Thu, 10 Mar 2005

RI women face religious obstacles in improving role

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Conservative religious understanding and cultural elements have hampered the development of the political role of women here, the Women's Research Institute (WRI) revealed on Thursday.

Conducted in eight regions, the institute's research on regional autonomy showed that despite the enactment of several bylaws and policies to increase women's political participation in politics at a regional level, few women have taken up the challenge.

For instance, there is not a single woman councillor in Gianyar regency, Bali, nor in Banda Aceh, while in the West Nusa Tenggara capital of Mataram, there are only two women among 35 councillors.

Women comprise around 30 percent of the work force on average, while their wage in the agricultural sector is generally lower, or often half the salary of a man.

However the number of women in those areas is equal to the number of men, and in some places, higher.

According to the research, the misinterpretation of religious teachings is largely to blame for the low participation of women, resulting in discriminative policies delivered by local administrations.

In the predominantly Muslim Mataram, for instance, men are considered to be the leaders and the sole breadwinners of families.

"God created man as the leader. There is no verse in the Koran that says women have to earn money too," said a male respondent.

A religious leader in Kebumen regency, Central Java, interpreted An-Nisa:34 as saying that men are the heads of families and should also be the leaders of society.

Also, preachers often speak of a woman's obligation to serve her husband and to put his daily needs first.

"Washing your husband's clothes is more noble than going outside the house and working," said a woman respondent, quoting a religious leader.

Meanwhile, in the predominantly Hindu Gianyar, women are more responsible than men for making preparations for ceremonies, offerings and religious events.

Yet, they have no right to participate in public forums within the community or formal political institutions.

According to woman activist Zoemrotin K. Susilo, even in regions where women are well-educated and financially secure, cultural elements and religious misinterpretation prevent them from entering the work force.

"Moreover, culture and religion also contribute to the high maternal mortality rate," she said.

The maternal mortality rate in this country stands at a staggering 307 deaths per 100,000 births, although the actual figure could be much higher.

"Men get better and more food, leaving women and girls undernourished," she said.

According to Ford Foundation program officer Hans Antlov, politics need to be made less formal to make room for women to learn more about politics.

"In the regions, only men can vote and speak in a public forum. Therefore, there should be a non-negotiable principle, like one person one vote, so that women can speak too. And there should be the legal framework to protect them," he said.

While local wisdom is good, sometimes it contains too many feudalistic elements that should no longer be maintained, he said.





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