For Indonesians, Kartini Day is arguably a more worthy cause to celebrate women’s emancipation than other similar commemorations. On April 21, we celebrate the birth of the 19th century Javanese princess who opened the door for women to be educated and thus progress in society. This year, it fell just four days after the simultaneous presidential and legislative elections, the world’s largest single-day electoral event.
Involving 800,000 polling stations and millions of volunteers, it was truly an amazing and costly undertaking, both in human and financial terms. But as a democratic exercise, it also served as an opportunity to measure how women have fared in the political sphere, where their voice has been sorely lacking in government and parliamentary decision-making.
No question, there have been concerted efforts in the past few years to provide women with more access to political life, including a law requiring political parties to have a minimum of 30 percent minimum of women among candidates for public office. But it has been slow going, perhaps because women themselves see politics as a thankless occupation, dominated by a party elite more interested in self-interest than the national interest. Notably, the women who do take part in the political process tend to come from the upper reaches of society when in reality a wider constituency is needed if women’s voices are to make a difference.
Nevertheless, there have been a few pioneers, and judging by the data from the recent election, the number is slowly beginning to grow—from 33.2 percent in 2004, when we held our first direct presidential election, to 40.1 percent this year. It has been enough to emit optimistic vibes and, true to the Javanese saying, alon alon asal kelakon (loosely translated as ‘slow but sure’), it’s bound to spur on feminist activism. Apart from enjoying a 30percent share of the current Parliament, there are also encouraging signs that a lot more younger women are entering politics.
Women’s voices can also be heard from a number of books in Lontar’s new BTW book series. One example is Two Women in one House and Other Stories by Cynthia Hariadi, which explores the issues of domestic violence, racism, sexual objectification and jealousy.
Dear friends of Lontar, during this fund-raising month, we hope you will continue to support us and donate generously.