Women and the State in Modern Indonesia

In this book, Susan Blackburn examines how Indonesian women have engaged with the state since they began to organise a century ago. Voices from the women’s movement resound in these pages, posing demands such as education for girls and reform of marriage laws. The state, for its part, is shown attempting to control women. The book investigates the outcomes of these mutual claims and the power of the state and the women’s movement in improving women’s lives. It also questions the effects on women of recent changes to the state, such as Indonesia’s transition to democracy and the election of it first female president. The wider context is important. On some issues, like reproductive health, international institutions have been influential, and as the largest Islamic society in the world, Indonesia offers special insights into the role of religion in shaping relations between women and the state.

Chapter 8 (p. 194-219) is focused specifically on violence against women, although chapters 2, 5, and 7 also touch on individual issues. This chapter discusses violence against women from a historical perspective, analysing both the state’s and the women’s movement’s discourses (or lack thereof) on violence. The author’s main point, however, is that “(i)n Indonesia today, the issue of sexual violence is inextricably intertwined with that of armed conflict.” While the women’s movement has made incredible steps to bring the discussion of sexual violence to the forefront, previously considered too taboo, they continue to be severely marginalised. “Although they (women’s organisations) may be active in advocacy and in assistance to the victims of violence, they are not perceived by those in power as parties to the political processes.”

Blackburn, Susan
Publisher and location: 
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK