‘Jurnal Perempuan’: Facing off against fundamentalism

The stronger sex: Jurnal Perempuan is currently one of the leading publications on gender, women’s rights issues and feminism in Indonesia.
The stronger sex: Jurnal Perempuan is currently one of the leading publications on gender, women’s rights issues and feminism in Indonesia.

The Jurnal Perempuan Foundation (JPF), which launched the country’s first feminist journal Jurnal Perempuan, has come a long way from distributing photocopied newsletters on feminism writing as complementary material at university.

Entering its 15th year, Jurnal Perempuan has significantly contributed to the development of women and gender thought in Indonesia. It is now reaching a larger audience, as the JPF is producing work in more media forms — radio, TV documentaries and a youth magazine.

At the same time, the journal is facing a new challenge in its pursuit of enlightenment and equality: The rise of religious fundamentalism.

In her public lecture on July 30, Gadis Arivia, a feminist scholar and the founder of Jurnal Perempuan, said the idea of publishing the journal, which germinated 15 years ago, generated two types of responses.

“Some people assumed Jurnal Perempuan was a magazine about cooking. So bookstores offered to place the journal in the cooking book section. Others, such as magazine vendors in the Senen area, assumed it was a magazine that published pictures of women in provocative poses,” she said.

“It’s difficult to explain [what] a feminist magazine [is about] when the spectrum on offer is either food or erotica.”

When Jurnal Perempuan first hit bookstores, around 500 to 1,000 copies were sold, said JPF director Mariana Amirudin. Today, the journal has 6,000 subscribers and sells 5,000 copies in bookstores.

The foundation then branched out to produce radio shows to reach a larger audience, partnering with 191 radio stations in Indonesia. “The journal’s content was analysis and in-depth writing about various women issues. It has become very intellectual and now caters to the academic world,” she said.

“We chose radio programs as the medium of choice in 1996. Radio can be a means to reach people in the lower-middle class bracket who do not necessarily read, but listen.”

The JPF also produces documentaries and has a website. In 2008, the foundation launched a youth magazine called Change.

Women studies expert Sulistyowati Irianto said the journal helped deconstruct the rigid image people have of women and their role in society. It grew alongside the development of women’s movements and feminist thought after the reform era.

“Indonesian women had their own movement but the New Order controlled and silenced it,” she said.

Under the New Order regime of president Soeharto, the women’s place in society was institutionalized through the marriage law, which defines the role of the husband as the head of the household, and the wife as a homemaker.

In her lecture, Gadis said the image of women broadcast by the state and the state-controlled media during the New Order was that of Dharma Wanita — a group of wives of officials who spent their time organizing many charity — not empowerment programs.

Gadis explained the Ibu-ibu (motherly woman) image prevalent during the New Order was not without a design or ideology. “It was ideal to erase from the public’s memory the image of a more radical, empowered woman active in civil movements.”

The Indonesian Women’s Movement (Gerwani), the largest women’s organization before the New Order, had played a big role in women’s empowerment during the Old Order regime. It was also one of the organizations that helped build Indonesia, Gadis said.

“Gerwani had a clear ideological line and was affiliated to the communist party. When the pogrom
of the communist party took place, and people sympathized with the communists, Gerwani was also annihilated especially as its members were accused of killing the generals,” Gadis said.

The journal aims to deconstruct the image of women having limited roles in society. Mariana said the road to equality between genders was a change of mindset, which is what the JPF attempts to nurture.

Sulistyowati said Jurnal Perempuan’s continuity contributed significantly to the development of women’s thought and movement. “The issues discussed are those women talk about. The [Jurnal Perempuan] writers know their fields and understand feminist perspectives,” Sulistyo said.

“Their contribution is huge because many other journals don’t survive,” she said. “Jurnal Perempuan has succeeded in maintaining its presence in print media. The people behind Jurnal Perempuan have done a very good job [of maintaining this presence].”

But it is not without difficulties, Mariana went on. In the first years, Gadis had to sell her car to cover the cost of publishing the journal.

She said Jurnal Perempuan measured its success against the number of people subscribing to the journal. “That’s a few steps to what we call enlightenment and equality in society.

“It will take a long time to produce an enlightened society.”

Jurnal Perempuan changed Mariana’s life. A former Islamic fundamentalist, Mariana joined Jurnal Perempuan in 2003, after studying women’s studies. She used to be a member of the NII, a group advocating the creation of an Indonesian Islamic state.

“I read the journal and began going through books written by Nawal El Saadawi,” she said, referring to the Egyptian feminist. Mariana enrolled in women studies at the University of Indonesia. “My mindset changed radically,” she said.

She became a feminist because she put a critical thinking cap on and used common sense. “I knew I still had a brain and I could tell something didn’t make sense,” she said. “I was very uncomfortable with
my past. By learning about feminism, human rights and social science, I regained confidence in myself.”
Gadis’ lecture at the Antara building in Thamrin was the first of what Jurnal Perempuan hopes will be a long tradition of yearly lectures.

Attending the lecture was Constitutional Court judge Maria Farida Indrati, the only woman in the court and the only judge voicing doubts about the necessity of the Pornography Law, as well as gay rights activist Hartoyo.

Gadis’ lecture, titled “Media, State and Sex” is a timely issue. At a time when the state and the media cannot differentiate between the public and private domain, and view women’s sexuality as a moral threat, Gadis’ lecture delved into the issue of how the media depicted women in rigid, limited roles, how the state was controlling women by defining their roles and even their sexuality in the form of various legislations — such as the Marriage Law that states a husband is the head of household and the wife a housewife, the “vague” Pornography Law and the revised Health Law controlling women’s reproductive rights.

Jurnal Perempuan grew in the freedom experienced during the reform era, Mariana said. “We were the agent of change that was partying with the freedom we had.”

The challenges the journal are facing today, Mariana added, was the political standoff between the progressive liberals and the religious fundamentalists.

“There are many setbacks in our society, be it the state of democracy and the rise of fundamentalist groups that hate women,” she said.

Gadis ended her lecture by asking how to improve the state’s attitude toward sex. “A state smart about sex will create a smart society as well.”

“It’s proven that ignorance in sex education has brought ineffective policies, creating a society
that has a phobia of women’s bodies, has ensured children misunderstand [what] sex [is about] and provided an environment for violent, scary and radical groups that can only create harm.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Fri, August 13 2010

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