Interview with Valentina (Rotua Valentina Sagala), Founder of Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute)
Background: Institut Perempuan (IP) or Women’s Institute is a feminist NGO in Indonesia focused on women’s rights advocacy and women’s economic empowerment. IP has participated in the International Members Congress in 2007 and 2010, the Asia Regional Members Consultation in 2009 and along with all other members of Indonesia they were also part of a Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) workshop organized by GAATW-IS in May, 2011.
- Can you give us a brief overview on the women’s rights situation in Indonesia? How does Institut Perempuan advocate for women’s rights through networks at the local, national and international level?
In Indonesia, violence against women, discrimination against women and impoverishment of women is still a crucial problem. In 2012 the National Commission on Violence against Women recorded 216,156 cases on violence against women. In 2011 there were 119,107 cases. In 2010 there were 105,103 cases in the sphere of domestic, public, and state. Not to mention the cases of women’s rights violations such violations to minority women (Ahmadiyah, lesbian, etc), rape tragedy in May 1998 and the massacre of 1965. An estimated 69 percent of all overseas Indonesian workers are women. The Government of Indonesia (GoI) estimates that two percent of Indonesian workers abroad who are “properly” documented become victims of trafficking. GoI and NGOs’ sources reported an increasing number of undocumented workers travelling abroad. As the GoI expands its use of biometric travel documents false documents are becoming more difficult and expensive to obtain. As a result, more undocumented workers are travelling by sea putting them at a significantly higher risk of becoming trafficking victims than documented workers.
In other aspects of women’s lives economic pressures have resulted in the increasing rate of poverty, which affects the high rate of malnutrition among children and women, the high number of victims of women and child trafficking, as well as the emergence of new cases of suicide committed by women and children because of stress and depression. At the same time, only because of the State’s orientation to increase State revenues, the GoI increased the number of migrant workers, especially women, and clearly made the Indonesian migrant workers abroad as a target, especially in sectors where women are even less exposed. Hundreds of thousands of women migrant workers experienced a variety of rights violations and have died without a clear understanding of the cause of death in another country without significant protection from the GoI. Not to mention, social welfare is still a serious problem. The State does not have a strategy to ensure the welfare of the people as a fundamental requirement of human rights. The State also has not consistently integrated the principles of CEDAW into the whole life of society and the State. Poverty reduction has not been fully implemented on an ongoing basis, especially for women. The privatization has decreased the GoI’s accountability to guarantee access, including sexual and reproductive health for all women without discrimination. The rate of child mortality and maternal mortality has increased, following the declining status of women and children.
Until now, the GoI has not recognize domestic workers as workers so that these workers have not received their basic rights, such as their rights to decent work facilities and health social securities like other workers. After being included in National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) for four years, parliament and GoI have not finished the deliberation of the Domestic Workers Protection Bill. Law Number 39/2004 on Protection and Placement of Indonesian Migrant Workers Overseas manages more Indonesian migrant workers’ placement but does not seem concerned with their protection. Migrant Workers and their families’ rights are often violted as women migrant workers are then suceptible to exploitation, trafficking, violence and discrimination, marginalization and stereotyping from their villages in the training center as problems in transit countries as well as in destination country. It causes the fulfillment of women migrant workers rights to be far from secure meaning there is a violation of the right to decent wages, over time allowances, worship, freedom from uniting, expression, communication and the rights to hold their own passport.
Since 1999, Indonesia has implemented decentralization. Rather than increasing public services delivery to society, it is being used to discriminate women through discriminatory law/policies. Komnas Perempuan reported that there are 282 discriminatory policies up to 2010. West Java is one of the top six provinces with the highest number of discriminatory laws and regulations being issued.
Feminist advocacy works that run by Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) are conducted as systematic attempts to understand the national and local (province, residence, district, sub-district, and village) issues concerning women and children. This effort is conducted by initiating and actively participating in some networks. At the international level, we are member of GAATW (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women). At the national level, we actively participate in National Advocacy Network on Pro Women Legislation, National Advocacy on the Protection of Domestic Workers, National Advocacy Networks on the Elimination on Violence against Women, National Advocacy on Victims and Witness Protection, and National Advocacy Coalition on Bill of Criminal Act, CEDAW Working Group Indonesia, etc. At the local level, we actively participate in West Java Advocacy Network on Action Plan on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Women and Child Trafficking, and also in West Java Network on the Elimination on Women and Child Trafficking.
- Much of IP’s work focuses on educating people about women’s rights by exploring feminism with them. In your experience how has feminism enriched your trainings with social activists, community members, law enforcers, government members, women and girls and how is it benefiting women in Indonesia?
At Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) feminist critical education is done to build consciousness about oppression and injustices towards women. One of the activities is SEKOLAH FEMINIS – Feminist School. It’s a model of feminist critical education for pro public activist (for example activists working on the issues of anti-corruption, agrarian reform, developmentalism, indigenous people, child’s rights, LGBTI etc). This school aims to focus on the necessity of feminist pro public activism to build new social movements where pro public activist have awareness, consciousness and skills gained through using feminist ideology. The uniqueness of this school is that it is committed to the ideology and perspective of feminism. IP also published the first feminist, critic, progressive journal in Indonesia, named “HerStory - Cerita Perempuan”.
In preparing training material for trainings, workshop, etc, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) always establish module material based on a feminist perspective. As we know, feminism is an ideology and a means of understanding issues from women’s perspectives and experiences. In this way, trainees can be aware of the patriarchal and capitalist structures that cause oppression of women. Thus, the participants understand the issues in a broader framework. In addition to work related specifically to women’s issues, we also often work closely with other institution to conducting training on issues such as corruption, development, law, etc. In these trainings we do the same things and through this way we also introduce feminism to broader participants and networks. At the same time, we are using feminist legal theory and practices in doing our advocacy efforts.
- How is it benefiting women in Indonesia?
Through education on women’s rights by exploring feminism, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) contributes to women’s movement and other social movements because women’s issues and others issues in social movements are related. According to feminism “the personal is political”, and as such we understand that none of the issues concerning women can be sorted out without exploring broader issues. The issue of maternal mortality rate, for example, cannot be separated from the country's economic policies and other policies that made the country on the basis of patriarchal values. So, it is important to understand all issues in social movements as related with women’s experiences (voices, perspective) and therefore, has to be analyze using feminism. Through education on feminism, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) contribute on establishing the stronger alliance between women’s movement and social movement, and making feminism every human’s rights defenders’ business. There are no human rights without women’s rights and without feminism.
In doing advocacy work, we use feminist legal theory and practices. By this we believe that the law is not neutral, and yet must be critized by the question: where are women’s experiences in the law (legal system?) We understand the law as a system consists of substance, structure, and culture. Our objectives are to ensure that the law is developed with women’s meaningful participation, where women are free to express their opinions, feelings and so the law reflects their needs. At the same time law enforcement is another area of our work to ensure that women are truly being protected by the law and treated respectfully and fairly as human beings.
- How do you understand economic opportunities for women within the ‘global hegemony that suppresses women’? How does IP’s work to enhance women’s economic empowerment challenge these systematic barriers for women?
The ideology of oppression can be dressed in anything by throwing on different jargon. Patriarchy can be called imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, fascism, and now: the globalization of neoliberalism. This is the global hegemony that suppresses women. Globalization builds a new international division of labor, strengthening aspects of the oppression of women. Sexual division of labor has alienated women and their definitions of life. This pattern drowned women in the feminization of poverty, as the poorest groups in society, as domestic workers in industrialized countries, within the politics of "surrogate mother", in the massification of sex industry in women’s experiences of trafficking.
In the context of Indonesian membership in WTO, WTO free trade scheme has created vast market openings which does not contribute to economic welfare of Indonesian women. This has also made the State lose its sovereignty to control of financial and basic services such as health care, education and water and contributed to the eliminating of women's rights, namely the supply of safe and healthy food, decent living and access to basic services all by transferring the control over these basic rights to transnational corporations. Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) of the WTO has pushed agriculture into market commodity rather than for daily consumption. A shift towards export-oriented agricultural products resulted in the loss of agricultural land for large scale farming business, the loss of livelihoods, and increase landless farmers. Even worse, it creates disappearance of women peasants and women’s knowledge of environment wisdom. The floods of imported products due to the AoA implementation also kill home industry and traditional products, the majority of which is manageed by women especially in rural areas. In addition, WTO trade services agreements led to the marginalization and discrimination of migrant domestic workers whom the majority of are women.
Therefore, awareness of the feminist anti-neoliberal struggle must be organized in the framework of ideology and mass. Organizing collectively for change must be done to build a new order: an independent society (of both men and women) based on fairness and prosperity. It is a new society, without oppression, without hegemony, without domination, without violence, and without neoliberalism. Therefore, the fight against the hegemony system was also carried out in the form of building a more fair economic framework. Herein lies the economic opportunities for women.
One of Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute)’s programs is in women’s economic empowerment. The program is conducted as an effort to build and develop women’s economy within the framework of the fight against global economic hegemony that oppresses women. At the community level this program is done within a women’s empowerment frame to prevent the exploitative conditions that threaten women and children, such as trafficking. In order to initiate autonomous and independent women’s movements we develop alternative fund rising, such as producing and selling merchandises.
- What does International Women’s Day mean to you? How did you celebrate it at the Action Committee for Women's Day and Women’s Carnival? What were the highlights for you and what are your ambitions for the women’s movement and for women’s rights in Indonesia for the rest of this year?
International Women’s Day (IWD) is the day that we celebrate women’s long history of activism all over the world. For me, the purpose for women’s being together on IWD is to feel strings of injustice, and then to unite this togetherness: fighting for women’s independence and equality. Along with thousands of women in Indonesia, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) joined with Action Committee for Women's Day and involved in Women Carnival, on March 8, 2013, in the capital city. In this Carnival, thousands of women participated in the long march from Hotel Indonesia round towards the Merdeka Presidential Palace. The theme of the Women’s Carnival is "A Promise is a Promise: Demanding State’s Promise to Fulfill Women’s Rights and Eliminating Violence, Discrimination, and Impoverishment to Women". In this women’s carnival women demanded this from State Institutions, from the GoI (Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, the Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare, the Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Communication and Information, Ministry of Religioun Affairs, and Ministry of Internal Affairs), Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu), the Constitutional Court, to the President of Indonesia.
- What were the highlights of IWD for you?
In IWD this year, we highlighted laws that discriminate against women and create and perpetuate violence against women, particularly the Law No. 1 Year 1974 on Marriage, which discriminates women due to the standardization of the unequal role of husband and wife, discrimination in minimum age of marriage, and limited polygamy; Law No. 44 Year 2008 on Pornography which violates women's human rights by criminalizing women; and regional/local laws and regulations that discriminate against women in the forms of; restrictions on the right to freedom and expression; reduction of the right to protection and legal certainty due to the regional policy; elimination of the right to protection and legal certainty through regional policy about prohibition of khalwat; neglection of protection through regional policy on migrant domestic workers.
I am aware that UN has published the IWD 2013 theme as “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. But I believe that understanding violence against women, including women’s experiences of trafficking with feminism means looking at and analyzing the problem comprehensively instead of being limited to do what funding agencies encourage NGOs (and governments) to do or doing the same things all the time (without critiquing economic, political and cultural aspects from women’s perspectives and experiences). That is why in Indonesia, we highlights women demanding State’s promises for fulfillment in eliminating violence, discrimination, and impoverishment against women.
I do think that women’s movement and women’s issues can be seen as fragmented. Issues of violence against women, human rights, reproductive health, law, globalisation and others are related. If women are committed to promote the concept of the “personal is political”, then none of the issues concerning women can be divided. Women's movement should be in front of other social movements. In this way, women’s movement has to contribute to various issues such as neoliberalism and free tade, corruption, law enforcement, environment, LGBTI, etc. Women’s movement has to plays an important role on demanding and creating a justice, equality, and humanity civil society.
- What is IP’s focus for this year?
First, currently the GoI and parliament are discussing the Gender Equality Bill which is planned to be finalized by the end of this year. The Bill is still far from the hope of feminist organizations, as it only regulates more technical “gender mainstreaming” in government institutions, rather than a comprehensive law that guarantees women’s rights, equality and justice for women. The Bill on Gender Equality should become an “umbrella” law which comprehensively guarantees women’s rights and equality, developed with feminist perspective. I endorse the GoI and parliament to draft and to enact the Bill as Law on Equality and Justice for Women, as a reference regulation on eliminating discrimination and violence against women, and be able to guarantee the protection of women's rights. And at the same time to evaluate all regulations, strategies, programs, policy, and practices in the name of “gender mainstreaming” and “poverty reduction with a gender perspective” to truly ensure women’s experiences are reflected and that women could really enjoy the benefit of this development.
Second, as migrant workers and domestic workers are vulnerable to be violated, including being trafficked, I think it is important to demand the GoI to recognize and protect domestic workers and migrant workers through enacting Law on Protection of Migrant Workers and its Families, and also the Law on Protection of Domestic Workers, which in accordance with the principles and provisions of CEDAW, Convention on Protection of All Rights of Migrant Workers and Its Families (1990) and ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and progresively with the input from feminist activists/organizations.
Third, the rise of fundamentalism, neoliberalism, especially in the context of decentralizations, and the lack of “intermediate” regulations has caused violation on women’s rights at the grass-roots level. I do think that this should be urgently being realized by feminist activists/organizations so they can work more inclusively and develop a more strategic alliance at the national level and international level.
- As an alliance, GAATW is interested in working together with like-minded organisations through networks and movements which IP has a lot of experience with. How do you think collaboration and knowledge exchange can be enhanced within GAATW?
As a feminists I do think that we are now in the time where we have to start thinking outside of the box, raise our creativity, using our skills as tools to embrace more and more women and other strategic partners (organizations who works for anti-trafficking issues, anti-neoliberalists etc). Collaboration and knowledge exchange can be enhanced within GAATW through conducting online trainings, mailing list, journal, social media, etc. Members should update information on activities, policy document, and publication research so it can be shared. We could also use our network for joint-advocacy and joint-programming. And I do think as a feminist it is also important for us to not “formally” collaborate and exchange knowledge. It is always lovely (and strong) to share our own experiences with each other. Our theoretical works and publications are important, our thoughts are important, but I believe that our heart is also important...our sense of love. Just like our thoughts, our feelings are not worthless and must be discussed and shared. I think that is why program like Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) Workshop is as important as our advocacy workshop/training. Because as a feminist, I believe that I am human.
More information about IP at www.institutperempuan.or.id