Kartini Day: Time to look at women in politics

Discussion on women in politics was held at the Erasmus Huis with Prof Van der Veen as moderator, Riri (Khairiroh) Ali, Sara Djojohadikusumo, Eva Kusuma Sundari and Marina Berg the Swedis ambassador speaking about women in Swedan. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

IO – With Kartini Day just celebrated on the 21st of April, it is a good time to look again at the position of women in politics especially in the legislative body for it is women legislators that help to drive women’s interest issues such as women’s rights, violence against women and children, eco­nomic parity with men, discrimination against women, etc. Parliament needs to fill its ranks with women before it will be able to properly address wom­en’s issues.

During the Sukarno era there was only one election namely in 1955 in which women obtained roughly 5% of the parliamentary seats. During the Suharto era their number of seats gradually increased to nearly 11,5 %. After the Suharto era legislation was passed to introduce the gender quota system in order to try to help increase the percentage of women participating in politics.

As of 2003 political parties were required on the national level to have organizational structures consisting of at least 30 percent women as well as nominating women as 30 percent of their candidates. Parties not fulfilling these requirements can be disenfran­chised. This move immediately in­creased the importance of women in the legislative process. However, while parties have raced to increase their number of legislative candidates, the number of women actually elected as members of parliament have still not increased as much as was hoped for.

In 2018 the number of female members of the house of represen­tatives was 97 women out of 463 members which means women make up about 17.32%. In the provincial parliament women held 16.14% of the seats whereas in the cities they occupied 14% of municipal council seats. As regards the percentage of women in the legislature according to Riri (Khariroh) Ali of Komnasham Per­empuan or the Human Rights Com­mission for Women, Indonesia ranks number 104 in the world and number 6 in ASEAN. In the recently held 2019 election the number of women candi­dates fighting for 575 parliamentary seats was 3,200 women candidates out of a total of 7,985 male and female candidates.

The gender quota has proven not to have been very effective for it has not increased women’s electability signifi­cantly enough. With the gender quo­ta coming into force in 2003 women were still only able to secure 11.24% of parliamentary seats in 2004. In the next election in 2009 that figure rose to 18.21% however very disappoint­ingly it dropped to 17 % in the next election in 2014. The question is of course, why has this not translated into far greater electability for women in parliament?

A similar discussion was held at the Jakarta Foreign Correpondents Club. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

As a run up to the recent elec­tions both Erasmus Huis as well as the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club held discussions about women and politics earlier this year. At the Erasmus Huis discussion Dutch Ambassador Rob Swartbol asked why compared to the Netherlands where women hold 34% of the parlia­mentary seats, in Indonesia women only hold 17%. He wondered wheth­er we demand the same performance of women as we do men and do we judge women as we do men?

Riri commented that there were a number of issues that created diffi­culties for women starting with dis­criminatory laws that criminalize women by accusing them of prosti­tution. There are bylaws for example that forbid women to be out alone at night stigmatizing women caught alone at night as prostitutes. She said that women are also experienc­ing increased restrictions as well as being given less control over their bodies. The obligation to wear a hijab for example is not with the state and whether to wear one or not should be the woman’s choice. There are bylaws for appropriate dress code in Aceh, South Sumatra, Mandailing Natal in North Sumatra and Bulukumba, South Sulawesi. Another problem for women is their mobility. Riri men­tioned that in the regency of Bira in Aceh a woman is forbidden to go out after 9 pm without a man to accom­pany her. There are similar bylaws in Tangerang and Banda Aceh. This of course impedes women’s mobility.

Tsamara Amany Alatas from PSI. (photo: IO/Tamalia)

The National Commission on Vio­lence Against Women listed 421 dis­criminatory policies against women and minorities at the regional level from 2009 to 2016. Many of these impositions are associated with reli­gious belief. Tsamara Amany Alatas who is a member of the PSI (Partai Solidaritas Indonesia or Indonesian Solidarity Party) spoke at the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club about the issue of regional bylaws which are in contravention of national law and the Constitution and which frequently discriminate against women. Not so long ago her party created an outcry when it outed Golkar and PDIP (de­spite being in a coalition with them) for being the parties with the most re­gents and governors who have issued such bylaws. Governors, mayors, and regents are in a more strategic posi­tion than national and local parlia­ments for producing regulations that deal with women’s everyday lives.

There are thousands of bylaws in force all over the Archipelago which are in contravention of national law. Komnas Perempuan states that since 2016 there were 421 discriminatory bylaws in force with 333 of them vio­lating women’s rights. This is a 237% rise in discriminatory bylaws since 2010. The bylaws prevent citizens especially women from enjoying their rights under the Indonesian Consti­tution and the International Human Rights Convention.

Under the Regional Administrative Law of 2014 the Ministry of the In­terior had the right to revoke bylaws in contravention of national law but in 2017 the Constitutional Court of Indonesia reviewed the law and de­cided that the Ministry of the Inte­rior did not have the right to revoke a legal product created by a person who obtained his position through election by the people. It also decid­ed that the right to review bylaws is not the right of the executive branch of the government but of the judicial branch namely the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. This means that only parliament or one of the two previously mentioned courts can address the issue of problematic bylaws. Parliament however lacks the political will to do so and the Consti­tutional Court is only authorized to review the constitutionality of nation­al laws – not bylaws. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is only mandated to review the legality of bylaws and not their constitutionality.

Eva Sundari from PDIP. (photo: Prive. Doc)

This means that the discrimi­natory bylaws cannot be revoked. The government educational in­stitutions are attempting to teach future bureaucrats and state lead­ers to understand the principles of non-discrimination in the Constitu­tion. PDIP (Partai Demokrasi Indo­nesia Perjuangan or the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle) leg­islator Eva Kusuma Sundari says “Although the government cannot do much about the bylaws already in place it has a regulation in place which says that all draft regional legislation must obtain the prior approval of the Kanwil Hukum or Regional Government Law Office (which is under the authority of the central government) before it can come into force. This will prevent future discriminatory bylaws from being passed.”

Sara Djojohadikusumo from the Gerindra party. (photo: Prive. Doc)

A survey by the Internation­al Foundation for Electoral Sys­tems (IFES) in 2010 indicated that the traits voters look for in women candidates is intelligence (35%), honesty or not corrupt (26%), and political experience (20%). Women candidates are often also women who have a following such as teach­ers, religious leaders, actresses and entrepreneurs. Two legislators worth looking at are Sara Djojohadikusu­mo and Eva Kusuma Sundari.

Eva Kusuma Sundari was a veteran activist before becoming a member of parliament. She was a feminist who rose from the grass­roots level when because of the gender quota system parties be­gan looking for women candidates. She is a member of PDIP who rose through the ranks by virtue of good performance and even receiving var­ious awards. When PDIP politician Pramono Anung became Secretary of the Cabinet his parliamentary seat became free and the party voted to give it to Eva. It was not easy for Eva because she never belonged to a faction within the party and does not have a so-called godmother or god-father within the party. Never­theless, she managed to successfully fight for the creation of a public ac­counting body within the parliament namely the Badan Akuntabiitas Keuangan Negara or National Finan­cial Accountability Agency. Across party lines together with three oth­er women Eva also helped establish the Lembaga Perlindungan Saksi dan Korban or Witness and Victim Protection Agency. Previously, it was limited to protecting mostly men in corruption cases.

Sara Djojohadikusumo was for­merly an actress who became in­volved in the struggle against human trafficking in particular trafficking of women and children. She soon real­ized that if she remained outside the realm of politics, she would have far less influence. Sara then ran for par­liament under a Gerindra (Gerakan Indonesia Raya or Great Indonesia Movement) party ticket and after be­ing elected she began work in Com­mission 8 of the House of Represen­tatives which deals with women and children as well as other social and religious issues. She is the only per­son who actually volunteered to sit in Commission 8 which is regarded as a so-called dry commission with not many possibilities for corruption. “In 2015 the budget for women and chil­dren at the Ministry for Women’s Em­powerment was Rp 1 trillion. Now it has dropped to Rp 500 billion,” sighs Sara.

Their frequently low level of edu­cation and high level of disinforma­tion is another factor working against women. Sara, who in the 2019 elec­tions ran for North and Central Ja­karta and the Thousand Islands is involved in the struggle to have the bill for violence against women and children passed into law. It breaks her heart to hear women oppose this bill claiming that it encourages adultery.

One of the reasons that the gen­der quota has not worked is because statistics show that the majority of elected legislative candidates are those who were at the top of the par­ty’s legislative candidates list. They also show that in the 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections candidates in first position had a 60 % chance of being elected while those in second posi­tion only had a 20 percent chance of winning election. Nevertheless, with the open system, candidates placed anywhere on the list can win. Sara Djojohadikusumo is one of Indone­sia’s parliamentarians who fought for 30% of candidates listed as number one on a party’s legislative candidate list must be women. However, six political parties did not support this. Only 4 parties backed the proposal and now in Sara’s words, “It is a free for all!”

Eva is very much against the open list system in elections. She says, “Af­ter our Constitutional Court approved the open list system in elections only the rich are now able to become members of parliament. When we still followed a closed system many more activists including many women were able to run for and get elected to parliament.”

In a closed list system, voters can only vote for the party as a whole and have no influence on the order in which party candidates are elected. If the public has at least some influ­ence than it is an open list system. Eva holds that a closed list system is friendlier to women candidates and is part of the reason why the gender quota has not brought about the increase in the number of women parliamentarians originally hoped for. However, whereas Eva Sundari considers the open list system an impediment to women entering par­liament Sara Djojohadikusumo does not agree with this view. She holds that the closed list system results in parties becoming too strong and a decrease in good communications with the people as members of par­liament will almost certainly parrot their party’s policies and decisions. It also helps strengthen party oligar­chies.

Political parties are not good at recruiting, training and grooming their women cadres. They are usual­ly simply put in the women’s wing of the party and all they can do is cam­paign door to door in villages. Tsa­mara complains that simply in order to fulfill their gender quota parties of­ten randomly pick women who have no idea how to fundraise or even how to campaign. “It is preferable to have only 10% women’s representation but then women who really understand the issues.”

Women often do not have the re­sources to run, some do not have cars or even motor-cycles; their campaign teams are usually pro-bono and not professional. There is a law which says that one cannot bring children to campaigns but many do so anyway because they do not have babysitters. One thing that most women legisla­tors agree on is that to increase the electability of women, parties should provide more training and educate women candidates.

What is perhaps most interest­ing is that bipartisanship amongst women in parliament is strong. Women will work across party lines to promote women’s issues and bet­ter the position of women in society. Although Eva and Sara are from dif­ferent parties they work together on gender issues in helping and protect­ing women – as does Tsamara’s par­ty. Bipartisanship is in fact a char­acteristic of most Indonesian women who in society tend to have a more live and let live attitude than men. Women tend to opt for making peace, cooperation and getting the job done. Bipartisanship is in fact the essence of our society. In a nation as diverse as Indonesia it is a characteristic that is worth its weight in gold. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)