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Culture, Islamic feminism, and the quest for legal reform in Indonesia

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Culture, Islamic feminism, and the quest for legal reform in Indonesia

Abstract

This paper examines the interplay of Islam, history, and feminism and views it in the legal context of Indonesia. I use social movement theory to examine how women's movements here have organized and mobilized resources to achieve certain goals in this specific socio-political context. This paper sees the Marriage Act 1974 and the Counter-Legal Draft of the Compilation of Islamic Law (CLD) as two relevant examples of how women's movements have struggled to achieve a particular goal in accordance with their ideals. These represent two different contexts: while the Marriage Act was enacted during Suharto's authoritarian New Order regime, the Counter-Legal Draft was proposed during the Reform Era following the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998.
Culture, Islamic feminism, and the quest for legal
reform in Indonesia
Zezen Zaenal MUTAQIN
School of Law, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
ABSTRACT
This paper examines the interplay of Islam, history, and feminism and views it in
the legal context of Indonesia. I use social movement theory to examine how
womens movements here have organized and mobilized resources to
achieve certain goals in this specic socio-political context. This paper sees
the Marriage Act 1974 and the Counter-Legal Draft of the Compilation of
Islamic Law (CLD) as two relevant examples of how womens movements
have struggled to achieve a particular goal in accordance with their ideals.
These represent two dierent contexts: while the Marriage Act was enacted
during Suhartos authoritarian New Order regime, the Counter-Legal Draft was
proposed during the Reform Era following the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998.
KEYWORDS Counter legal draft; marriage law 1974; polygamy; womens movement; compilation;
legal reform
Introduction
When I was a student in elementary school, I vividly remember when our
teacher taught Indonesian history, sharing the names of our founders and
national heroes. Among the greatest heroines for Indonesians of my gener-
ation was Cut Nyak Dhien, the princess of the Sultanate of Aceh, who led a
rebellious guerilla war against the Dutch for 25 years in the wilderness of
Sumatra during the Aceh War (18731904) (Graf, Schröter, & Wieringa, 2010;
Siapno, 2002). But she was not an exception; around the same time, in Java,
Raden Ajeng Kartini fought for the equal rights of women, primarily the
right to education. While she was secluded at home in her village in Java,
she regularly wrote letters to her Dutch friends in Europe, such as the socialist
feminist Stella Zeehandelaar, to express her feelings and disquiet regarding
the treatment of women among Javanese aristocrats (Wieringa, 2002). This
correspondence would later be published in the Netherlands, then translated
into English and published in London as Letters of a Javanese Princess in 1921
(Kartini, Symmers, Geertz, & Roosevelt, 1964).
© 2018 Asian Center for Women's Studies, Ewha Womans University
CONTACT Zezen Zaenal MUTAQIN zezen.zaenal@uinjkt.ac.id
ASIAN JOURNAL OF WOMENS STUDIES
2018, VOL. 24, NO. 4, 423445
https://doi.org/10.1080/12259276.2018.1524549
Indonesian history has many other heroines such as Cut Nyak Muetia, Dewi
Sartika, Martha Tiahahu, Maria Maramis, Nyi Ageng Serang, and Fatmawati
Soekarno, who struggled for independence hand-in-hand with their male
counterparts. Following the revolution in 1945, the Indonesian Constitution
was drafted by a committee that included two prominent female leaders,
Maria Ulfah Santoso and Siti Soekaptinah Soenarjo. The former, as the rst
female Indonesian lawyer, was very vocal and critical about the absence of
fundamental human rights provisions in the Constitution (Bourchier, 2015).
Her ideas for including full protection of human rights would only be stipu-
lated in the Constitution in 2002, after ratication of its fourth amendment.
Over the years, women have continued to play a growing role in Indone-
sias leadership, and its rst female supreme court judge, Sri Widoyati
Wiratmo Soekito, was appointed in 1968. Women occupied public positions
as directors, ministers, supreme court judge, and even as president, with
the election of Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2001. However, as I grew up, went
to university, traveled abroad for education, and learned about other national
histories and cultures, I realized that such political participation by women
was not common in other countries. I became aware through my travel and
reading that in some countries, such as in the Middle East, a woman going
out of her compound alone, or driving a car, were unusual or forbidden activi-
ties. One does not nd heroines among traditional stories or images of the
American founding fathers. Seeing women become presidents, for many
developed countries, still continues to be rare.
This signicant role of women in Indonesian society was possibly
inuenced by its cultural milieu. Men and women have lived side by side in
a relatively equal-bilateral relationship. Women have been highly visible in
public life, with somewhat equal roles to men, within families as well as in
larger society.
1
It has been argued that most ethnic groups in Java, Sumatra,
and Sulawesi, among the main islands in Indonesia, are bilateral societies,
with some exceptions, like Minangkabau in West Sumatra which is matrilineal
and Batak in North Sumatra, which is patrilineal (Robinson, 2008). It is, there-
fore, dicult to generalize about the pattern of Indonesian culture, as the
country has 300 ethnic groups inhabiting 17,000 islands across the archipe-
lago. It is even more complicated because the culture is comprised of three
layers of traditions that mix and engage in endless negotiation. At the rst
layer are gender norms based on ethnic and cultural values, which are very
varied, given the ethnic diversity and range from matrilineal (Minangkabau),
patrilineal (the Batak of North Sumatra), to bilateral models (Java and Sula-
wesi). In addition, certain ethnic groups, such as the Bugis in South Sulawesi,
have a uid perception of gender relations , that is, they do not clearly dier-
entiate between male and female. Their traditional priests, called bissu, are
transvestite males with a distinct gender denition or expectation, forming
a third sex category that is culturally recognized (Blackburn, 2004; Millar, 1983).
424 Z. Z. MUTAQIN
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