April 21, 2010 
Nurfika Osman & Ismira Lutfia

A woman tending a field on the slopes of Mount Sindoro in Central Java. Female 
academics and activists have lambasted the government for its failure to make 
significant progress on women's rights. (Antara Photo)

As Indonesia Celebrates Kartini Day, Observers Say Women's Rights Lacking

If Indonesia were to be graded on its efforts to empower women and uphold their 
rights, it would score poorly, according to activists and academics. 

The country today marks Kartini Day, which celebrates the Indonesian heroine 
who led the struggle for women's equality. Indonesia's efforts to empower 
women, however, have been hampered by the weak implementation of laws designed 
to accomplish that goal, and other pieces of legislation that are seen to 
infringe upon the rights of women. 

Ida Rowaida, head of the gender studies department at the University of 
Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe that Indonesia had made progress with the 
passage of the 2007 Law on Trafficking, the 2004 Law on Domestic Violence and a 
new law on gender equality, which is currently being drafted. She said the laws 
should serve as a legal reference to ensure that all government policies are 
gender sensitive. 

"However, we have not seen the translation of these laws in the field," she 

Mariana Amiruddin, executive director of Jurnal Perempuan, a women's rights 
magazine, said no significant achievements had resulted from these laws, as 
"many people do not even understand the definition of gender and women's 

There is a severe lack of awareness, Mariana said. In the case of trafficking, 
for example, "how can people implement the law when they do not understand what 
trafficking is? Government programs have not reached targets," she said. "Ask 
people in villages that have many cases of trafficking. They do not know 
anything about it." 

The 2008 Anti-Pornography Law, recently upheld by the Constitutional Court, the 
existence of more than 150 discriminative bylaws that still have not been 
annulled despite repeated calls and the proposed law on marriage were cited as 
huge setbacks to women's rights. 

The wife of late former President Abdurrahman Wahid, Sinta Nuriyah, said 
legislation such as the Anti-Pornography Law "put barriers on women." 

Mariana criticized the government for its failure to annul 154 bylaws 
nationwide that are considered discriminatory, 64 of which discriminate against 
a woman's right to freely express herself and women's right to gainful 

"This is a reality in our society and this shows backwardness," she said. 

Ida said these discriminatory laws "are showing us how the state views women. 
The concept of gender and equality remains a big question mark. How can we 
implement a gender-sensitive budget and so on?" she said, referring to the 
State Ministry for Women's Empowerment and Child Protection's push for seven 
ministries to implement a gender-responsive budget system. 

Kasmawati, the deputy for public institution empowerment at the ministry, 
acknowledged that women's development in Indonesia was still far from 
satisfactory, based on the United Nations Development Program's Gender 
Development Index. In a report released in March, Indonesia ranked 90th out of 
156 countries in the index for 2009, down from the 80th position it held in 

"We are still lagging behind and we still have to work hard to catch up because 
women are still marginalized even though there are laws [on women's rights]," 
she said. 

To address the issue of discriminatory laws, she said female lawmakers should 
be empowered by the political parties they represent. "The parties have to 
fully support them so women's rights are upheld," Kasmawati said. 

She also applauded the House for having some male lawmakers who had good gender 
perspectives, but said that "we need more of them." 

Sinta and Ida said the prevailing culture was to blame for many of the 
problems. "Structural intervention such as in law is important, but cultural 
intervention such as education is more important," Ida said. "There are people 
who see gender as a threat." 

Sinta said that barriers to proper implementation of the gender laws sometimes 
came from women themselves. "They relish their subordinance [to men]."

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