Friday, June 09, 2006

Resistance is a universal human response to oppression.

In the early 1900s, a young Indonesian noblewoman named Kartini, together with her husband, started some of the first girls’ schools in Java. In 1912, the first Indonesian women’s organization was formed, and two years later it published a list of women’s needs, most of which had been created or exacerbated by Dutch colonialism. The list included education, abolition of child marriage, free choice of a marriage partner, abolition of polygamy, abolition of prostitution, regulation of female labour in factories, and sex, hygiene and family planning education.

Education was considered essential for women to get paid jobs and reclaim the independence they had when they held at least partial responsibility for household finances. Some women struggled for and gained jobs in factories, but they did not receive family benefits because they were not perceived as the family provider.

In 1928 the Indonesian Women’s Congress, or Kowani, was founded and held its first conference. In the 1940s, middle class Indonesian women won respect by fighting alongside men for independence from the Japanese, who had occupied the country and forced the Dutch out in 1942. Women also served as nurses and carried supplies to the men. After World War II, when the Japanese surrendered and the Dutch granted independence to Indonesia, the constitution guaranteed equal rights and obligations for women in education, law, health, political participation, and employment.

During the 1950s, women made great strides in politics, and Indonesia had its first female government Minister. The struggle continued for better marriage rights for women, and in 1952 the government changed the civil servant pension plan so that men with more than one wife must make additional contributions. The Marriage Act created a minimum marriage age of 15 years for women and 18 years for men. The Act also banned polygamy except in cases of mutual consent between both spouses, and gave women equal rights in divorce, so that they could divorce and still receive equal consideration afterward. In 1956 the Charter of Women’s Rights was created, and soon after women’s right to own land was added. In 1968 the National Commission on the Status of Women was formed with a mandate to collect data and make policy recommendations to the federal government on the status of women. Ten years later the Office of the Associate Minister for the Role of Women was created.

Today there are more than 90 women’s groups in Indonesia. The women who are involved work on issues of housing, food production, environment, and family planning. A woman in Indonesia can now choose her husband, and will usually marry in her late teens or early 20s, as opposed to at the onset of, or prior to, puberty. Marriage legislation gives her equal rights to men in divorce, although she will often be forced to live a life of shame if she exercises these rights. Family planning has meant smaller families and less work for women at home, who are still the primary childcare providers. However, birth control technologies have introduced new dangers to the health of women.

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