Her name is Yuyun Khairun Nisa. To those who know her, she is simply called Yuyun. Yuyun was one of the participants of the training for youth organized by the BERDAYA Program in Cirebon on the theme of “Strengthening Youth’s Capacity for Child Marriage Prevention” in late May 2018. During the event, Yuyun proved her commitment and enthusiasm in the theme discussed and, together with her peers, was declared to become one of the youth activists and pioneers who will speak against child marriage practices within their communities.
Yuyun was born 19 years ago in Indramayu, West Java, as the youngest child in the family. After completing high school in 2017, she had an aspiration to continue her education to college to undertake studies on International Relations. However, due to her family’s economic condition, Yuyun decided to postpone the plan and has instead enrolled in an Islamic Boarding School (pesantren) in Babakan, Ciwaringin, Cirebon called Pondok Pesantren Bapenpori Al-Istiqomah. In her current school she is actively involved in both learning and teaching activities with other members of the school, whilst still maintaining her other activity, which is taking an English course.
Yuyun provides a good example of how youth can contribute actively and significantly in the initiatives for combating child marriage. She is among the youth pioneers and activists who manage to make their voices heard in the discourse. One such occasion was the commemoration of International Woman’s Day (IWD) in Jakarta in early March 2018, which was organized by the AKSI Network and Girls Not Brides with support from UNICEF and the Netherlands Embassy for Indonesia. In the event, which was witnessed by Princess Mabel van Oranje, Yuyun shared outspokenly with the audience about her wishes to be an Ambassador who will play a key role in ending and preventing child marriage. “I am a pesantren student. One day I want to become an Ambassador of Indonesia who will be able to part take in the global efforts to tackle the issue of child marriage through diplomatic work,” Yuyun said in front of hundreds of other teenagers, from whom she received warm applause.
Yuyun’s first encounter with the issue of child marriage took place a long time ago. When she was still at elementary school, she witnessed one of her female friends being married right after completing school. Yuyun recalled it as a heartbreaking moment.
When she was in junior high school, a similar occurrence took place. One of her female classmates was forced into marriage in the dawn of her graduation. And once again the experience was repeated when Yuyun was in high school, when one of her friends was ushered into marriage by her parents and family. Yuyun observed that all of the incidents were made possible by one obvious factor: the obedience of her friends to their parents. “All of my friends are afraid of their parents. They are afraid of being disobedient, afraid of being called ungrateful children. We as girls are always taught to be good girls and to always follow what our parents tell us to do. Therefore, it is very hard for us to say no when our parents tell us, or force us, into marriage. The truth is, none of them, and none of us, wanted to be married when we are still in school. We still want to study,” Yuyun further explained.
Yuyun participated in sharing session at the IWD, Erasmus Huis, Dutch Embassy, AKSI- UNICEF, Jakarta 2018
These memories surged into her mind when in late February 2018 her pesantren’s headmaster, Ibu Nyai, appointed her as one of the school’s representatives in the IWD commemoration event in Jakarta. With all of her past encounters with the practice of child marriage, without hesitation Yuyun responded positively to the offer and went all in to the new experience.
Although the event was only one day long, the activity has confirmed Yuyun’s intention and will to dive fully into the issue in the hope of being able to do something about it. Having learned new knowledge and skills from the event, she was more determined than ever to give and dedicate herself in the campaign and other activities aiming at preventing and ending child marriage practices, especially those that take place in her surrounding and neighborhood. Her determination was further supported and facilitated to manifest by the BERDAYA Program when it invited her to join one of its trainings on child marriage prevention in May this year. In this training, Yuyun learnt a lot more new knowledge and skills that are useful to enhance her already growing capacities.
While the IWD commemoration was her mind-opening gate that broadened her perspective on the issue and affirmed her heart’s calling to dedicate herself to the theme, the BERDAYA Program’s training has served as a significant building block and a critical stepping stone that continued to build, develop and solidify her capacities on the theme and provides her with further support and a platform to maintain her activism as a staunch advocate of child marriage prevention in her surroundings and beyond. One of the issues that Yuyun found concerning related to child marriage is girls’ obedience to their parents. This certainly is something that resonates with her past experiences, but this issue itself remains a relevant issue up to today. One of the key factors that has successfully sustained this problem is religious teachings. “We live in a religious environment where children’s obedience to their parents, especially for girls, is very strongly implanted and instilled. It is ingrained in our lives.
As much as I agree with its intent and purpose, I still think that this matter, the obedience to parents (birrul walidain), should not be put into practice in all arenas, especially when it proves to bring more suffering than benefit, as in the case help because he thinks it’s a wife’s/girl’s duty. Things will be even more difficult if the husband is also still a teenager, as he also does not yet have a stable and sufficient income and resources for his family.”
Yuyun: leads the role play on Negotiation to stop child marriage, BERDAYA program, Cirebon, June 2018
From her training with BERDAYA, not only is Yuyun able to identify and lay out in detail the causal factors of child marriage, she is also now able to generate ideas to help prevent the practice. For the youth or teenagers, the most effective way to prevent them from entering this worrisome practice is by providing them with information and knowledge about self-esteem and self-empowerment, personal development, character building, and healthy relationships. All of this is aimed at equipping the youth so that they can grow their potential and can still be popular amongst their friends in a healthy and non-harmful way: a way that will not inflict self-pain or lead to self-destruction. Included in this is a skill in negotiation. According to Yuyun, negotiation skill is important for youth because it can help them negotiate with their parents when they ask or tell them to marry before they are ready. This skill is one of the topics taught in the BERDAYA training, and Yuyun sees it as a very helpful subject that she and others can take out and apply in their everyday life. With this new knowledge and skill, they now know how to discuss and negotiate with parents in a respectful yet more effective manner and without fear of being perceived as disobedient to their parents.
When it comes to economic factors, Yuyun finds it hard to understand why many parents would see marrying off their daughters as the solution. According to her, if economic or financial problem is the reason why parents decide to pull their daughters out of school and thus expose them to early marriage, there are actually other ways that may help to solve the problem other than getting into a marriage. One such way is enrolling the girls into a pesantren (Islamic boarding school). Many pesantren offer their education services for free. Therefore, parents using the family’s economic situation as the reason for stopping their girls’ education is irrelevant here. By studying in pesantren, not only can the parents save money, it can also “save” the girls from entering marriage, as the study at a pesantren can take several years, which will take the girls through to their early adolescence, and the learning system and materials will prepare them to become stronger, more mature and more independent girls. Because of this, Yuyun thinks that it is imperative to raise parents’ awareness about the alternative ways to solve the family’s economic problems in a way that will not jeopardize their girls’ future, as well as to increase parents’ knowledge about the danger and harm of child marriage practices.
Yuyun presented the result of discussion about the key actors of Child Marriage:
BERDAYA program Rumah Kitab, Cirebon, June 2018.
As an active member of her community, Yuyun also suggests that the formal and non-formal leaders, such as community leaders, kampong leaders, religious leaders, etc., should be more sensitive and open-minded towards the aspirations of the youth or teenagers. One of the best ways to do so is by being willing to listen to them and engage in genuine dialogues with them, especially when it comes to their goals, aspirations, and future wishes. Imposing child marriage on them will only kill the dreams and potentials of these young people. [YD]
BERDAYA PROGRAM FOR THE YOUTH
“An Ever Lucrative Investment”
Yuyun’s story above is a testament of how important and critical capacity development for the youth can be. It is an investment that will pay off greatly and will go a long way into the future. From Yuyun’s experience, we learnt that because of this investment, a girl has successfully and beautifully transformed from a passive and disengaged subject in her community into an active advocate and relentless activist who speaks against child marriage practices in her locality and beyond.
There are many forms of capacity development for youth: regular discussions, workshop, training, internship, direct involvement in campaign and other advocacy activities, are among them. In Yuyun’s case, it only took two quick events to unleash the many potentials in her: one was a one-day IWD commemoration event and the second a three-day training from the BERDAYA Program. Albeit only receiving relatively a small amount of investment in the form of capacity development on the child marriage theme, Yuyun has developed and thrived significantly in that she has now become one of the pioneers in her community and a leader of her peers in the discussion on prevention of child marriage. One can only imagine: if a one-day event and a three-day activity can so much and have so much positive impact in the life of a girl, what can we as a community gain if we continuously and systematically put our effort, energy, focus and resources into making an even greater investment in building and enhancing the capacities of hundreds and thousands of our girls out there? I feel a shiver – a positive one – just trying to think about it. It must be a door for endless, positive and beautiful possibilities….
Yuyun is one of the youth activists supported by the BERDAYA program in its effort to contribute in the broader initiatives of child marriage prevention in Indonesia. From her, we learnt again and again that investing in girls, especially in their education and capacity strengthening, is always promising, powerful and strategic. In fact, it forms one of the fundamental building blocks in our roadmap to achieving each and all development goals and outcomes. The investment put into the girls will always go a long way and is the broadest way possible, as they will always share everything that they have gained and achieved with all of their circles, and they will do it throughout their life, passing on the knowledge to their offspring. Knowing this truth, it is an obligation for us to not only continue our investment, but also to enhance, widen and step it up in every way possible. Because, from what we learn from Yuyun and many other girls having similar experiences, capacity development for girls is a lucrative investment that will never get old. [Yooke Damopolii]
The Sultan of Yogyakarta holds a powerful political and spiritual position on the Indonesian island of Java. He is manoeuvring to make his eldest daughter his heir, sparking a bitter feud, as the BBC’s Indonesia editor Rebecca Henschke reports.
“From generation to generation the sultan who reigns over Yogyakarta seems to adapt himself to the changing of times,” says Wedono Bimo Guritno quietly as he ushers me through the elaborate palace complex.
He is one of the nearly 1,500 abdi dalam, members of the royal court. A keris, a sacred Javanese dagger, is tucked into his sarong.
“In the past it was not difficult to choose a prince, because in the past, the sultan had more than one wife,” Wedono Bimo Guritno tells me. We duck under low gateways into a maze of tree-lined courtyards surrounding the Kraton Kilen, the Sultan’s private residence.
“But you know it’s always been women that hold the real power in Javanese households,” Bimo says with a smile.
As is required of anyone entering the palace, I have been traditionally dressed and groomed for over an hour. I am in a tight batik sarong, with a black silk blouse known as a kebaya. My hair has been pulled back and tied into tight bun, a sanggul.
Everything in this palace, from the placement of trees to the movements made by the royal court, has meaning.
In Javanese culture, things are not said directly, but instead conveyed by symbolism.
The sultan, who is 72, recently changed his own title so that it is gender neutral and has given his eldest daughter the new name Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Mangkubumi – which means The One Who Holds the Earth.
That was seen as further indication she is being lined up to take over the throne when the time comes.
The princess laughs when I say her title holds a lot of responsibility.
“As in all families, as the eldest I have more responsibility than my sisters. But what the future holds, that decision is the hands of my father,” she says with a smile.
She rarely talks publicly about succession and is careful with her words.
“I have been raised not to dream about those things, or hold wishes beyond living a happy life now.”
But she adds: “There have been queens in Aceh and in other Islam kingdoms, that’s all I need to say.”
Her younger sister, Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hayu, is bolder in speaking about the unprecedented power the princesses have been given.
They were all sent overseas to study in Europe, America and Australia and now hold various leadership positions in the palace that were once the domain of men.
“I am very lucky to have parents that never said that is not a woman’s job,” she says in fluent English.
“It doesn’t sit well with some people but when the sultan says so, you kind of have to go along with it,” she laughs.
“That’s the importance of a man saying that it’s not the time for women to stay back any more.”
‘They will be evicted‘
The sultan’s brothers and sisters are not going along with it. They are outraged and most of them, like GBPH Prabukusumo, are now refusing to speak with the sultan or attend royal events.
“We are an Islamic royal family and the title is for a man. What would we call her – the sultante? It’s impossible,” he laughs.
He says the move is a dangerous break with hundreds of years of tradition and accused his brother’s family of being power-hungry and greedy.
And he sends a strong warning about what will happen.
“We have made a family commitment that we will not fight now, but when the sultan has left this world, we have an agreement with the people that we will drive his wife and his daughters out of the palace.”
“They will be evicted, as they are no longer members of our family,” he says.
That would create quite I stir, I say.
“That’s OK, just remember who is in the wrong here.”
Outside the palace walls most people are reluctant to take sides, saying they will accept the decision of the royal family.
But among the devoted followers there is concern about what the Queen of the South Sea will think.
The Javanese royal rule stretches back to the 16th Century and while the family is now Muslim like most Indonesians, the rituals they carry out are steeped in mysticism, a product of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism of the past.
And tradition has it that the Sultan of Yogyakarta has to take the goddess Kanjeng Ratu Loro Kidul as his mystical wife.
“There is a vow between the sultan and the Queen of the South Sea Loro Kidul that has been written down in our sacred text, that together they will rule and keep the peace,” explains the Sultan’s brother GBPH Yudaningrat.
Fingernail clippings and locks of the sultan’s hair are offered to the sea goddess every year. They are also offered to the ogre Sapu Jagat inside Mount Merapi, one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes that looms over the city.
The offerings and spiritual union are meant to ensure the sacred alignment between the volcano, the palace in the middle, and the Indian Ocean, and thus the safety of the people.
“What will happen if there are two queens? How can they be together? I am not sure that can happen,” asks Agus Suwanto, a tour guide outside the palace.
That’s a good question and a good point, smiles Wedono Bimo Guritno, the palace guide, when I ask him.
“The sultan’s role is to keep both the goddess of the south sea and the god of the volcano in balance. Some people forget about the volcano, god. I am sure the sultan will make a wise decision for the people of Yogyakarta.”
The Sultan of Yogyakarta also has to make decisions about more earthly matters as the governor of the city and the surrounding area.
When Indonesia gained independence, Jakarta allowed the Yogyakarta royal family to keep its power, out of gratitude for their role in fighting the colonial Dutch rulers.
So Yogyakarta is the only place in Indonesia where residents don’t get to directly elect their leader. When it was suggested by Jakarta that this should change in 2010 there were angry protests on the streets of Yogyakarta and the central government backed down.
But Sultan Hamengkubuwono X has been a controversial modern leader with wide ranging political and business ambitions.
When Mount Merapi started erupting in 2006 he told villagers to listen to scientists rather than the palace-appointed gatekeeper of the volcano about when to evacuate.
And some in Yogyakarta accuse him of turning this cultural, once sleepy, capital into a city of shopping malls, billboards and high-rise buildings.
These are challenging times for Java’s unique moderate, mystical form of Islam that the Sultan and the Kraton represents.
Veneration of objects or idols, and hints to polytheism, run in conflict with the Wahhabis strain of Islam that is growing in popularity in Java.
“I run the social media pages for the palace and I see this conservative view,” says Princess Gusti Hayu.
“But we have reasons why we carry out rituals here the way we do and it might not be exactly the same as in the Koran but we don’t stray, we don’t do weird cult things,” she laughs.
“This is an Islamic kingdom, it’s not about walking around looking like someone from the Middle East and just sounding very religious. Islam is woven into everything we do daily.”
She says past royal families took pride in being exclusive and being shrouded in mysticism, but that the way to survive is to open the palace up.
“So the young don’t lose touch with their Javanese side because if we lose our cultural identity it’s not going to come back.”
Despite an increasing number of young Javanese Muslim women now choosing to wear the headscarf, hijabs are not allowed in the palace.
“Lots of women who wear the headscarf take it off when they enter the Kraton for rituals, voluntarily, and put it on again when they leave,” says the Queen Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas .
“This is not about religion, it’s about protecting our culture and tradition and society understands that. The Sultan is above all religions.”
But this is increasingly a provocative stance to take in today’s Indonesia.
Recently the daughter of Indonesia’s first President Sukarno, Sukmawati, was reported to the police for blasphemy and forced to apologise for saying in a poem that the Javanese hairbun was more beautiful than a Islamic chador.
The sultan’s extended family accuses the queen, who is a senator in the national parliament, of leading the revolt against tradition.
She says she raised her daughters to be independent and to believe they were equal to men.
“When my daughters were 15 years I told them they had to leave the palace, to get educated in the world, to bring back what they learnt.”
Grooming them for leadership? I ask.
That decision is in the hands of the sultan, she says firmly.
“But, yes, the heir has to be the bloodline, so there is no need for you to dig deeper.”
“There will always be conflict and power struggles at times of change,” she adds.