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Sunday, September 19, 2021
DENPASAR, Indonesia, May 18 2009 (IPS) - Indonesia’s direct legislative election in April was a resounding success for women candidates. But instead of rejoicing, activists and political observers say it is unlikely to help the cause of women’s rights.
"We are pleased with the result, especially because it was unexpected," Sumbung remarks. "But it seems that women with a proven track record in defending women’s issues did not manage to win seats, while actresses, singers and relatives of powerful politicians did."
Results of the Apr. 9 poll showed a significant increase in the female legislators – from 11.8 percent to between 17 and 19 percent in the 560-member House.
This is a new record in Indonesia, a majority-Muslim country, where politics is often seen as a male preserve. The previous highest representation of women lawmakers was 13 percent, achieved in the 1987-92 legislature.
The Center for Electoral Reform (Cetro), an independent electoral watchdog, estimates that roughly 95 women are likely to be lawmakers, compared to 63 before the elections. The increase defied experts’ predictions of a decline in the number of female legislators.
The election was instead contested on the basis that only those who received the most votes – regardless of gender – were guaranteed a seat in the House.
Women with political connections, or famous names in show business thus managed to gather many votes. Women’s activists who wanted to take their fight into the political arena, failed at the polls because they were not as well known or flush with funds to challenge the prejudices inherent in a patriarchal society like Indonesia.
Among the new female legislators is the daughter of former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Puan Maharani, as well as the wives and children of several leading politicians. Also soon to sit in the House is Surakarta Sultanate Princess Koes Moertiyah, former Miss Indonesia Angelina Sondakh and two actresses, Rieke Diah Pitaloka and Nurul Arifin.
Among these, only Sondakh has had previous experience in the House, where she was elected in 2004. But over the past five years, she has failed to impress and has not shone for her drive to force any of the issues that would improve the status of women on to the political agenda.
Some of the urgent concerns are regarding the dismal educational levels of girls, serious domestic violence and an alarming maternal mortality level that puts Indonesia at the top of the list of countries with the highest death rate in Southeast Asia. Almost 20,000 women die every year nationwide in pregnancy and birth related complications. ICWIP’s Sumbung believes the new legislators need to improve their competence in assessing whether the House policies are gender-sensitive. "The only thing that we can do is to work hard to support them, so that hopefully they can better represent women," she says.
Fachry Ali, a Jakarta-based political analyst, remains pessimistic about the legislature’s commitment to gender equality.
He says that female members of political dynasties are likely to follow in the footsteps of their fathers or husbands. Moreover, most of the new women legislators have no experience of women’s issues.
"The wives or daughters of politicians bring with them the seeds of the patriarchal culture," he observes. "Despite the commitment of civil society, I am afraid the situation is not going to change any time soon."
There may be exceptions. Pitaloka, 35, a new lawmaker from the Democrat Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is well known across Indonesia as a star of ‘sinetron’ or the nationally produced soap operas.
"I am excited at the prospect, but also very anxious," says Diah, who has a Masters degree in Philosophy from the University of Indonesia in 2004. A campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace since 2006, she was also part of the PDI-P’s women’s empowerment department for the last two years.
"I try to be optimistic that the women who have been elected, including me, can bring a gender-perspective to the House. But I am hoping that women’s issues are going to be of interest to all legislators," she told IPS.
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