‘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

Fear of the religious starts early

From the beginning: Children study in groups at an elementary school in Jakarta. Proselytizing in Indonesia’s public schools is on the rise, recent studies have shown. JP/J. Adiguna
From the beginning: Children study in groups at an elementary school in Jakarta. Proselytizing in Indonesia’s public schools is on the rise, recent studies have shown. JP/J. Adiguna

Although Indonesia has long been a melting pot of religious and ethnic groups, differences in faith still breed curiosity, fear and even animosity.

When Kelik Wicaksono opened the door of his house to two leaders of his neighborhood one Saturday morning, he didn’t expect to hear the kind of news the two men brought him.

Kelik and his wife, both Christians, had been giving English lessons to children in their neighborhood in Pondok Cabe, South Jakarta, every Saturday afternoon.

“It was a very sad moment. The men came to tell us that two local ulemas from another village had voiced their concerns about the content of our class,” Kelik said.

“They were afraid because my faith is different from theirs. And they were worried I was teaching [the children] something else,” he said.

In fact, ulemas and neighborhood leaders were so concerned they held a meeting about the class at the sub-district level.

“What I don’t understand is why didn’t they come to me personally instead of talking behind my back and having a meeting about it?” he said.

The class, Kelik said, teaches children English in a fun way. Sometimes the 15 to 30 children, who are all Muslims, learn to sing and dance, other times they make origami artwork.

When the news of the day was the conflict between the National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), students took part in discussions on that topic. When asked what the duties of the police were, one of the girls in the classroom answered with certainty: “to catch the KPK”.

“Our class is very secular,” he said. “What we can see from it [the class], is that children are now more courageous and confident… because our class is very laid back,” he said.

Kelik and his wife are still holding the class and will meet with the neighborhood leaders to discuss how to address their concerns.

A few children have stopped coming to the class after their parents forbade them to do so.

“The children said, ‘They say you’re teaching us Christian sholat’,” Kelik said. Sholat is the Muslim prayer ritual.

Religious minorities are still persecuted in parts of the country, with certain groups more prone to having their freedom of worship violated.

While permission to build a mosque, the place of worship for Muslims, is easily attained, given the majority of people in Indonesia are Muslim, Christians at times find it more difficult to build their own places of worship.

Last March, Depok mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail revoked the building permit for a Batak Protestant church in Limo, Depok. Last month, a mob burned down two Protestant churches and the home of a pastor in North Sumatra.

Kelik said he had talked to people around his neighborhood and found they were afraid of Christianization.

When it comes to Islamization however, people remain tightlipped and the state will rarely take any action to stop it, said Jajat Burhanudin, the head of the Center for Islamic and Society Studies (PPIM) at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

According to Jajat, some public schools and universities are becoming hotbeds for radical Islamic thinking, with student religious groups preaching intolerant behavior towards people from different religions.

Jajat added that compartmentalized religious education in public schools and the conservative attitude of religious studies teachers contributed to religious intolerance in Indonesian schools.

In 2008, PPIM did a survey involving 500 Islamic studies teachers in Java and found that most teachers were opposed to pluralism, tending toward radicalism and conservatism. The worrying results speak for themselves.

The study shows 62 percent of the surveyed Islamic teachers, including those from Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah – the country’s two largest Muslim organizations – rejected the notion of having non-Muslim leaders.

Almost 70 percent of the respondents were opposed to non-Muslims becoming their school principle and close to 35 percent were against having non-Muslim teachers at their schools.

Around 75 percent of the teachers didn’t want followers of other religions to build their houses of worship in their neighborhoods, the survey found.

Eighty five percent of teachers prohibit their students from celebrating big events perceived as Western traditions, while 87 percent tell their students not to learn about other religions.

In addition, 48 percent of the teachers would prefer female and male students to be separated into different classrooms.

The survey also shows 75 percent of the respondents had asked their students to call on non-Muslim teachers to convert to Islam, while 61 percent reject new Islamic sects.

In line with their strict beliefs, 67 percent said they felt more Muslim than Indonesian.

The majority of respondents also supported the adoption of sharia law in the country to help fight crime.

According to the survey, almost 60 percent of the respondents were in favor of rajam (stoning) as a punishment for all kinds of crimes and almost 50 percent said the punishment for theft should be having one hand cut off, while 21 percent want the death sentence for those who converted from Islam.

Only 3 percent of the 500 surveyed Islamic studies teachers said they felt it was their duty to produce tolerant students.

Jajat said the state had failed to take measures to contain a growing radicalization of Islam in public schools.
“The seeds of conservatism start early and educational institutions have always been the place to spread a certain ideology,” he said.

Islam-based political parties are actively collaborating with high schools to create “integrated” schools, he added. “It is part of a deliberate strategy to Islamize public schools,” he said.

While religious groups should not be stopped from opening day schools or boarding schools – even if those end up spreading their ideology, Jajat said, the situation becomes a worry when proselytizing happens in public schools.

“It shouldn’t happen in public schools. The government funds public schools with tax payers’ money. All religions should be treated equally,” he said.

He said democracy and universal values should be taught at school, while “the strengthening of primordial religious identity be avoided”.

Children should be exposed to different faiths as early as possible so they become accustomed to differences in society, Jajat said.

They should also be encouraged to have interfaith dialogues or join activities with people from different faiths.
“It can be something completely unrelated to religion, like how to tackle the problem of garbage,” he said.

The Indonesian religious education system, in which students are given religious studies based on the faith they adhere to, is very compartmentalized and does not stimulate tolerance and understanding between different faiths, Jajat lamented.
“At the same time, there is no effort to make the students see beyond religious symbols,” he said.

Recently a Facebook page titled “Replace religious education in high school with studies about ethics, humanity and basic philosophy” was created. The page now has 400 fans.

When asked about the page, Jajat said he fully agreed with the message.
“Basically, we should hold on to universal values,” he said.

One of the group’s fan, Karl Karnadi, an Indonesian atheist who lives in Germany, said he supported the group because he believed the current religious education system did not promote pluralism.

“In my opinion, intolerance tends to arise when a person is only taught about one religion all of his/her life without having been given the chance to know about other religions and their followers,” he said.

“Why not use religious studies for that? Teach people about more than one religion. Teach them at least about Indonesia’s six ‘official religions’. Give children a chance to get to know different religions outside the ones they adhere to. And in a descriptive way [like Wikipedia] rather than by indoctrinating them [like at church or with Koran readings],” he said.
“That’s an interesting idea, don’t you think?” Karl mused.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Wed, February 17 2010

Religious TV jeopardizing pluralism

Pervasive medium: Three people watch a television program in a shop at a railway station in Jakarta. Activists argue that many religious TV programs play a symbolic rather than a substantial role in religion, and tend to marginalize minority groups. JP/Nurhayati
Pervasive medium: Three people watch a television program in a shop at a railway station in Jakarta. Activists argue that many religious TV programs play a symbolic rather than a substantial role in religion, and tend to marginalize minority groups. JP/Nurhayati

A recent episode of an Islamic religious program aired on a private TV station broached the topic of tattoos, questioning whether they were haram (prohibited) or halal (allowed).

The TV show presenter then pointed his microphone to people with tattoos, asking if they knew the marks on their skin were prohibited under Islamic law.

The episode in itself begs the following questions: Was singling out people with tattoos in a religious program right or wrong?

How about other minorities whose lifestyles are not in line with certain religious teachings, such as gay men and lesbians, or people who drink alcohol?

How would broadcasting a strict right or wrong label on people affect the pluralist nature of our society?

Religious programs, which have been around since the early days of TV — when the country only had one public television station, TVRI – usually take the form of sermons delivered by ulemas, priests or Buddhist monks.

In recent years, producers of religious programs have been experimenting with reality-TV types of shows. While some shows focus on one particular topic, such as debating whether something is halal or haram and then interviewing people about the matter, others are a blend of reality shows and religious programs, with family members attempting to get their relative who has strayed from religion to return to it.

Through religious programs, TVs are bringing into everyone’s living rooms strict interpretations of religious teachings in a modern context, which could jeopardize pluralism and religious tolerance.

The head of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), Sasa Juarsa Sendjaja, said Indonesian media was generally doing a good job promoting pluralism.

“However, there are attempts, here and there, from the majority to dominate the minority,” he said.

The majority of people in Indonesia are Muslims. The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has often stipulated divisive edicts or fatwa. In 2005, the MUI released an edict stating that pluralism, liberalism and religious secularism were haram.

Since then, a number of fatwas have been released, including a ban on smoking, women riding on the back motorcycles, hair straightening, hair-dyeing and on taking pre-wedding pictures.

Artist and politician Guruh Soekarnoputra said TV programs promoting intolerance reflected the changes permeating Indonesian society.

“We’re not a Pancasila country anymore,” he said, referring to the country’s principles. The country has a motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or Unity in Diversity that represents Indonesia’s pluralistic society.
KPI, Sasa said, regulates what can and cannot be broadcasted on TV.

“And one requirement is that television stations should respect pluralism. Minority groups like gay men and lesbians, not just people from different religions, should also be respected,” he said.

After all, the KPI – through the Press Board (Dewan Pers) – monitors news, entertainment or infotainment programs to ensure they adhere to a code of journalism ethics.

“For talk shows or regular television programs, we do the monitoring ourselves,” he said. “There are programs that could be construed as fuelling intolerance. But we have to see to what extent,” he said.
Director of the Jakarta-based International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP), M. Syafi’i Anwar, said many religious programs on television acted more as symbols than anything else.

“Television makes sure religious programs are merely entertainment,” he said.

“The programs are artificial and symbolic. Therefore we see a lot of people go to haj but corruption is still rife; many mosques are being built while many people are still homeless,” he said.

Because programming on TV channels is driven by ratings and profits, much of the preaching or dakwah on TV is not educational, Syafi’I went on.

“Sometimes, the programs even contradict religious teachings.”

Syafi’i said dakwah should not be judgmental. “It [the preaching] should be persuasive instead.”

“Dakwah should be carried out with wisdom… meaning we should not be judgmental,” he said.

Even if religion disagrees with certain activities or attitudes, one should not be judged by them, he added.

“The only good way to preach is by highlighting role models, or leading by example, not by being judgmental.”

Islam spread across Indonesia through persuasion and dialogue, Syafi’i said. The nine wali or saints who spread Islam in Java in the 15th century used local arts and culture influenced by Hindu and Buddhist culture.

“That’s why Islam in Java has rituals such as sekaten… because of the mix of culture,” he said of the ritual welcoming the Islamic New Year.

Television is a very important media to promote pluralism, Syafi’I said. Religious leaders in TV programs should use a persuasive method that will give religion a friendly face.

Progressive Islamic scholar Maman Imanulhaq Faqieh who leads the Islamic boarding school Al-Mizan in Yogyakarta said intolerance stemmed from religious leaders applying religious teachings out of context.

“Some religious leaders lack wisdom when examining the problems plaguing society,” he said.

“Religion is supposed to be the energy that can bring change and promote messages to humanity.”

However many religious programs in Indonesia are still very shallow and do not touch the substance of complex problems in society, he said, as they have misunderstood how to apply religion to modern life.

“Therefore, [religious] TV programs now are merely judging and blaming people for society’s ills.
They do not try to delve into the problem, and in the end it alienates religion from society,” he said.

Maman said the current religious programs on television reflected a more Arabic interpretation of Islam, with preachers wearing long robes and sermonizing about strict interpretations of the religion.

When preaching religion, Ma-man said, religious leaders should focus on the liberating and emancipating aspects of the religion, and address human rights violations and other social problems in the community.

“It is time for religious leaders to tackle societal problems seriously. There should be a dialogue between religious leaders and the community, in which both parties respect and appreciate each other,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Wed, February 10 2010