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.

Source: https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/hard-times-for-pesantren-facing-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR38yEQp2SkTC1HWsu_xCcBNuX9U8o28pwBM_DLt9VNXumZ5Jq6OA74diBU

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)

 

 

 

Research Monograph on Child Marriage Series 12: Disguised Power Work in the Practice of Child Marriage: Discussion, Conclusions, and Suggestions

Judul
Kerja Kuasa Tersamar dalam Praktik Kawin Anak: Diskusi, Kesimpulan, dan Sejumlah Saran

Penulis
Lies Marcoes & Nurhady Sirimorok

Editor
Lies Marcoes

Penerbit
Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama

Tahun
2016

Monograph of Child Marriage Research Series 11: Synopsis of Nine Cases: Map of Spider Webs of Child Marriage

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Sinopsis Sembilan Kasus: Peta Jaring Laba-Laba Perkawinan Anak

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Lies Marcoes & Nurhady Sirimorok

Editor
Lies Marcoes

Penerbit
Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama

Tahun
2016

Monograph on Child Marriage Research Series 10: Instead of immorality: Young Marriage on Campus and Urban Muslimah Teenage Problems

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Daripada Maksiat: Perkawinan Muda di Kampus dan Problema Remaja Muslimah Urban

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Fadilla Dwianti Putri & Qanita Windyanggiva

Editor
Lies Marcoes

Penerbit
Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama

Tahun
2016

Monograph on Child Marriage Research Series 9: What Matters Halal: The Study of Child Marriage in Bogor

Judul
Yang Penting Halal: Studi Perkawinan Anak di Bogor

Penulis
Mukti Ali

Editor
Lies Marcoes

Penerbit
Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama

Tahun
2016

Monograph on Child Marriage Research Series 8: Widows Are Better Than Singles: A Case Study of Child Marriage in Sukabumi District

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Mending Janda Ketimbang Jomblo: Studi Kasus Perkawinan Anak di Kab Sukabumi

Penulis
Aminah Agustinah

Editor
Lies Marcoes

Penerbit
Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama

Tahun
2016

Research Monograph on Child Marriage Series 7: Open and Disguised Institutions: Portraits of Child Marriage in Cirebon

Judul
Kelembagaan Terbuka dan Tersamar: Potret Kawin Anak di Cirebon

Penulis
Ibi Syatibi

Editor
Lies Marcoes

Penerbit
Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama

Tahun
2016

Research Monograph on Child Marriage Series 6: In Shackles of Tradition and Disguised Relationship: A Case Study of Child Marriage in Banten (Monografi Penelitian Perkawinan Anak Seri 6: Dalam Belenggu Tradisi dan Kerja Relasi Tersamar: Studi Kasus Kawin Anak di Banten)

Judul
Dalam Belenggu Tradisi dan Kerja Relasi Tersamar: Studi Kasus Kawin Anak di Banten

Penulis
Mukti Ali

Editor
Lies Marcoes

Penerbit
Yayasan Rumah Kita Bersama

Tahun
2016

 

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.

 

Source: https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/child-marriage-surges-amid-covid-19-and-growing-conservatism/?s=08