By Anna Antoni, KF11, Indonesia

Although Indonesian women’s life is drastically different from what you see about Muslim women in media, the situation can still be described as- let’s call it- challenging…

After experiencing western and central Indonesia, I am now in Bali, known for a culture that couldn’t be more different from the rest of Indonesia. Tourism changed a lot in parts of Bali and most people are Hindu, so you witness a lot of ceremonies, see flowers behind ears and sooner or later you will walk over a little box with offerings to the gods. The loud calls for prayers in the rest of Indonesia are rare and pigs live in many backyards to end as “Babi Guling”.

It is Bali where the Kiva field partner “Mitra Usaha Kecil (MUK)” gives about 80% of loans to women and provides various trainings. One of the values of MUK is equality. This obviously includes gender equality which I experienced on my first morning at the office last week:

The head of the organization, Pak Nyoman Irianto Wibawa (Pak Alit) addressed his staff: “Today is Kartini Day”. It is a national holiday celebrating the birthday of the Indonesian heroine Raden Ayu Kartini who was an important figure for women’s emancipation in Indonesia. Kartini lived in the late 19th century when it was more than unlikely for an Indonesian woman to be educated because they were married as teenagers and had to serve their husbands and families as major responsibility. Kartini initiated the first school for women and thus became a symbol for women’s emancipation. In 1964 the Indonesian government introduced Kartini Day as national holiday every April 21.

Coming to Indonesia the first time in 2007 I was surprised to see women who are so different than I expected. Loud extroverted women laughing and chatting, no men at the side, some women wearing the traditional clothing, some don’t and you see women in most types of business and jobs. Of course the picture of gender roles you get in big cities like Jakarta (big? Huge! About 20 Million people!) is different, but even the rural daily life I experienced during travelling reflected this picture of women having freedom and chances in their life.

Still women are facing stereotypical gender roles. They are the ones taking care of household and children. They are not the ones in high positions in politics or companies. This is quite common in most countries of the world, but it becomes different and ugly when I hear from an Indonesian woman, that her husband is a good one because he doesn’t hit her. A previous boyfriend did and she says that it is very common.

A woman who is not married at the age of 25 will constantly be asked about it and hear comments like “you are not thaaat ugly”, for a man the pressure is significantly less. I am citing a friend, who also told me another story with a lot of guilt but great interest in my “western” views. A previous boyfriend raped her over a long period of time. She wasn’t sure if it was normal and if it was his right to hurt her and not to listen to her NOs.

Whether their stories reflect others of women in Indonesia I can’t tell, but the way this one friend asked me questions about the rape simply showed a lack of public discussion about gender equality when it comes to “the rights of the husband” compared to those of women…

Ibu Nyoman Maryani, Secretary of MUK and trainer for women loan groups about gender issues confirmed “people don’t talk about things like violence in marriage”.

Pak Alit, head of MUK emphasized the importance of equal chances for women on this Kartini Day. I was impressed. It is not often, that I experience values of an organization being present in daily work that strong. “We support women, because we feel they are more responsible with money and it is a very important part of our mission to empower women. We also do gender training in the villages where men tend to be more dominant”.

The role of microfinance in the empowerment of women now seems to be a quite widely accepted fact (see post Microfinance and violence against women), so I won’t write more about that, except what I can see in the field- women who received a loan. They seem very confident having more responsibility for the financial stability of their family and I see husbands who sit outside the circle of women in the loan group and acknowledge their wife’s work. This simply MUST have some kind of effect on life in village societies…

In the gender trainings which are held together with other trainings like family budgeting, how to run a successful business, health for women, children and their animals, Ibu Maryani discusses gender issues with the clients (see picture).

They talk about equality- one of the values of MUK.

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