Indonesia: 'Gender equality bill faces threat'


New legislation being proposed in Indonesia has created a stir of antagonism, especially from conservative Islamist groups in the country, who demand that Islamic law, or Sharia, is implemented and followed in the country.

But women’s groups are lashing out against the push by the Islamic organizations to curtail the bill’s progression in government, saying that “all women and men in Indonesia deserve equal access under the law.”

“We have fought a long time for this bill and are very hopeful the government will see that a majority of Indonesians support it and it will become a reality,” said women’s rights activist and campaigner Sunita Rajnaban.

She told on Friday that the Islamic groups opposed to the bill “are frustrated at the influence women are having in society and it is simply a power play and nothing that will stop us women from demanding our rights.”

According to reports, the Indonesian Ulema Council – an influential conservative Islamic body – and the Indonesian Consultative Council for Muslim Women Organizations, Aisyiah, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and the Islamic Community Party are the leading opponents of the bill.

Iffah Ainur Rochmah, spokeswoman for HTI, in a statement said the gender equality bill and policies that encourage women to seek employment could only lead to conflicts within marriages.

Rochmah says that divorce rates among female teachers were high because “wives with better earnings may feel superior to men leading to conflict.”

In addition, the bill goes against the grain of the Islamic Shariah law on inheritance which favors males. The bill also allows a man or a woman to freely choose a marriage partner — regardless of religious persuasion and seeks to legalize homosexual or lesbian marriages.

The international Women Against Shariah organization has been accused of muddying the notions about the place of men and women in Indonesian society.

According to the organization, Shariah law imposes second class status on women and is incompatible with the basic principles of human rights that include equality under the law and the protection of individual freedoms.

But for activists like Rajnaban, using religion to derail the bill will only hurt the organizations in the long run.

“The government and local civil society groups have conducted public opinion polls of Indonesians and they have discovered that the vast majority of people support equality, and these groups are just using religion to scare people,” she said.

She added that marriage rates are down in the country and that divorce is up as a result “of women no longer being forced to live in horrible circumstances.”

For many, the future of women’s rights in the country largely depends on this legislation because they believe that Indonesia can become a leading Southeast Asian country on women’s issues and empowerment.

The government has said that the criticism they are currently receiving from the Islamic groups is unlikely to stop the bill from going forward in parliament.