was associated with a reduction in income. Income decreased for 70.9% of households during the pandemic, usually because of job loss. As many as 35% of breadwinner parents stopped work at some point during the pandemic, with 19.4% yet to return to work at the time of the survey.


Time spent with children increased sharply in cases where the breadwinner had stopped working and had not yet returned to work: 44.6% for mothers and 38.5% for fathers. In households where the breadwinner continued working throughout, there was still an increase of 30.8% of interaction by fathers, possibly because of directives to work from home, or fathers spending more time at home overall because of restrictions on public activities.


Increased domestic and economic stress also took a toll on parents’ mental health. Generalised anxiety disorder was found to have affected 24.1% of parents during the pandemic, with the highest level found among parents of 6 to 24-month-olds. An overwhelming 95% of those affected were mothers, with the highest rates reported by mothers who were spending more time on childcare. Households where the breadwinner had stopped working and income had decreased were also among the worst affected.


Stress on parents not only affects their own mental health, but can contribute to behavioural and developmental problems for their children. The disproportionate stress borne by mothers during the pandemic suggests that domestic and caregiving duties need to be more equally shared by mothers and fathers, to support the health of the family as a whole.


Early childhood education also took a hit during the pandemic, with formal education becoming unavailable, and children having unequal access to learning resources at home. Our survey asked parents about the range of learning materials they provided to children at home, from story books and colouring books to puzzles, building blocks, and technology-based tools like public television, YouTube and social media.


Concerningly, YouTube was noted as the dominant source of educational material, used by 60.2% of parents, followed by public television at 29.8% and social media at 25.4%. Internet-based tools were used more by households where income had increased or stayed the same during the pandemic than those where income had decreased.


Colouring books were available in 40.1% of households, and puzzles and blocks in 24.4% of households. Colouring books were provided more to girls and puzzles and blocks to boys, suggesting that many parents have deeply gendered understandings of learning and play.


Drawing and colouring introduce children to colours, and enable them to express themselves, improve their motor skills, and develop patience and creativity. Puzzles and building blocks stimulate soft motor skills, recognition of colours and shapes, and encourage imagination and problem-solving. Both activities should be equally available to boys and girls.


Of greatest concern, story books were only available in 10.7% of households. For households where income increased or stayed the same during the pandemic, the rate was only slightly higher, at 14.5%, suggesting that the problem goes beyond income levels. This is disappointing but not surprising given the widely documented low levels of interest in reading books in Indonesia.


Research shows that reading stories to children from an early age improves language and literacy skills, as well as language complexity and story comprehension. The Minister for Education has urged all parents to read to their children before bed to support their education and development.


The findings of the survey suggest that greater efforts are needed at the grassroots level, perhaps through community-based health posts (posyandu), to create a movement to encourage parents to read story books to their children from an early age.


The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, and its positive and negative effects on work, school, public life and parenting are likely to be felt for some time to come. The experiences of children and parents during the pandemic point a way forward for stronger policies that can better support new parents and their children’s development.


This small study indicates that fathers need to take a more active role in parenting to ease their partners’ workload and mental stress, and support the healthy development of their children. This can be encouraged by involving fathers in the early stages of pregnancy and breastfeeding through their attendance at health check-ups, and providing them with information on how best to support their partners and children, including by equally sharing in domestic duties.


In pandemic conditions or otherwise, more educational opportunities are needed for under-fives at home. Story books should be available, and parents – both mothers and fathers –  should take the time to regularly read to their children. This will not only influence early childhood development, but also improve Indonesia’s literacy levels in the long term.


Women in Islam: Hiding Her Story


The discussion of women in Islam is a highly charged one. It is an issue infected with Orientalist and Islamophobic rhetoric about the assumed inferiority and subjugation of women intrinsic in Islam. Patriarchal and oppressive cultural norms are often couched in religious terminology and deemed “Islamic” in order to justify and validate them. However, notions that Islam is inherently oppressive to women are contradicted not only by an in-depth analysis of the Qur’ān but also by extensive evidence that demonstrates that women, during the formative years of Islam, enjoyed a high standing and were included in every aspect of life.

From the time of Prophet Muhammad, there were thousands of women scholars and jurists who exercised the same authority as men and taught male and female disciples, including judges and caliphs.1 Women who lived during the time of the Prophet, whose life example is seen by Muslims as the most perfect manifestation of the spirit of the Qur’ān,2 felt they had full rights and used to go to the mosque, pray next to men, pray in close proximity to the Prophet, fight in battles, teach men and women, move about freely, and interrupt scholars as they spoke to ask questions for which they demanded answers.

All this history has been forgotten or deliberately buried and erased. Recently, a conservative Sunni scholar of hadīthSheikh Mohammad Akram Nadwi, found written evidence of the existence of over nine thousand prominent women scholars and jurists who lived during the formative era of Islam. While in residence at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Nadwi produced a forty-volume work on Muslim women scholars, jurists and prayer leaders.

This scholar, who studied in a traditional madrasa in Lucknow, India, came across countless mentions of women in early hadīth manuscripts and thus began to investigate, taking a detour from his intended work. He first assumed the detour would be a short one and that he would produce a small volume. However, he kept discovering more and more women scholars and concluded that “he does not know of another religious tradition in which women were so central, so present, so active in its formative history.”3

Nadwi explains that for centuries, women traveled intensively, fulfilling their religious duty of seeking knowledge and attending prestigious mosques and madrassas throughout the Islamic world.

Nadwi discovered a reality that surprised him and that is, unfortunately, quite different from the one many Muslim women experience today, primarily due to mistaken interpretations that aim at preserving patriarchal systems. Nadwi explains that for centuries, women traveled intensively, fulfilling their religious duty of seeking knowledge and attending prestigious mosques and madrassas throughout the Islamic world. The fact that over nine thousand women scholars were found by chance and are mentioned in writing means that there were countless more. It is commonly known that men did not want the names of their wives or daughters published.

Some interesting examples of the women scholars discovered by Nadwi are the following: In Samarkand, during the 12th century, Fatimah As-Samarqandiyyah, trained by her father in hadth and fiqh, used to teach men and women, train judges, and judge court cases. She also issued fatwās and advised her well known husband on how to issue his.

Another woman scholar, Umm Al-Darda, was a companion of the Prophet and a prominent jurist and hadth scholar in seventh-century Damascus and Jerusalem. Among her students was the caliph ‘Abd al-Mālik ibn Marwān. Umm Al-Darda was declared by Iyas ibn Mu’āwiya Al-Muzani, a qāḍī (Muslim judge) of undisputed ability and merit, known for her immense cleverness, to be a scholar superior to all the other scholars of the period.

In Medieval Mauritania, there is evidence of hundreds of girls who memorized books of fiqh by heart. Fatimah al-Batainiyyah was a fourteenth century Syrian scholar who taught men and women in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. Students traveled from all over the Muslim world, some from as far as Fez, to study with her. She used to lean against the Prophet’s tomb as she taught, placing herself right beside the Prophet’s head.

A remarkable woman who took extremely seriously the duty to seek knowledge was Fatimah bint Sa’d al-Khayr. She traveled all over Asia studying with various prominent teachers, including another woman scholar in Isfahan, Fatimah al-Juzdaniyah, who was the primary narrator of a massive thirty-seven-volume hadth collections of Al-Tabarani. Al Juzdaniyah was a student of al-Tabarani, who characterized her scholarship as possessing one of the highest chains with the shortest links to the Prophet in her lifetime, which Fatimah bint Sa’d al Khayr learned and began to transmit as well.4

Throughout his life, the Prophet himself was surrounded by women he greatly respected. He constantly worked to raise their status. Ibn Ḥaẓm (994-1064), an Andalusian scholar who produced a reported four-hundred works on Islamic jurisprudence, history, ethics, comparative religion, and theology, cites a number of hadīths that prove that in the days of the Prophet, women moved freely and prayed next to men, a practice that has been curtailed today because it is viewed as “un-Islamic.”

Ibn Ḥaẓm describes a hadth where Caliph Umar wanted to prevent women from going to the mosque and was sternly rebuked by his father who stated it would be against the Prophet’s wishes. A hadth from the Prophet also narrated by Ibn Ḥaẓm states, “Do not prevent the women from going out to the mosques at night.” Ibn Ḥaẓm said that if the Prophet did not prevent women from going to the mosque, then it would be “a sin and bid’ah to do so in one’s own authority.”5

Ibn Hazm adduces a number of traditions that prove that in the days of the Prophet, women frequented the mosque together with men. He reports that, during this time, should anything happen during prayer, such as an error made by the imam, “men should praise God and women should clap their hands.” Similarly, a hadth reported in the Book of Muslim states that Umm Hisham said “I memorized sura Qaf from hearing it from the Prophet Muhammad because he used to recite it during his sermon on Fridays.” This is a clear indication that Umm Hisham stood in close proximity to the Prophet as there were no microphones or loudspeakers at the time. Finally, Ibn Abbas, the paternal cousin of the Prophet reported in a hadth with a strong chain of narration that “A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet.”6

A striking example of the status and independence women had during the Prophet’s time is that of Nusaybah bint Kaab. Nusaybah was legendary for her bravery and military skills. She fought in numerous battles and in the battle of Uhud, saved the Prophet’s life. She was wounded severely while defending the Prophet and he said, “whenever I looked to my right or left, I would find Nusaybah fighting defensively” and praised her for her courage. Nusaybah was unwilling to stay at home while her husband and son went to battle, so she decided to join them. At first, her intention was to tend to the wounded and bring water to the warriors, but later, she proved invaluable in the battlefield and turned out to be highly skilled with the sword.7

It is thus clear from these and many other cases of female agency and freedom in the Islamic premodernity, that the problem of oppression does not lie in Islam and is not advocated by the Qur’ān.

It is thus clear from these and many other cases of female agency and freedom in the Islamic premodernity, that the problem of oppression does not lie in Islam and is not advocated by the Qur’ān. In fact, far from subjugating women, the Qur’ān can and should be read as liberating. It is not necessary to resort to secular or Western-style feminism to “empower” Muslim women. It is, however, of crucial importance to engage in interpretations that are in accordance with the Qur’ānic spirit.

Professor Asma Barlas, Ethica College NY

The strong refusal in the Qur’ān to perpetuate the religious depictions of God as a father-figure that exist in Judaism and Christianity, and the refusal to engender and sexualize God, can be understood as militating against patriarchy, which Asma Barlas considers to be “the chief instrument of women’s oppression in Muslim societies.”8

Barlas eloquently explains that it would be absurd for a God who is above sex and gender, who is Most Compassionate and Merciful, and will not transgress against the rights of others, to privilege men and take sexual partisanship. Even more absurd would be that this God should advocate the oppression of women. Not only does the Qur’ān not oppress women, “but it also affirms that women and men originated in the same self, have the same capacity for moral choice and personality and, as God’s vice-regents on earth, have a mutual duty to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong.”9

Not only does the Qur’ān not oppress women, “but it also affirms that women and men originated in the same self, have the same capacity for moral choice and personality and, as God’s vice-regents on earth, have a mutual duty to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong.”

The Qur’ān encompasses “a horizon of ethical possibilities and [counsels] to read it for its best meanings.”10 To put it simply, all interpretations that women should be subjugated, or their movements limited, or their choices controlled by men are erroneous interpretations: “Any religious opinion that tries to limit the rights or opportunities of any group of people is a false interpretation.”11

1  Nadwi, Mohammad Akram. Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam. Oxford: Interface Publications, 2014.
2  His wife Aisha called him “the walking Qur’ān.”
 3  Power, Carla. If the Oceans Were Ink. New York: Holt Paperbacks: 2015, p. 130.
4  To clarify: Fatimah bint Sa’d al-Khayr was considered (by the student of Tarabani) to have one of the most reliable chains of transmission for the hadiths she narrated. Meaning, the hadiths she narrated were sound, and with relatively few links between the transmitter and the Prophet himself. It is essential for hadiths to have a sound chain of transmission (i.e., those who passed on the Prophet’s sayings must be reliable in character and sound mind and also, their narrations must have been confirmed by others…of course the closer in time to the Prophet the better a hadith’s chain is).
5  Marin, Manuela and Deguilhem, Randy, Eds. Writing the Feminine: Women in Arab Sources. London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002, p. 82., p. 83.
6  This hadīth was judged authentic by Sheikh Al-Albaani in his Silsilat Ahadeeth (Saheehah #2472). This hadīth was narrated by Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Attayalisy, Ahmad, and Tirmidhi among others.
7  Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. London: Inner Traditions, 2006, p. 181.
8  Barlas, Asma. “Uncrossed bridges: Islam, feminism and secular democracy.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 39(4-5) 417–425, 2013, p. 421.
9  Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Abdulhameed, Sultan. The Qur’ān and the Life of Excellence. Denver: Outskirts Press, 2010, p. 207.



Abdulhameed, Sultan. The Qur’ān and the Life of Excellence. Denver: Outskirts Press, 2010.

Barlas, Asma. “Uncrossed bridges: Islam, feminism and secular democracy.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 39(4-5) 417–425, 2013. 

Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. London: Inner Traditions, 2006.

Marin, Manuela and Deguilhem, Randy, Eds. Writing the Feminine: Women in Arab Sources. London, New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002.

Nadwi, Mohammad Akram. Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam. Oxford: Interface Publications, 2014.

Power, Carla. If the Oceans Were Ink. New York: Holt Paperbacks: 2015.


What is Workplace Gender Equality?

Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) exists when everyone, regardless of gender, can equally access and enjoy resources, opportunities and benefits to thrive and progress at all levels. This document provides a definition of Workplace Gender Equality, as well as key points and guidelines for advancing WGE.



  • What is WGE?
  • Workplace Gender Equality is good for business
  • Prioritising Workplace Gender Equality impacts your bottom line
  • How to promote Workplace Gender Equality
    • How to achieve WGE
    • Road map for Workplace Gender Equality


Democratic, Islamic values aligned in Indonesia, webinar hears

Marchio Irfan Gorbiano

The Jakarta Post

Democratic and Islamic values are intrinsically aligned in Muslim-majority Indonesia, experts and activists have said, amid growing concerns about a rise in religious conservatism that seeks to undermine the country’s democratic institutions. Muhammadiyah secretary-general Abdul Mu’ti said during a webinar over the weekend that he viewed democracy not only as a political system but also as a system of values, in which “prosperities” could be built upon. To wit, he identified three core values of democracy – emancipation, meritocracy and pluralism – and said they were aligned with Islamic values. “Emancipation puts emphasis on egalitarianism and humanism, while meritocracy also allows democracy to give room to appreciate achievements and ensure fairness [among people], and pluralism guarantees mutual responsibility, coexistence and collaboration,” said Abdul. “I can say that democratic values can implicitly be found in the teachings of Islam and are part of the reason why a good Muslim will also support a true democracy.” The statement from Abdul, who is part of the country’s second largest Muslim grassroots group, comes against the backdrop of rising religious conservatism in Indonesia, a phenomenon that many analysts have noted appeared after the large-scale rallies of the 212 Movement in 2016.


The government, meanwhile, banned Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), an Islamist organization seeking to establish a caliphate in the country, in 2017, deeming its values contradictory to the 1945 Constitution and its presence a threat to public order. The move, however, also prompted concern among human rights activists about threats to freedom of association and expression. Last year, a joint-decree signed by 11 ministries and state bodies was also issued to regulate the kind of content that civil servants are allowed to post on social media. The decree stipulates that civil servants must not express opinions containing “hate speech” against the state ideology Pancasila, the 1945 Constitution, the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), or the government itself. The policy was issued amid growing concerns that many civil servants have been exposed to religious extremism.


According to a 2019 survey conducted by Jakarta-based pollster Alvara institute, 16.9 percent of 1,567 respondents in the survey believed that an Islamic caliphate was the “right” mode of government for Indonesia. A committee member for the Indonesian Anti-Slander Society (Mafindo), Anita Wahid, said there was a growing narrative of advocating for the “purity” of Islam that justified discrimination against other groups based on a strict interpretation of religious texts. “By using religious [texts] as a point of reference that pits Islam against democracy, it’s as if Islam is not aligned with democracy. We have to respond with a counternarrative that highlights democratic and just values in Islam,” Anita said during the same webinar hosted by the AE Priyono Democracy Forum. Meanwhile, women’s rights activist Lies Marcoes Natsir said the current wave of growing religious conservatism could be viewed as a result of measures taken by the New Order regime in the past to suppress such groups, which resulted in a lack of opportunities for dialogue.


“The New Order pressured them in such a way that we never got to discuss […] why they rejected birth control or agreed with child marriage,” Lies said. “After [the reform era], we only became aware that [religious conservative groups] had surfaced and were challenging ideas that we previously thought were settled, like gender and reproductive rights.” Islamic scholar Budhy Munawar Rachman pointed out that previous works of Muslim intellectuals such as the late Nurcholish “Cak Nur” Madjid and late president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid had paved the way for an interpretation of Islam that had inherently democratic values. “We are thankful that we already have Islamic arguments in favor of democracy so it became something that is inherent in our [religion],” said Budhy. “The works of Cak Nur and Gus Dur have helped society, particularly in the post-reform era, to be accepting of democracy.”

This article was published in with the title “Democratic, Islamic values aligned in Indonesia, webinar hears”. Click to read:

Women, home and the unimaginable in pandemic

By Lies Marcoes

For seven months now, the microscopic coronavirus has forced us to stop outdoor activities, work activities or studying. Morning rush hour has been sorely missed by some of us and many can no longer socialize or meet clients.
Suddenly, we have to adapt to these changes. Our lives now center on “home” and its “manager,” which is normatively associated with women.


For those women who were already spending their days at home, working as homemakers, in these past seven months they have been forced to take on new jobs that were previously entrusted to others: to the state or semi-state institutions, the private sector, non-state entities, the community or the market.
Now, without warning, they have had to take over all these roles with virtually no preparation, without skills. They have to create a sense of comfort in the home, which has suddenly become an office, school, madrasah (Islamic school), prayer hall, Sunday school, a mini-church, playground, restaurant, public restroom, a place to receive basic healthcare services, a place for recreation and even a facility for relaxation like a massage parlor.
COVID-19 has forced us to change, but the change is neither familiar nor neutral. For certain income brackets, the economic change may not be felt too severely, as there are plenty of layers of fat left in their economic caloric reserves. But for many, this is a real disaster.


I will bet that there will be a sharp increase in requests for loans from soft credit schemes and loan sharks. In the past two months, my WhatsApp feed was not just filled with news about A and B, whom I knew were receiving medical treatment or going into isolation because of being infected with COVID-19 but also requests for financial assistance just to buy food.
But the most powerful change, which is rarely noticed because the tool to observe it is unclear or unavailable, is the change in women’s lives as homemakers. This applies not just to those affected by this “disaster” but also to middleincome housewives who are nor
mally assumed to be not under so much financial stress.
One of my seniors who is studying the issues of the elderly, Ibu Saparinah Sadli, sent me a WhatsApp message asking me to think: What are elderly women to do now? For seven months now they have not met their friends, have no group activities, have not left the house, and have not even seen their children and grandchildren. This will accelerate the onset of senility.


Many of these elderly ladies do not know how to use visual communication technology, and their adult children are busy with all their new duties, including managing their own kids who are studying from home. Imagine how it is for elderly women from poor families who live with their children and their families. Perhaps some of them have to take over some of the burden of house work from their daughters or daughters-inlaw because of the changes in the function of the home.
A middle-aged woman from a well-established family in Jakarta complains that her social activities have been disrupted. As a homemaker, she used to meet up with her friends and socialize but COVID-19 has stopped all this. For those who are suddenly solitary, this is almost unimaginable. Their existence lies not in themselves but in being with their community.


This is a genuine but nameless disaster, something not considered suitable to complain about. So don’t be surprised if we see a sharp increase in requests for divorce during this COVID-19 era.
It’s been like this for seven months, with no end in sight. I truly empathize with young women, elderly women and middle-aged women whose lives have been shaken by the COVID-19 earthquake. I’m even more concerned because state officials don’t seem to care, or even notice, since they lack the sensitivity tools needed to read these shocks.
Yet if the tools to read them were sensitive, families that have children in school should be provided with intensive guidance on how to be teachers at home. They should receive compensation for teachers’ salaries and school fees, because they pay taxes and as citizens are entitled to the products of “the land and waters and the wealth contained therein”, which is utilized for the greatest possible prosperity of the people, according to the Constitution.
Housewives who are wives of employees should receive compensation for cleaning, electricity, rental of work space and office stationery. Likewise for the elderly or the middle-aged; they need to have some way out of the dead ends they face because their activities are halted. After all, haven’t they always contributed to keeping the economy and society running?

It has been seven months, and no one knows how much longer things will be like this. Radical changes are needed in how we look at the problems of women — those who manage the household — which are caused by COVID-19.
Director of Rumah Kita Bersama Foundation



Tilik and the gender order crisis

Tilik (The Visit, 2018), a short movie directed by Wahyu Agung Prasetyo, is a viral sensation in Indonesia. Within two weeks of being posted on YouTube, it attracted more than 20 million views.


The film follows a group of village women taking a trip to the city on the back of a truck to visit their female village head in hospital. During the journey, the women gossip about Dian, a pretty young woman in the village.


Tilik has stirred a public debate not only around representation of women and femininity but also around feminism in general. A number of feminists, including Intan Paramaditha and Feby Indirani, criticised the film for reinforcing negative stereotypes of women: that they are gossipers and annoyingly chatty, spread hoaxes, and lack media literacy.


Paramaditha, for example, invited her followers to situate the feminine stereotyping in the film in the larger context of cultural production, in which gender perspectives are almost absent. Feminist criticism of the film unfortunately turned into a heated, in some cases ugly, public debate involving feminists, film critics, and social media users. Even among feminists, views were divided on the film’s representation of gender.


The debate about Tilik is indicative of the unresolved crisis in Indonesia’s gender order. In my previous research on representations of ideal masculinities in Indonesia, I suggested that 2000-2014 was a vital period marked by a crisis in the gender order. During this period, ideological battles to secure hegemonic gender ideals intensified on various fronts, including cinema.


Six years on, the crisis remains unresolved, as the public debate stirred by Tilik demonstrates. This is indicated, on one hand, by the development of feminist film criticism and efforts to integrate gender perspectives into filmmaking, as a force to challenge stereotypical cinematic depictions of gender. And on the other hand, the debate is driven by a strong backlash attempting to preserve the status quo pattern of gender relations.


Gender order crisis is a concept in gender studies explaining processes of change in the pattern of gender relations. At the time of crisis, a gender order can be destroyed or restored by the outcome of the crisis.


Feminism has been an important force provoking changes in Indonesia’s “official” gender order, which centres on the family principle. The authoritarian New Order regime provided important institutional support to the maintenance of the official gender order. It did so by, for example, institutionalising men’s and women’s gender roles in the 1974 Marriage Law and supporting institutions that reinforced women’s reproductive role, like Dharma Wanita and the Family Welfare Movement (PKK).


Movements to advance women’s status and rights, motivated by feminist ideas, were allowed to develop only to a limited extent. For example, the regime facilitated the establishment of a junior ministry for women’s affairs in the late 1970s, following global pressure to promote women’s roles in state governance and politics. But the ministry had little power and a small budget.


When Soeharto’s authoritarian regime finally fell, state restrictions on feminist movements lessened. Feminism and its supporters become highly visible and stronger in post-authoritarian Indonesia. Feminists such as Musdah Mulia and Lies Marcoes Natsir were at the forefront of public debate surrounding Megawati Soekarnoputri’s rise to presidency and the affirmative action policy of a 30% quota for female candidates in elections.


Feminists have been instrumental in transforming the legal architecture, too, for example in the formulation and implementation of Law No. 23 of 2004 on the Elimination of Domestic Violence, and in advocacy for the gender equality and elimination of sexual violence bills.


In cinema, feminist filmmakers such as Nia Dinata and Mouly Surya have challenged masculine perspectives in filmmaking and representations of gender on the silver screen. Feminist film criticism, led by notable figures like Intan Paramadhita and Novi Kurnia, has also become as a strong force in raising awareness of gender perspectives and equality in cinema.


But the increasing visibility and significance of feminism has not been without contest. Ideological contestation surrounding gender relations has become extremely heated in post-authoritarian Indonesia. For example, growing Islamisation has fostered the development of Muslim feminist networks, while also posing challenges to the struggle for gender equality. Islamic discourse is often used to argue against laws aiming for gender equality and elimination of gender-based violence.


In cinema, too, Islamic discourse, among others, has been used to attack films that are critical of conventional gender relations, such as Nia Dinata’s Arisan! (2003), and Hanung Bramantyo’s Perempuan Berkalung Sorban (2009).


The criticism of Tilik offered by feminist film critics, and the backlash against them and feminism in general, is part of this gender order crisis. While feminist film critics attempted to inspire changes in Indonesian cinema and the broader cultural landscape, their ideas were criticised as foreign, elitist or unsuitable for Indonesia. They were accused of being social justice warriors and of ruining the fun of film consumption.


In several cases, the backlash against feminist film critics devolved into ad hominem attacks and catcalling. Unfortunately, such attacks are common against feminists on social media, especially those who vocally and critically engage with issues of gender inequality and gender-based violence. For example, Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) politician Tsamara Amani has repeatedly been subject to the same treatment when she has posted support for gender equality and the bill on the elimination of sexual violence.


Feminists and their opponents are engaged in a fierce battle for public opinion. Feminists are trying to inspire changes to realise gender equality, while their opponents attempt to preserve the established gender order. Advances in information and communication technology have made these ideological battles more visible and able to generate more extensive public engagement.


By placing the public debate around Tilik in the context of the gender order crisis, we can see that Indonesia is undergoing a critical period of social change. The deeply rooted pattern of gender relations fortified by the New Order is no longer taken for granted, despite its continued dominance. The official gender ideals projected by the state are being strongly challenged by emerging alternatives.


However, as the gender order crisis is unresolved, we are yet to see whether the existing gender order will be fundamentally transformed. What is certain, however, is Tilik will not be the last film to spark controversy for its depiction of gender relations.


Evi Eliyanah is a faculty member at Universitas Negeri Malang. Her research areas of interest include gender and cultural studies.



Why we’ve created new language for coronavirus

From ‘covidiots’ to ‘quarantine and chill’, the pandemic has led to many terms that help people laugh and commiserate.


Throughout history, challenging circumstances have given rise to new ways of expressing those challenges. George Eliot, the 19th Century writer who was famously frustrated by rigid gender and lifestyle norms, is credited with the first recorded use of the word ‘frustrating’. More recently, Brexit led to a flowering of new words, including the inevitable ‘Bremain’ and ‘Bregret’, and a repurposing of existing words, such as ‘backstop’.

While Brexit may be the closest parallel, the speed of the linguistic change we’re seeing with Covid-19 is unprecedented, says Robert Lawson, a sociolinguist at Birmingham City University. Lawson attributes this to multiple factors: the dizzying pace at which the virus has spread, its dominance in the media and global interconnectivity at a time when social media and remote contact are so important.

Many of the newly popular terms relate to the socially distanced nature of human contact these days, such as ‘virtual happy hour’, ‘covideo party’ and ‘quarantine and chill’. Many use ‘corona’ as a prefix, whether Polish speakers convert ‘coronavirus’ into a verb or English speakers wonder how ‘coronababies’ (the children born or conceived during the pandemic) will fare. And, of course, there are abbreviations, like the ubiquitous ‘WFH’ and the life-saving ‘PPE’.

Old words in a new light

Like everyone else, lexicologists are scrambling to keep up with the changes the pandemic has wrought. According to Fiona McPherson, the senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), back in December ‘coronavirus’ appeared only 0.03 times per million tokens (tokens are the smallest units of language collected and tracked in the OED corpus). The term ‘Covid-19’ was only coined in February, when the WHO announced the official name of the virus. But in April, the figures for both ‘Covid-19’ and ‘coronavirus’ had skyrocketed to about 1,750 per million tokens (suggesting that the two terms are now being used at roughly the same frequency).

Innovative signs: In the UK, 'covidiots' is being used to described those ignoring social distancing rules

All of the terms added to the OED in April, in an unscheduled update, were related to the pandemic in some way, including ‘infodemic’ and ‘elbow bump’. But McPherson notes that the only actual new word added to the dictionary is ‘Covid-19’. The others are pre-existing terms that have gained new resonance at a time when many people are subject to a ‘stay-at-home order’ (US), ‘movement control order’ (Malaysia) or ‘enhanced community quarantine’ (Philippines).

“Although a lot of the words we’re using just now and a lot of the terminology is actually older, a lot of it seems fairly new. ‘Coronavirus’ itself goes back to the 1960s,” she points out.

What McPherson calls the “nuancing of already existing words” can in some cases be subtly harmful. War metaphors invoking ‘battles’ and ‘front-lines’ are being widely applied to the pandemic, yet thinking only in terms of a wartime emergency can detract from longer-term structural changes needed. This has given rise to the project #ReframeCovid, in which linguists collect crowdsourced examples of alternatives to war language.

Inés Olza, a linguist at the University of Navarra in Spain, says she started the project spontaneously on Twitter. She understands the temptation to invoke war metaphors, especially at the start of the pandemic when they were necessary to build unity and mobilise swiftly. But “a sustained use of that metaphor and abuse of it, and the lack of alternative frames, might generate anxiety and might distort things about the pandemic”, she believes.

As well, terms such as ‘natural disaster’ and ‘perfect storm’ can create the impression that the pandemic was inevitable and unavoidable, neglecting the political, economic and environmental contexts that make certain people more exposed. Some healthcare workers have expressed their frustration at being called ‘heroes’, rather than seen as complex, frightened individuals doing a job, who need protective equipment and policy rather than relying on their own sacrifices.

In some cases the language being used isn't appreciated: this US healthcare worker is protesting against a lack of PPE

In some cases the language being used isn’t appreciated: this US healthcare worker is protesting against a lack of PPE

“Speakers are free to use the metaphors they want,” Olza emphasises. “We are not censors.” But she and some of her fellow linguists believe that it’s useful to reflect on language and to have alternative framings for discussing the pandemic – beyond militaristic language that can obscure the roles of individuals and communities, and toward expressions that communicate collective care and individual responsibility. She says that Germans have been especially good at finding non-war terms. German’s compounding of terms, for instance, has allowed for one-off words like ‘Öffnungsdiskussionsorgien’ (‘orgies of discussion’) to describe the seemingly endless policy debates over reopening.

Why humour helps

Overall, there’s a wealth of linguistic creativity that hasn’t yet entered the dictionary, but reflects the role of novel language as a coping mechanism. These innovative usages, Lawson says, “allow us to name whatever it is that’s going on in the world. And once you can name the practices, the events, the social conditions around a particular event, it just gives people a shared vocabulary that they can all use as a bit of a shorthand. I think ultimately if you can name it, you can talk about it; and if you can talk about it, then it can help people cope and get a handle on really difficult situations”.

Writer Karen Russell has found the newly ubiquitous term ‘flatten the curve’ to be reassuring – a reminder of the importance of both individual and collective action, which “alchemizes fear into action”. And both the practice and the terminology of ‘caremongering’, used for instance in Canadian and Indian English, allow for an alternative to scaremongering.

Beyond earnest words like these, a kind of slightly anxious humour is central to many of the ‘coronacoinages’. The German ‘coronaspeck’, like the English ‘Covid 19’, playfully refers to stress eating amid stay-at-home orders. The Spanish ‘covidiota’ and ‘coronaburro’ (a play on ‘burro’, the word for donkey) poke fun at the people disregarding public health advice. ‘Doomscrolling’ describes the hypnotic state of endlessly reading grim internet news. Lawson’s favourite, ‘Blursday’, captures the weakening sense of time when so many days bleed into each other.

I don’t think that by having a little bit of light in the dark, people are making light of the situation – Fiona McPherson

Australian English, no stranger to light-hearted abbreviations, has produced ‘quaz’ for ‘quarantine’ and ‘sanny’ for ‘sanitiser’. Queer and black communities, so often a wellspring of linguistic innovation, have given rise to ‘Miss Rona’ as a slang term for the virus. And for the unsayable, there are always emojis. The folded hands emoji, the medical mask emoji, and the microbe emoji (yes, that exists) have all become more popular during the pandemic.

Some of these emojis and terms might seem flippant, but “I don’t think that by having a little bit of light in the dark, people are making light of the situation”, says McPherson. Lawson agrees: “If you can laugh at them, it makes things more manageable almost, and just helps with people’s psychological health more than anything else.”

Linguists believe that many of the terms currently in vogue won’t endure. The ones with a stronger chance of sticking around post-pandemic are those that describe lasting behavioural changes, such as ‘zoombombing’, which is influenced by ‘photobombing’ and describes the practice of invading someone else’s video call. McPherson reckons that ‘zoombombing’ could become a generic term (like ‘hoovering’ up a mess) even if the company Zoom loses its market dominance.

Ingenuity with vocabulary can also communicate that the current hardships, like many of the coronacoinages, won’t last forever. Olza has taken to referring to the tasks on her ‘corona-agenda’, which can be a subtle way of asking for people’s patience with her temporarily disrupted schedule. Eventually “I will get my usual agenda back,” she says hopefully.

Until then, bring on the quarantinis.



Hard times for pesantren facing Covid-19

As Indonesia began the new school year this month, face-to-face classes were still on hold. Most primary and secondary students in the public system are still required to join lessons online.


No in-depth research has been done on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on educational institutions in Indonesia but it is likely that Islamic boarding schools, or pesantren, are the worst affected, not least because most are simply not able to teach online.


I asked managers at 150 pesantren in several regions across Indonesia about their experiences during the pandemic. All were part of a network run by the Centre for Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta, where I work.


My brief survey produced some interesting results. Unlike state schools, many pesantren have already reopened to students for face-to-face learning. This is true even in regions regarded as Covid-19 “red zones”, like Jakarta and East Java. Pesantren managers said they reopened because of pressure from parents who wanted their children to return as soon as possible.


But there were other reasons for re-opening, too, and one of the most important relates to the unique character of pesantren as community business institutions as well as religious educators. “Pesantren have to think about the economic realities of people whose livelihoods depend heavily on the school operating, such as teachers, traders who supply goods, and the surrounding communities who open food stalls and other businesses to meet the needs of the boarders,” one manager said.


The unique character of pesantren also explains why they have been hit harder by Covid-19 than other schools, especially state schools.


First, as one manager complained, the funding for pesantren education comes mainly from student fees and community donations. “At state schools it is easier because the teachers’ salaries are paid by the government. Pesantren cannot pay wages if there are no boarders.” Considering that many students at these schools are from underprivileged backgrounds, with families likely suffering the heavy economic impacts of Covid-19, we can assume that this will have affected pesantren revenues too.


Second, in the new Law on Pesantren (No. 18 of 2019), pesantren are described as having five distinctive structures: 1) kyai (Islamic scholars and religious leaders) as figures of scholarly authority; 2) the mosque as the centre of activity for religious teaching; 3) santri, or boarders, who study in the pesantren; 4) a curriculum based on kitab kuning, or classic Islamic scholarly texts, and on Islamic studies; and 5) dormitories for the students.


This means education in pesantren takes place not only in the classroom, but in also everyday interactions, while playing sport, and while sharing space in the dormitories. This is what another manager meant when he said: “In pesantren, we practice 24-hour education.” It means official advice to practice physical distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has not been easy for pesantren managers to apply in reality, especially at the many pesantren where there are lots of students but only limited dormitory facilities.


Third, pesantren have very limited capacity to make use of information technology and conduct online learning. Most have very little information technology infrastructure, and the digital literacy of teachers and students is often weak. In fact, in many of these schools, students are not even allowed to use gadgets like mobile phones and laptops, as they are considered distractions. In any case, many students’ families cannot afford electronic devices, even for learning purposes.

Gontor under pressure

So how have pesantren fared in practice? One notable example is the well known Gontor Modern Pesantren in Ponorogo, East Java, which saw a cluster of Covid-19 cases, starting from a single student who was infected via his family. According to the school’s Covid-19 spokesperson, Adib Fuadi Nuriz, all students and teachers who contracted the virus have fully recovered and have since returned to the pesantren.


Students returning to Gontor in the new school year have had to self-quarantine at home for 14 days and undergo a PCR test before being allowed back. The school also arranged special transport to pick up students from cities across Indonesia to prevent the risk of contracting the virus on the road.


Once they arrive at the pesantren, students are required to follow health protocols, such as wearing masks, washing their hands regularly and practicing physical distancing when praying.


What is interesting about this case is that Gontor Modern is likely the most modern, best-equipped and well-prepared pesantren in Indonesia, complete with strict health protocols and its own Covid-19 taskforce. Despite this, 86 students still contracted Covid-19. What must the situation be like for other pesantrens that are nowhere near as well funded or well prepared?


The Gontor Modern case is a warning that Islamic boarding schools across Indonesia urgently need help. The government has already allocated Rp 2.3 trillion (AU$215 million) to help pesantren tackle Covid-19, but considering the risks they face, these funds will be stretched very thin.


The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated that the government now needs to work closely with pesantren to develop a roadmap for handling unexpected challenges. It has also exposed a desperate need to raise digital literacy and access to information technology in pesantren, while still protecting the special character of these schools.


Strengthening Religious Narratives in Support of Women’s Right to Work

On Thursday, 6 August 2020, Rumah KitaB, with support from Investing in Women (IW), an initiative of the Australian Government, held an online workshop with the theme “Gender, Islam, and Economic Empowerment of Women.” The purpose of the workshop was to inform foundational research for and the design of IW-backed campaigns for influencing gender norms (IGN) in support of women’s economic empowerment in Indonesia. Rumah KitaB is one of four organizations in Indonesia that IW is funding to implement such campaigns.

A total of 43 persons (8 men and 35 women) took part in the event, including representatives from Rumah KitaB and its network of researchers; IW and the three other IW-supported organizations in Indonesia for IGN campaigns—Sedap Films, Magdalene and Yayasan Pulih; the Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment; and other stakeholders. This three-hour event was facilitated by Lies Marcoes-Natsir, a gender expert and Executive Director of Rumah KitaB. The two resource persons also from Rumah KitaB were Achmat Hilmi and Fayyaz Mumtaz.

In opening the interactive workshop, Alison Aggarwal, IW’s Gender Advocacy Director, noted the strong interest from the IGN partners in Indonesia for discussions on how religious norms and interpretations of Islamic text and teaching inform the gender norms that limit the role of women and men at home, at work and in society. Alison also acknowledged Rumah KitaB’s experience and expertise in promoting religious narratives that address social challenges in Indonesia, such as child marriage and gender-based violence.

Lies then facilitated a discussion among participants about their experiences and observations on how religious views impede women from working. Participants talked about a range of issues, including that people now tend to push women to stay at home rather than working outside of home, and the view that men are the leaders of women (Arrijalu Qowwamuna Alan Nisa’), which is quoted from surah An-Nisa: 34.

The issues raised by participants were addressed throughout the workshop. In her first session, Lies shared a presentation on how the essential (biological) differences between men and women have been creatively interpreted by society through various forms of knowledge, including religion (tasawuf, fiqh, interpretation of the Qur’an). Menstruation, for example, is a biological occurrence, but in society or culture the monthly cycle experienced by women is given various meanings—including that women are impure, dirty or less logical because they bleed.

The essentialisation of men and women gives rise to “rules” or norms that inherently assign work roles based on gender. Lies noted that as social constructs, the gender roles of men and women (feminine-masculine, domestic-public, reproductive-productive), should be fluid but, because of essentialism, are seen as fixed, invariable and unalterable. Gender essentialism is also often justified using interpretations of religious texts that are closely intertwined with culture, politics and economics. Further, the roles assigned to men are considered superior to those associated with women. This stereotyping tend to subordinate women across social spheres. Stereotypes and subordination, Lies said, lead to other types of gender-based violence against women, such as physical violence, poverty, and double burdens of labour.

One of the ways to address the gender norms arising from religious views that essentialise women and men is the development of interpretations that empower rather than subordinate women. This was discussed by  Achmat Hilmi, who proposed maqashid syariah as an alternative “tool for reading” religious texts. Maqashid syariah works by not simply relying on the text itself but also at the same time considering the social reality in which the text was produced and understood, and also including a sense of spirituality. This way of reading that is offered by maqashid syariah clearly differs from the “literalist exclusive” way of reading, which tends to be rigid, and from an “eclectic” way of reading that selects only what is needed.

For example, a verse of the Qur’an that is often sued as a basis for domestication of sharia: al-Ahzab 33, which reads, “[O women] … and abide in your houses and do not display yourselves (and behave) as did the people of the former times of ignorance…” This verse is frequently used to “keep women at home.” This is traditionally interpreted to mean that women’s bodies can create disorder or temptation in society and  that the inherent nature of women is to stay at home. However, according to Hilmi, using maqashid syariah, the word “houses” in this verse could be interpreted to mean not only houses in the physical sense but, more broadly, the space in which women have agency. This interpretation could be used to advocate for workplaces, an economy and a society where women can participate without fear of sanctions.

Fayyaz Mumtaz supported the discussion on maqashid syariah by describing how Muslim women in the time of the Prophet Muhammad played an active role in society in many activities and lines of work. This historical example, he said, shows that there is no prohibition on women playing roles in the world of work.

Participants were then invited to ask questions or raise comments at the end of the session. One of the comments was, the participants found out that there are also verses from the Al-Qur’an and hadith that support gender equality. However, unfortunately these verses are less popular so that the religious preachers rarely use them.

In closing the session, IW highlighted the importance of discussions to highlight insights gathered from the implementation of the campaigns for influencing gender norms in support of women’s economic empowerment. IW foreshadowed follow-up sessions, particularly as Rumah KitaB and other IW partners complete their foundational research for their campaigns.  [] (NA)




Child marriage surges amid Covid-19 and growing conservatism

Indonesia is experiencing a surge in child marriages. By June, 24,000 applications for permission to marry underage had been lodged with district and religious courts this year – more than two and a half times the total number for the whole of 2012.


This escalation goes against significant recent improvements in the legal framework, policies and public campaigns, as well as the government’s stated aim to reduce the prevalence of child marriage from 11.2% to 8.7% by 2024.


Court clerks cite teen pregnancies and last year’s amendment to the 1974 Marriage Law as reasons for the higher number of requests to marry young.


Under the 1974 Marriage Law, the minimum age of marriage was 19 for boys and 16 for girls, provided they had permission from their parents. The 2019 amendments raised the minimum marriageable age for girls to 19, with parental permission, bringing it into line with the minimum for boys (Article 7(1)). However, the revised law still allows parents to ask courts for special dispensation for their children to marry before 19 if there are “pressing reasons” (Article 7(2)).


Many factors drive child marriage in Indonesia. Poverty, education, the stigmatisation of sexuality outside marriage, religious convictions, local perceptions about marriageable age, and even ‘mutual love’ (suka-sama-suka) among teen couples all play a role in rates of child marriage.


The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has expressed concern that increased economic pressure from Covid-19 may be leading parents to push their children to marry young, to reduce the economic burden on their households. A trend that idealises young marriage, promoted by conservative religious groups and on social media, is another factor.


The Manpower Ministry reported that more than 3.5 million workers had been laid off by 31 July, with the number predicted to rise to 5.5 million by year-end. Indonesia’s poverty rate is expected to increase to 9.7 per cent by September, meaning that 1.3 million more people will be pushed into poverty.


The impacts of this for children are frightening. Unicef predicts that the increase in poverty in Indonesia will worsen child malnutrition, affecting children’s physical and mental development. It will increase the risk of 9.7 million children dropping out of school. Economic decline, combined with lack of formal education, may drive parents to urge their children to marry young, especially girls.


At the same time, Indonesia is experiencing a surge of religious conservatism that is driving a backlash against legal efforts to support gender equality and end child marriage. For example, the ‘Indonesia Without Dating’ (Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran) movement encourages young adults to avoid dating and focus on serving God. It has attracted more than a million followers on Instagram. Its social media content pairs fairy-tale images of romantic love with slogans that encourage young marriage as a way to avoid the temptation of pre-marital relations.


An idealised view of young marriage is also promoted by social media influencers. Sabrina Salsabila, a teenager from West Java who married at 16, has amassed more than 74,000 subscribers on YouTube and more than 133,000 followers on Instagram, where she shares airbrushed images of her glamorous, globetrotting life as a young bride. Despite facing some public criticism, her young followers continue to express their desire to follow her path.


Conservative family values may also be a factor. A study of 61 dispensations for underage marriage in 2017-2018 conducted by students and a lecturer at Gadjah Mada University’s Faculty of Law found that the majority of those marriages were instigated by parents who felt that their children had dated long enough, and were concerned about the potential for pre-marital sex. In cases of teen pregnancy, child marriage was pushed by families as an immediate solution. In other words, some families’ moral values conflict with legal protections against child marriage.


Further, Indonesian family law is a complex patchwork of national, customary (adat), religious, and Dutch colonial laws. While the revised Marriage Law sets a clear minimum age of 19 for boys and girls, and only allows child marriage with court approval, adat and religious laws have their own definitions and guidelines. Although the courts do not recognise them, these alternative legal systems are another cause of the high number of underage marriage applications across Indonesia.

What can be done? 

The amendment to the Marriage Law, and a subsequent Supreme Court regulation that provided guidance for judges in deciding marriage dispensation proceedings, were hard-won achievements in the fight to end child marriage in Indonesia. For more than 40 years, through five administrations, the Marriage Law remained unchanged, as lawmakers and politicians avoided the sensitive issue.


If it were not for the efforts of a relentless civil society movement that drafted and promoted amendments to the Marriage Law, and a group of victims of child marriage who filed a judicial review application with the Constitutional Court, these changes would never have happened.


As the government responds to Covid-19, efforts for economic recovery must include assistance to prevent more families falling into poverty, as well as efforts to ensure children’s right to formal education is fulfilled. Further work must be done to provide adequate and sensible sexual and reproductive health education in schools and communities.


Addressing conservative religious and customary values is a much more challenging task. The government cannot rely on top-down, bureaucratic programs to address the issue. Local context matters. The government should facilitate village and religious leaders, parents, teachers and young people to come up with community-based programs to respond to the local situation.


Victims’ stories of child marriage and the impact it had on their lives were compelling for the Constitutional Court when it decided the marriageable age of 16 for girls was unconstitutional. Victims should be provided with more opportunities to tell their stories to their peers, to debunk false images of blissful child marriage.


It is also essential to create a broader and more frequent discourse on child marriage, providing opportunities for conservative groups to sit together with opponents of child marriage. Influencers could also be recruited to spread messages on social media to counter the narrative of conservative groups.


Indonesia has made remarkable progress in improving the legal and policy framework to protect children from child marriage. But as recent figures have shown, policy change is not enough on its own. To prevent further backsliding, a serious effort will be required – and soon.