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When and Why the State Responds to Women’s Demands: Understanding Gender Equality Policy Change in Indonesia


When and Why the State Responds to Women’s Demands: Understanding Gender Equality Policy Change in Indonesia
This study analyses gender equality policy change initiated by various women’s movements in the context of Indonesia’s democratization. It focuses on advocacy processes for the approval of laws and policies to address violence against women, the protection of domestic workers and unpaid care work. It explores how the state at various governance levels—national, provincial and district—responds to these policy demands. The report also examines the conflicting interests of religion and customs, and how these factors influence the state’s response to pressure for policy reform.

In 1998, Indonesia underwent a change from the repressive, undemocratic New Order regime of President Suharto (1966–1998) to the New Democratic Era. At the same time, provinces and districts gained greater autonomy because of decentralization, which triggered a process of democratization at the subnational level. This new scenario provided an opportunity for civil society, including women’s organizations, to participate and influence policy making at both national and subnational levels.

Movements with women’s rights agendas emerged and strengthened their presence and voice during this period. The agendas included violence against women; gender relations within marriage; women’s autonomy over their bodies and sexuality; access to economic rights, including the right to work; reproductive health; political participation; and gender mainstreaming. These claims were supported by a variety of actors, who often collaborated and networked with each other, including women’s non-governmental organization (NGOs), human rights organizations, grassroots organizations and so on. A number of these demands have been broadly supported and successfully adopted by the state, representing significant wins for the Indonesian women’s movement while other claims made by women—such as increasing protection for domestic workers—faced opposition.

To explore the processes of mobilization and policy change, the authors adopted a qualitative feminist methodology, using the following methods: interviews, observation, participant observation, focus group discussions, and review of academic and grey literature. The research fieldwork involved women activists with different backgrounds (NGOs, academics and members of religious organizations), members of government and parliament at national and subnational levels, and religious and customary leaders. The research focused on Jakarta, three provinces (West Sumatra, East Java, West Nusa Tenggara) and three districts (West Pasaman, Jember, East Lombok) that had existing advocacy initiatives, different kinship systems—matrilineal, patrilineal and parental—and traditions. The authors argue that social and political context an important factor influencing women’s mobilization and policy change.

The report ends by listing key findings and recommendations to women’s rights advocates, women’s organizations, policy makers and customary leaders on how to foster and facilitate gender equality policy change.

The key findings include the following.
  • The process for policy change is political and comprises negotiations among state actors, women’s organizations and other civil society organizations, including religious and customary ones.
  • Women’s organizations are crucial in order to initiate gender equality policy change processes. The presence of the women’s movements and the strength of their mobilization lead to successful outcomes, as in case of the mobilizations to end violence against women.
  • The state is not a single entity. State actors are very diverse in terms of interests and priorities, which differ across political parties, within political parties and across governance levels.
  • The nature of the policy issue matters as it affects the degree of (i) solidarity among women’s organizations and (ii) of the support/resistance from civil society and the state.

The authors work at Consultancy, Research and Education for Social Transformation (SCN-CREST), Indonesia. Sri Wiyanti Eddyono is Research Fellow, Estu Fanani is Associate (Women's Rights, Research), Dini Anitasari Sabaniah is Associate (Training, Research), Yurra Maurice is Secretary, Haiziah Ghazali, a collaborative researcher (Environmental and gender) Juni Warlif is Associate (Research Advocacy), Sisillia Velayati, a collaborative researcher (children rights) and Farha Ciciek is Associate (Gender, Religion, Research).

You can also download each chapter separately.

Front matter

Chapter 1. Background

Chapter 2. Research Methodology and Analysis Framework

Chapter 3. Social and Political Context: Democratization, Decentralization and the Women’s Movement in Indonesia

Chapter 4. Advocating Policies to End Violence Against Women

Chapter 5. Advocacy for Women Domestic Workers’ Labour Rights

Chapter 6. Unpaid Care Work: Contesting Values

Chapter 7. A Comparative Analysis of Women’s Mobilization

Chapter 8. Conclusions: Key Findings and Recommendations

Appendices and References

  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 20 Jul 2016
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    From: UNRISD