Embarking on a new journey of learning – Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship

I will be spending time in the United States during the fall and winter as International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s 2013-2014 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow. I plan to research on the phenomenon of increasing religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia at the MIT’s Center for International Studies.

There are burning questions that I’m sure a lot of us who are sickened by the endless news about religious violence would like to find answers to. What are people so afraid of? Why do people feel threatened by those who are different? Is it important to differentiate between the sacred and profane? How do political and economical factors play in acts of religious intolerance and violence?

I will also have the opportunity to intern at The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

The fellowship will start in September and I will be posting thoughts about the experience here. In the mean time before my departure I will be posting my reports for The Jakarta Post.

The fellowship is named after Elizabeth Neuffer, The Boston Globe reporter and winner of the 1998 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award. Neuffer who reported on human rights and social justice issues was killed on assignment in Iraq in 2003.

Elizabeth Neuffer - IWMF
Elizabeth Neuffer – IWMF

A new province is born

Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini
Waterways: A long boat glides along the Sekatak River in Bulungan regency. River passage is the main transportation choice in North Kalimantan, as the new province still lacks good roads. JP/Prodita Sabarini

Indonesia’s newest province is North Kalimantan, carved out of one of the nation’s richest provinces, East Kalimantan. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini and Nurni Sulaiman report from Bulungan regency, the home of its future capital. 

To the north of East Kalimantan, bordering the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, a new province — Indonesia’s 34th — is in the making.

North Kalimantan was born after the gavel was pounded at a plenary meeting of the House of Representatives in Jakarta in October.

A little over two months later, across the sea around 1,500 kilometers from the capital, there are few signs of the province’s existence. In Tanjung Selor, the capital of Bulungan and the proposed provincial capital, a sign in front of the old regent’s office reads: “Preparations for the North Kalimantan Gubernatorial Office”. The office is a simple low-rise yellow building.

The House bill that authorized the creation of North Kalimantan mandated the home minister to prepare governmental infrastructure and to appoint an acting governor within nine months.

Bulungan Regent Budiman Arifin said that the acting governor would have their office in the yellow building, which sits on about 1.6 hectares in the city. “It will be up to the new governor if they want like to renovate it,” he said.

North Kalimantan’s establishment came as a surprise: A government issued moratorium on the formation of new autonomous regions in 2009 was effectively flouted by the House. The last province to be established before North Kalimantan was West Sulawesi in 2004, but new regencies continued to be created. The government wanted to halt the creation of new provinces and regencies as the process had been prone to conflict. In 2009, for example, angry protesters barged into the North Sumatra Legislative Council’s chambers, demanding that the body approve the formation of the province of Tapanuli. The council speaker’s Abdul Aziz Angkat, died of a heart attack out of shock.

North Kalimantan comprises four regencies — Bulungan, Nunukan, Malinau and Tana Tidung — and Tarakan city.

In early January, the regents and the mayor visited Samarinda for events marking the 56th anniversary of East Kalimantan. Budiman, who was at the event, said he was wistful and relieved at the same time. “This will be our last time going to Samarinda for the anniversary. Next year, we will be celebrating our own.”

Tarakan mayor Udin Hianggio says the history of North Kalimantan began 12 years ago, when a group of university students hailing from the northern part of East Kalimantan, who were studying in Malang, East Java, launched an initiative to separate from East Kalimantan.

Back then, oil-rich Berau regency, which also includes the popular tourist destination of Derawan, was to have been the cornerstone of the new province. Berau was eventually kept within East Kalimantan.

Regional leaders and civil society groups met regularly to prepare their request to establish a new autonomous region. They established an association of regional leaders and a lobbying group headed by former Tarakan mayor Jusuf SK.

“This has been a long struggle,” mayor Udin said, “Praise God, [the new province] is now passed as law.”

The House mandated that a budget for North Kalimantan’s operations and elections be allocated by the East Kalimantan provincial administration and the four affected regency administrations. East Kalimantan has been pegged to provide Rp 300 billion for the new province; Bulungan regency, Rp 50 billion.

The rationale behind the creation of a new province, Budiman said, was administrative ease. East Kalimantan was previously the nation’s second-largest province in terms of area after Papua. Officials in the northern part of East Kalimantan had to take boats, planes and a bumpy day’s car ride to Samarinda, East Kalimnatan’s provincial seat.

Budiman said that having the provincial capital in the north would speed administration, speed progress and speed the elimination of poverty. The regions in the north were the poorest in resource-rich East Kalimantan, lacking infrastructure while featuring double-digit poverty rates. Malinau was the worst off, recording a poverty rate of 15.31 percent in 2010, according to the East Kalimantan Statistics Agency.

Another reason to form a new province was to better secure Indonesian territory that borders Malaysia. In 2002, Indonesia lost a legal battle with its neighbor to keep Sipadan and Ligitan Islands in the Makassar Strait. Lawmaker Agun Gunandjar Sudarsa of House Commission II on regional autonomy said that the establishment of North Kalimantan would secure the loyalties of Indonesians living on the Malaysian border.

“We saw the history of how our country lost Sipadan-Ligitan [islands,” Udin said. “That’s an example [of the effect] of an area which is too vast.”

However, critics say that establishment of new autonomous regions has been costly, claiming that a lack of capacity has meant that new regions have failed to improve the people’s welfare.

According to the Home Ministry, 57 of 205 autonomous regions established between 1999 and 2004 have failed to increase welfare or public service. The Home Ministry now regularly evaluates these new provinces, regencies and municipalities, which it can order to be reintegrated with their original regions if found wanting.

Budiman, however, is certain that North Kalimantan will be able to serve its people. “Many of the new regions that resulted from decentralization in East Kalimantan have succeeded, starting from Tarakan, Malinau regency, Nunukan, West Kutai, East Kutai, Bontang, Penajam, and Tana Tidung regency,” he said.

All the regions in North Kalimantan were once a vastly larger Bulungan regency. Tarakan, Malinau. Nunukan, Tana Tidung were part of Bulungan until they became autonomous.

He said that the human resources to staff the new province were available in Bulungan and the other regencies.

The staff and acting governor of North Kalimantan are currently staffed by appointments from the ministry. “The acting governor will not open all the [provincial] agencies yet, only the vital ones, such as those for public works, health agency, etc….,” Budiman said.

To anticipate the flow of migrants coming to Bulungan as Tanjung Selor becomes the provincial capital, access to clean water and other services would be increased, Budiman said. He added that he would work with the state electricity company PLN to increase the power supply in the region.

“More people will come here as we become a new province. We have to be ready for that,” he said.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Mon, January 28 2013

Ma Jian: A note to remember


Chinese writer Ma Jian, 57, whose works are banned in his home country, never tires of reminding people of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, which took place more than 20 years ago.

His latest book, Beijing Coma, recounts the story of a young student activist who falls into a coma after being shot during the Tiananmen protests. Through Ma’s protagonist Dai Wei, the reader finds out what it must have been like to grow up under communist rule.

For Ma Jian, who was present during the 1989 protests, his protagonist’s comatose state is a metaphor for the Chinese people, who after 20 years have either forgotten or ignored the death of the thousands of unarmed citizens on June 4.

“This is a problem in Asia as well as China. As long as people’s living standards improve and they live a comfortable life, they don’t care so much about abuses of human rights,” Ma Jian said recently in Ubud, Bali, as translated by his wife Flora Drew. He noted that many East Asian countries had grown economically but remained undemocratic.

Ma said he wrote Beijing Coma “not only to remind the young people [of China] about this history they may not know about but to also tell them about the idealism and optimism of young people 20 years ago”.

But given Ma’s books are banned in China, youth there is not able to access his books freely. Ma, who lives in London, said he knew more about what was happening in China than the people living there because of the government’s tight policy on information dissemination. He also has more freedom to express his views compared to his friends who live in China.

“Some writers in China perhaps feel they have freedom of expression – that things have improved but they are fooling themselves,” he said.

“Young Chinese writers have grown up in this culture. They are somehow able to circumvent it through the Internet but they can’t use sensitive words, otherwise access to their content will be blocked,” he said.

Ma hopes the Internet will help Chinese youth read his works.

Ma and Drew attended the Ubud Writers and Readers festival. The day Ma talked to The Jakarta Post, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced imprisoned Chinese and human rights activist and writer Liu Xiaobo had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

“These things indicate the West is putting pressure on China to respect freedom of speech,” Ma said.
Ma moved from Beijing to Hong Kong in 1987 shortly before his books were banned there. He now lives in London with Drew and their four children. Every time he came back to China, he was under constant monitoring, he said. In 1989, he joined the student protests, but a few days before the day of the massacre, Ma returned to his hometown in Qingdao as his brother fell into a coma after an accident.

Ma said that had he stayed in China, one of two things would have happened. “One, I would have remained a writer and would be in jail. Or, I would have given up writing altogether because if I cannot write freely, I would prefer not to write.”

Ma met Drew in 1997 on the night Hong Kong was handed over to China. Drew, who had studied Chinese in London, was at that time making a documentary for an American television station. She read Ma’s books, which he showed to her, and was convinced they needed to be translated into English.

After Ma moved to London, Drew translated his memoir Red Dust for almost two years while he was writing. The book about Ma’s precarious three years of traveling in China in his early 30s, at a time where travel permits were required to travel anywhere inside China, went on to win the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.

Red Dust was published in China under a pseudonym, but only after half of the content was censored, Ma said.

Ma set off on the journey because he wanted to see China through his own eyes. He was a state journalist before and explained everything that was shown to him was pre-arranged to paint a rosy picture. When he reached Tibet, he penned his findings in his first book Stick Out Your Tongue, about Tibet’s underbelly.

China is still Ma’s spiritual homeland, which he will continue to stay connected to. He said living away from China helped him see the country more clearly, like looking at a mountain from afar.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Ubud, Bali | People | Thu, October 21 2010

Royston Tan: Something to remember

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Singaporean filmmaker Courtesy of Royston TanRoyston Tan’s biggest fear in life is losing his memory. He is afraid that one day his brain will give up on him and he won’t be able to remember a single thing.

That is why he makes films. If ever that uneventful day occurred, he said, his films could be played to him in hospital.

“[My biggest fear] is not cancer, or anything else, but that I may lose my brain. In each of my short films, there’s a story. But there’s also a personal story behind it. I want to remember all of this,” he said.

His latest short film project is Ah Kong. Commissioned by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board, the film focused on the issue of dementia. Tan said he had to confront his fear during his research while he talked to people with dementia.

An award winning filmmaker, Tan is one of Singapore’s most prominent directors. His famous short film on Singapore’s street gangster youth subculture, 15, which became a feature-length film, transformed him into a sort of Singaporean cult icon. In 2004, at the age of 28, he entered the list of Time’s Asian Heroes for pushing the creative envelope of Singapore’s cinema.

Jakartans were delighted when they had the chance to see his short films, selected by Tan himself, at the 9th Q! Film Festival. His films were screened for two nights on Sept. 25 and 26, before the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) brouhaha, in which the radical Islamic group rallied in front of the venues demanding the closing of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual)-themed film festival.

His film screening showcasing four of his short films were packed. Tan also said he could hear the audience sobbing as they watched. A good thing, he said, as that meant his films touched them. He also noted that Jakarta was the only place in which he received long emails from people after his film screenings. He received emails after the screening of his musical 88 at the 2008 Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest), and the Q! Film Festival was not that much different, he said.

The Jakarta Post met up with Tan recently before his departure to Malaysia. Busy as a bee, the young director will soon be film-festival hopping to Japan, Korea, France and Germany. “I’ll be away from Singapore for five weeks,” he said.

Sitting over a glass of cream mocha, he talked about his passion for short films and brushes with his country’s censorship board. One short film screened at Q! was Cut, a hilarious short film lambasting Singapore’s censorship body. Tan made Cuta year after the censorship board cut 27 scenes from his feature film 15.

Tan said that despite the country’s strict censorship policy, he did not expect 15 to receive such a heavy hand. An honest depiction of Singapore’s fringe society, Tan said the film was important for Singaporeans. Tan likened the scene cuts to having delivered a baby in hospital only to be told that the baby was evil and had to have its arms and legs amputated.

The film 15 has received many awards and has been screened all around the world. It was screened once in Singapore, in which it was sold out in 45 minutes, he said. “It shows that Singaporeans are very curious about what is real. It’s a shame that authority refuses to admit that,” he said.

“I just feel that censorship is outdated,” he said, adding that the Internet era could not stop anyone from accessing information. For Tan, censorship only deprives people from discussion. “Witholding content deprives people of knowledge. Through distributing more content, you make them think and reflect on what is right and wrong,” he said. “Let people make a choice.”

With four feature films and 25 short films to his name over his 14-year career span, Tan said he aimed to express what he wanted to say through his works and re-introduce to Singaporeans what was “rightfully theirs”. “Sometimes in the midst of shaping the country, certain things are filtered out. I think what is missing is our real identity”.

Tan’s films are mostly social realist films as well as several experimental ones. For 15, he hung out with Singaporean teenage gangsters for one year before shooting.

His observation skills come from being a misfit, he said. Growing up in a kampung, Tan said he was one of the last to move to Singapore’s housing estates. He said the experience of moving from the kampung to apartment blocks was traumatizing as a seven-year-old.

“So my childhood was different. I grew up with animals. I grew up with people and nature — and [with] people who are generally making do with what we have in the environment. And when I went to elementary school, I realized that the way people did stuff was different,” he said.

Tan said he had trouble communicating with people, and spent a lot of time alone talking to his imaginary friends. He would quietly observe the people around him, he said.

He found his life path as a filmmaker at the end of secondary school. He took video-production class and soon found himself borrowing the camera over again.

His newest project premiered in Sapporo on his birthday, Oct. 5. The 3-D film titled Fishlove is a tribute to Hiroaki Muragishi, the actor of Tan’s experimental award-winning short film Monkeylove. Muragishi died in 2006 in a swimming accident in a river in Kouchi, Japan. The actor played an orange simian in search of his stolen heart during the cold Japanese winter. The monkey could not remember who stole his heart, walking through the snow to ask the mountain for clues.

“I wanted to make this film Fishlove to commemorate [Muragishi]. It’s a story about a fish that kept having memories about him walking through the snow,” he said.

Tan said he would give the film to the actor’s mother. “His mother said, ‘When my son gave me a copy of the short film I was joking with him, laughing. Because why would my son give me this funny film about him being a monkey to me? I just laughed. But now that he has passed away, I know it is to remind me that inside the film he’s always alive’.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Thu, October 14 2010

Tesa Casal de Vela: A fine line

JP/Prodita Sabarini
JP/Prodita Sabarini

As Theresa “Tesa” Casal de Vela and her daughter joined a rally organized for Manila’s gay pride two years ago, they heard Christian fundamentalists shout at marchers that they were going to burn in hell and needed to repent.

Casal de Vela, a Filipino feminist scholar and activist, recalled her then five-year-old daughter asking: “Why are they shouting at us mama? Why are they angry with us?”

“I said ‘You know, because they think that God does not like us and that’s not true because God loves everybody’,” she went on. So when the fundamentalist groups yelled at them, her and her daughter shouted back: “God is Love”. Later on, her daughter started singing the Barney I love you song, which goes: “I love you / You love me / We’re a happy family.”

It wasn’t the last time Casal de Vela witnessed rejection from religious fundamentalist groups toward Lesbian Gay Transexual and Bisexual (LGBT) individuals. The former director of Isis International Manila — an organization that promotes women’s human rights by facilitating networking as well as information sharing between women’s movements — attended the International Lesbian and Gay Alliance (ILGA) conference in Surabaya earlier this year, which was cut short by radical groups’ disruptive behavior.

She joined ILGA in 2005 as part of Isis, one of the feminist organizations that became a member of ILGA. Her aim since 2005 has been to foster what she calls “intermovement” or collaboration between the feminist and LGBT movements. She was about to promote her message at the failed ILGA conference in March, themed “Moving Forward”. “But, in fact we weren’t allowed to move at all,” she said.

She was recently in Indonesia for an International Policy Dialogue on gender and sexuality in Yogyakarta, which ran from Aug. 9 to 11. Casal de Vela talked to The Jakarta Post about LGBT rights in the Philippines, discovering her sexuality, and the need for several levels of activism for sexual rights.

According to the 41-year-old senior lecturer at the International, Humanitarian, and Development Studies of Miriam College in the Philippines, one could argue her home country has a strong LGBT movement, with LGBTs in academia and prominent jobs in public office.

“This [state of affairs] — co-exists with a situation where we can’t get an antidiscrimination against LGBT bill passed. We have Christian fundamentalist groups protesting against a gay pride march,” she continued. There are incidences of police raiding gay bars to extort money from bail. “And if you don’t know your rights, you will let them arrest you.”

She recalled her journey in discovering her sexuality as “strange”. A heterosexual until college, Casal de Vela explored her sexuality after she became involved in feminist movements. After college, she was in a relationship with a woman and told her parents she was a lesbian. They were shocked by the news — but only for a couple of hours.

Once her family and community accepted her sexuality, she fell in love with … a man. “So I had to tell my family again. And they were like ‘Wait, we already accepted you as a lesbian’.”

So she explained to her family that she was in love with the man. “I still like women, but I fall in love with a person’s soul. You know whatever that outer part that person looks like is not my main concern.”

She eventually married the man and gave birth to her daughter. The marriage then dissolved. Casal de Vela said that she had been with her current female partner for seven years.

In the research she is currently carrying out on sexuality, preliminary findings show discrimination against Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LBT) women differs depending on the group or particular identity. A bisexual woman who looks “straight” or heterosexual, will experience less discrimination in the workplace compared to “butch” or “masculine-looking” lesbians and transgender women, she added.

“For instance, my partner and I are both feminine [looking] and teachers in a school. And we’re OK. I think it’s because we’re ‘feminine-looking’ lesbians, so people can also accept that easily,” she said.

“Two feminine women with a baby, [will stimulate this kind of thought:]‘ Isn’t that nice; that’s so sweet; that’s so cute’. But people have a problem when they see the butch [looking woman] and a femme.

“It’s worse for transgender individuals,” She explained, especially for those entering the workforce.

“It’s easier to get work if you can pass as a straight person,” she said. For her research, she interviewed transgender women with PhDs who could not find jobs. “Because the only work available is in entertainment, or hairdressing, you know that kind of thing. But, they have PhDs in psychology.”

When advocating the rights of women and LGBTs, she said there should be several levels of activism, campaigning for matters which may be seen as trivial, such as the use of female public toilets for all women, including “butch-looking” lesbians and transsexuals, to promoting the involvement of LGBT individuals in political organizations.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Thu, August 19 2010

Activists say fundamentalists stoke public fears

International researchers and activists gathered in Yogyakarta to network and develop better strategies to advocate sexual rights.

The International Policy Dialogue was held from Monday to Wednesday and carried the theme “Bridging the Gap Between Sexuality Research and Advocacy for Sexual Rights”.

The dialogue was the first international meeting to discuss issues in gender and sexuality after the International Lesbian and Gay Alliance Conference in Surabaya was abruptly cancelled in March due to intimidation from a radical Islamic group.

Participants discussed the sexual rights of women and lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) people.

Sexual rights activist Soe Tjen Marching — who edits the Surabaya-based Bhinneka, a magazine which focuses on pluralism, and Jurnal Gandrung, a newly launched journal on sexuality — said in her presentation that intimidation and acts of violence by fundamentalist groups, such as the Islam Defenders front (FPI), have created a public fear, which is the dominant factor in determining people’s behaviors and decisions.

“Public fear can indeed work to the favor of fundamentalist groups. It can be their biggest ally,” she said.

“The fundamentalists don’t have to do a single thing sometimes. The public already responds on their behalf,” she added.

For example, two universities in Surabaya refused to accept Bhinneka and Jurnal Gandrung because they did not want to be seen as supporting or facilitating discussions of sexuality due to fear of the religious fundamentalists, Soe Tjen said.

Human rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana said that the cancellation of the Surabaya conference was example of discrimination against LGBT rights. Radical groups base their arguments on morality, culture and religion, she said.

Gadjah Mada University’s policy studies center head Muhadjir Darwin said the public believes that sexual orientations that differ from heterosexuality are immoral.

“They just have a different sexual orientation from the dominant group,” he said.

Nursyahbani, who is also the coordinator of the Kartini Asia Network, said organizers chose Yogyakarta to host the workshop to commemorate the Yogyakarta Principles.

In 2006, international human rights activists in Yogyakarta defined universal principles for international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Yogyakarta principles say: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Human beings of all sexual orientations and gender identities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights”.

The Policy Dialogue was organized by Kartini and SEPHIS (South-South Exchange Program for Research on the History of Development) with the collaboration of Center for Population and Policy Studies of Gadjah Mada University.

Hartoyo — an activist who was once tortured and humiliated by police in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam due to his sexual orientation — said he was lonely in his struggle for rights and has yet to see many LGBT people fight for their rights due to discrimination.

Nursyahbani said the workshop aimed to bridge the gap between research on sexuality and advocacy at the grassroots level.

Several scholars have said that research on sexuality is a long process, which sometimes do not meet the need of fast action in the part of advocacy groups.

Researchers and activists agreed that research on sexuality is an important for advocacy groups.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta | National | Thu, August 12 2010

RR. Sri Agustine: A happy lesbian advocate

Attraction comes early to some people. For RR. Sri Agustine, she had her first crush at the tender age of six, on a girl in her class.

What first started as a sweet feeling became the start of a struggle to find her place in the world. After grappling with depression in her teenage years over her sexuality, which was different from the mainstream social norms; a spiritual crisis; running away from home and escaping poverty, she has now found solace as an open lesbian activist, advocating for the rights of lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals.

The director of the LBT (Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trangender) organization Ardhanary Institute, a research and advocacy group that supports the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation said she knew her life would not be simple when she accepted that she was a lesbian.

“My sexual orientation is different to the mainstream norms. I’m here and they’re there and I know that they will reject me because of the difference. But I have to fight so that society will eventually accept me as I am,” she said recently in her office.

With a crew cut, T-shirt and pants, Agustine is a slim, soft-spoken, butch female. Sitting in
Ardhanary’s modest office, she requested that the address of the office not be published, for fear of violent attacks.

She was recently in Surabaya, where a hard-line religious group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), barged in a hotel and intimidated organizers of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) to cancel their planned conference.

Born into a strict Catholic family in Bandung, she said when she first started to feel sexually attracted
to girls in high school, she became depressed.

“My friends were able to talk about their crushes while I could only remain silent,” she said.

A friend of hers sensed that Agustine was a lesbian and advised her to talk to her psychologist aunt. The psychologist told her she should just let go of things that were burdening her. She said Agustine needed to be honest and open with herself and develop a high self-esteem by being a high achiever.

“She said Jesus himself was carrying one cross, while it was as if I was carrying a cross with the
addition of the guilt of being a lesbian. She said I should just let it go,” Agustine said.

When she started to accept herself, her grades went up again. She was intrigued to find out information about lesbianism and, in her quest, found an article on GAYa Nusantara, the first gay movement in Indonesia.

She wrote to the founder, Dede Oetomo, who replied by sending her the GAYa Nusantara magazine, the first publication in Indonesia intended for gay and lesbians. There were sections for correspondence, and she wrote to other lesbians in other cities.

“I finally found a community,” she said. Previously, Agustine said she had felt so isolated and alone.
She came out to her parents in her senior year in high school, bringing home her girlfriend. She said her parents had always sensed that she was a lesbian by the way she dressed and acted but were in denial. “They didn’t take it very well, and I was hit,” she said.

As she could not stand the pressure any longer, she ran away from home with a gay friend when she was in her first year at college. She started from scratch.

“We worked in factories,” Agustine said. She once sold teh botol drinks on trains.

While she uprooted herself from her home, one habit she kept from her father was his love for books. “My dad was very proud of being an intellectual. One sign of intellectuality, for him, was the collection of books one had,” she said.

Her father would make her choose between buying books or a motorcycle. “He would say, ‘If you buy a motorcycle, you won’t be able to buy books. But by buying books, you might be able to buy a motorcycle’,” she said.

So from the little money she could save, she would buy a book, thinking that by buying a book she would be able to pull herself out of poverty.

She attempted to study philosophy at the Driyarkara School of Theology but was not able to complete her studies due to having to work to support herself. In 2006, Agustine received a scholarship
to study sexuality and methodology in a sexuality research project in Amsterdam.

Through her astute ways, Agustine lifted herself out of poverty. She applied to a company for a graphic design job, saying she had mastered the graphic design software.

“I told them that I needed one week to relearn the software because it had been a while since I had used it. I had never used it in my life. I taught myself in that week. If I hadn’t done that, I would never have made it,” she said.

She joined the women’s movement in the early 1990s and eventually landed a job at the Indonesian Women’s Coalition (KPI) women’s group, to work for their in-house magazine Semai.

For Agustine, one way to make people accept her was to deconstruct people’s image of lesbian women.

When she first worked at KPI, most of her colleagues were scared of her. They were prejudiced and thought lesbians were sleazy, liked to poke their fingers, and were prone to harass her sexually.

Agustine said they were afraid she would fall in love with and pursue one of them.

She slowly changed the way her colleagues saw her by bringing her lesbian friends to her workplace and introducing them to her colleagues. After a while, her colleagues would come up to them and say, “Oh, lesbians are the same as other people”.

She is doing the same with her work at the Ardhanary Institute. She said people would not respond kindly to harsh or aggressive words such as to stop homophobia or the like. So at every event, we choose to use positive words for ourselves, for example: “Lesbians are happy because of their choice of sexual orientation”.

She gives interviews to morning talk shows on television. “We want to present a positive image of lesbians, that we can function well in society and achieve something,” she said.

Agustine said the struggle was still ongoing. While the LBT movement ally themselves with the women’s movement, she said within the movement there was some resistance to lesbians.

Agustine said she returned home after 10 years. Her father now has passed away, and her mother and siblings are more accepting. Her family’s openness is now being passed on to the younger generation, she said.

“One day, my nieces and nephew were sitting in the back of the car. My nieces were hugging each other and their brother said: ‘When two women love and care for each other that’s called lesbian’. The girls asked: ‘What about two men?’ and their brother said: ‘That’s called gay’. And what about hugging without [romantic] feelings the girls asked again, and the brother said ‘That’s called friendship’.”

For Agustine, one way to make people accept her was to deconstruct people’s image of lesbian women.

Courtesy of RR Sri Agustine
Courtesy of RR Sri Agustine

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Sat, April 10 2010

Papua series: Money in the farms

Gentle handling: A vanilla farmer pinches vanilla pods to help pollination. Farmers in Serui, Yapen Islands regency, Papua, are starting to cultivate vanilla for export to Europe and the US. (JP/ Prodita Sabarini)

Returning to the land may be one way to improve food security and welfare in Papua. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini was recently among a group of journalists invited by the Britsh NGO Oxfam to examine a few of their programs in Serui and Jayawijaya regencies in Papua. Below is her report.

Seth Jenggo Mora sits under vanilla vines in Serui, a town in Yapen Island off the northern coast of Papua that resembles a bird’s neck. He sings a Yawaunat tribe song about the perils of leaving one’s home. “If I leave and return to my village/what will I have there?” he sings. “If we go abroad, when will we become a man?”

His red lips and teeth, reddened from chewing betel nuts for more than half a century, formed a smile as he finished his song. From Yapen where Serui lie to hamlets in the central mountains of Jayawijaya, traditional songs hold a deep meaning in Papuan culture. When reporters and NGO workers visited a village in Piramid district of Jayawijaya regency, Papuan men greeted visitors with tearful alments expressing their gratefulness of having guests from faraway places.

The song that Seth sung has relevance in today’s Papua, where urbanization has taken some of the young away from the rural areas to the big cities, leaving the traditional farms neglected.

As indigenous Papuans trail behind in education and economic power compared to migrants from Sulawesi, Java, or Sumatra, some young people who live in the cities end up turning to petty crimes or prostitution.

A large number of residents have contracted HIV, sending the number of infected people to the roof. According to the Health Ministry, Papua has the highest number of HIV infections in Indonesia, recording 7,572 cases between 1987 and 2012.

The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) said that urbanization in Papua has increased by 3.76 percent between 2000 and 2010, when 25.96 percent of the population, or 735,629 people, lived in cities, compared to 22.2 percent a decade before.

In Papua, more than 70 percent of the people live from farming. Taking extractive industries out of the equation, agriculture contributed 25.74 percent to Papua’s gross domestic regional product (GDRP) in 2012.

The mining industry in the resource-rich province contributed 46.52 percent to Papua’s GDRP in 2012, but absorption of local workers has been low. In 2010, only 26,747 people, mostly migrants, worked in extractive industries. In Timika, more than 70 percent of the population are migrants, according to the 2010 census.

As agriculture holds an important role in the lives of indigenous Papuans, developing the local economy by empowering farmers might help realize their basic rights for sustainable livelihood, according to Rio Pangemanan from Oxfam, which has a number of programs involving farmers in Papua.

Farmers and NGO workers in Papua report that a change of eating habits, with the introduction of rice as staple food from Java and with the government programs of rice for the poor, has jeopardized the self subsistence of villages and the livelihoods of young people in Papua.

Jayawijaya Agriculture Agency head Paulus Sarira said that five years ago, 94 percent of the population consumed sweet potatoes as their main staple. “Now only around 16 percent of the people consume sweet potatoes. Some have turned to eating rice,” he told a seminar on food security in Wamena early this month.

Chris Manuputty, the special assistant to the Jayawijaya regent for governance and social welfare, said that the unchecked change of eating habits from sweet potatoes to rice might lead to a food crisis in Wamena in the coming years.

Petrus Wenda, 70, a farmer from Yonggime, a hamlet in Piramid district in Jayawijaya, is one of the local farmers who mourn the loss of young people from his village. In his sweet potato farm in the Baliem Valley of Jayawijaya, Petrus told visiting reporters that sweet potatoes were part of his culture. Small framed, Petrus became animated in telling the story of the benefits of sweet potatoes, or hipere in the local language.

He stepped back and jumped over an irrigation ditch to better express his feelings. His voice became louder and his movements became more animated. “See my right arm? I can defeat five men with this,” he said while stretching his right arm. “See my left arm? I can defeat five more with this,” he said, reaching out his hand. Petrus then stretched his right leg and said “I can kick with this”, displaying how hipere made him strong and healthy. “Rice tastes good but it makes your stomach ill,” he said.

There is a reason why Petrus is so passionate about sweet potatoes. According to him and other elders, the introduction of rice has made young people leave the villages for the city to earn money so they can buy rice instead of preparing their land for the women to grow sweet potatoes.

“A lot of young people go to the city and become robbers. They live there [in cities] and they end up dead,” Petrus said. “Now young people don’t want to plant sweet potatoes. All of them think they can make money in the city. In fact, the money is here,” Petrus said.

The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Wed, March 27 2013

Paper Edition | Page: 8

Election Series: Striving for 30 percent quota for women

Nihayatul Wafiroh, 33, granddaughter of a popular Islamic boarding school founder in Banyuwangi, East Java, had turned down offers from political parties to contest past elections. This year she relented and agreed to run for next year’s general election.

The researcher and consultant, who will represent the National Awakening Party (PKB) for the East Java electoral district covering Situbondo, Bondowoso and Banyuwangi, said that she was once apathetic to politics.

Coming from a family of Islamic clerics that runs the Darussalam Islamic boarding school founded by Mukhtar Syafa’at, the biggest in Banyuwangi with around 4,000 to 5,000 students and alumni, some political parties see her as an asset, she said. She is also the first woman from her family to earn her Masters in the US (for Asian studies) and the first to pursue doctoral studies. PKB had been trying to persuade her for the last two years and she constantly refused until late last year.

What changed her mind? “Last year I conducted research for Search for Common Ground [an international conflict and peace-building NGO] and interviewed female legislators […] I traveled to Yogyakarta, Kendari and many other cities. The quality of a lot of the female legislators that I interviewed was very low,” she said. “In NTB [West Nusa Tenggara] a female legislator was very shy just talking to me! Who am I? Imagine her having to talk and debate in the council or with her party members that are mostly men,” she said over the phone.

Indonesia is gearing up for the 2014 legislative election scheduled a year from now on April 9, 2014. Based on the latest amendment to the law on political parties, aimed to increase female representation in politics, the General Elections Commission (KPU) last month ruled that parties not meeting the 30–percent quota for female candidates would be disqualified from districts where they failed to meet the requisite number.

Nihayatul agreed to run on one condition — that her name should be on the party’s top list. “At least I should be number two on the ballot,” she said.

In the last election of 2009, and in 2004 after the law first mentioned the quota for women candidates for legislative bodies, many female candidates were among those who failed to be elected. While observers pointed to the fact that many were not popular, advocates for women also decried the practice of political parties of assigning them low numbers on the ballot, thus reducing their chances of people voting for them. The number on a ballot still determines a candidate’s chance to win a seat in the House of Representatives, while the number of votes designates their fate on the local legislative councils.

The question of quantity over quality became the hot topic raised by some political parties facing difficulties in reaching the quota. A number of parties have questioned KPU’s disqualification threat, arguing that parties would simply meet the quota irrespective of the quality of candidates. Activists have pointed out that political parties have had 10 years to prepare female cadres since the 2003 law on parties stated they “can” recruit 30 percent of women among their legislative candidates.

An NGO focusing on elections, Cetro, produced a book profiling 100 potential women interested in running for the 2004 elections. Cetro pointed out that many women were ready, as long as there was sufficient support from their families, communities and political parties, apart from national affirmative action policies.

Nihayatul’s political calling came from her personal experience that made her see the need for qualified female legislators. But many are still reluctant. A council member from Pasuruan, East Java, Rias Nawang Kartika of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said that she would not run again for next year’s election. “That’s enough for me. I’d like to focus on my business,” the 51-year-old said. Her sister, who heads the regental branch of the Pasuruan Democratic Party, Evi Zainal Abidin, is applying as national legislator, only after being persuaded by many people, Rias said.

Political parties’ functionaries say there is a lack of interest in women to enter politics. “Many are reluctant, they think about their family, especially their children,” said PKS spokesman Mardani Ali Sera. The Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) head of cadre recruitment and selection, Idham Samawi, echoed the sentiment.

“Unfortunately, women are raised with the idea that they are konco wingking, confined only to housekeeping activities. We are trying to challenge this idea […] We have created special activities in which we want to convince women that they have the same opportunities and capabilities that men have,” he said.

Idham admits that there are more male party members than females, but added that PDI-P has numerous female cadres that have become regents and deputy governors. “Bantul regency, Yogyakarta, the place where I come from, has more than 30 percent female legislative candidates who are qualified,” he said.

PKS has also reached the quota, Mardani said. He said women make up some 37 percent of 15,462 candidates for national and regional legislators that the party plans to submit for the preliminary candidate list.

The head of the candidate selection task force of the Democratic Party, Suaidi Marasabessy, said last week that the party has exceeded the quota in total numbers, but not in some electoral districts. “If there are still some districts that have yet to reach the quota, we’ll move the candidates around,” he said on Wednesday. Both the Democratic Party and Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) said they are finding it difficult to reach the quota in rural electoral districts such as North Maluku.

The country has seen a gradual increase in female representation in parliament, but the percentage is still far from the 30-percent quota first introduced a decade ago in the law on political parties. The 2009 election brought 101 female legislators to the national parliament, or 18.04 percent of the total 560 seats. The 2004 election brought in 61 female legislators or 11.5 percent of the total number of legislators. Meanwhile, the 2009 election brought an average percentage of female representation to 16 percent at the provincial level and 12 percent at the regency and municipality levels.

Prodita Sabarini and Sebastian Partogi, The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Tue, April 09 2013

Election Series: Want to run? Show me the money first

When applicants to be legislative candidates for the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) were interviewed, one of the questions they were asked was “Do you have enough money to run?” a Jakarta branch official said.

“Maybe they don’t have money. Or they do, but they borrowed it from someone,” said Syarif, the secretary of Gerindra’s Jakarta chapter. They should have their own money “because they have to order flags and T-shirts for their own campaign.”

It has often been said that politicians and elected leaders get involved in graft to pay off the debts incurred during their campaigns.

Running in an election costs money. Excluding the vote buying that sometimes besmirches elections, candidates need money to travel, put up banners and posters, order T-shirts, etc. “For people to know who they are, candidates have to campaign. Coffee for their team is the minimum expectation,” Syarif said.

“We ask candidates how many votes they expect to win and to calculate the cost of reaching that number of people,” he said.

Gerindra has yet decided how much money each candidate needs for the race. Syarif estimates that candidates running for local legislative bodies will need at least Rp 100 million (US$ 10,000), with that figure rising to about Rp 300 million for those running for the House of Representatives (DPR). Syarif said the costs were also needed to ensure the maximum presence and performance of party observers on voting day.

Former student activist Hendra Gunawan, cofounder of the Jabodetabek University Students Community Forum (Forkot) that helped topple Soeharto, reckons that having a lot of money does not necessarily determine the election result. “A lot of people perceive running for office to be very costly,” he said. Hendra is running for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and tells of another candidate who spent Rp 20 billion on campaigning but failed to win a seat. Hendra did not mention how much he will spend on his campaign.

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) West Jakarta branch secretary Agung Setiarso said that the Islamic party receives donations from its widespread Koran reading groups. “We can raise Rp 1 million in each meeting,” Agung said. He also said that each neighborhood branch of the PKS usually has an election fund.

“Since most of the candidates are chosen by the membership, they automatically have to support their candidate,” Agung said. Agung is running for the Jakarta council, and he said that the party and the members would help him.

Prodita Sabarini and Sebastian Partogi, The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Tue, April 09 2013