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Young Women Activists Challenge Fundamentalism

  • JASS

Barely five months since its formation in December, 2012, FAMM-Indonesia (or Indonesian Young Women Activist Forum) is already making waves. In January, following a proposed ban on women straddling male drivers on motorbikes in Aceh province, FAMM led a text messaging blast campaign to pressure decision-makers to call off this discriminatory regulation of women’s bodies. Taking opportunity of International Women’s Day in March, FAMM, together with other women’s organizations, mobilized simultaneous dialogues and protests in eight provinces across the country.

A History of Strong Indonesian Women’s Movements

Indonesia prides itself with having one of the largest women’s organizations in history – the Gerakan Wanita Indonesia (Indonesian Women’s Movement) or GERWANI. Born out of nationalist struggles, GERWANI had more than a million women members in the 1960s. During the Suharto regime, GERWANI women were imprisoned, raped and even killed. Although the organization was eventually banned and became a commonly cited example of immorality in the pre-1965 era, their legacy lived on as the trailblazers – the women human rights defenders of their time.

Such are the revolutionary footsteps that Indonesian women are now trailing. Decades after the banning of GERWANI, the same intensity of struggles and oppressive conditions surround Indonesia. In several areas of Indonesia, Shari’a law is being strictly implemented while different interpretations of the Q’uran oftentimes translates into restrictive policies on women in public such as the proposed ban on women straddling motorbikes. As Indonesian woman activist and JASS Southeast Asia Regional Director, Nani Zulminarni says,

There are more than a hundred local bylaws produced in many areas of Indonesia that are actually against the national laws. It is challenging for the women’s movement in Indonesia since these bylaws mostly affect women’s rights and women’s lives. The decentralization process has been translated in different ways by local governments. Therefore, the organizing work for critical awareness of people especially women is very important so that women organizing on the ground can respond critically.

Women activists who organize face multiple challenges – corruption in government, use of military forces, and corporate interests. Their work is fraught with backlash from the government which often imposes criminal charges against them. For example, Eva Bande, a FAMM-Indonesia member who works on peasant and land issues, was charged for a peace demonstration that she organized because it got out of control.

The Birth of FAMM-Indonesia

The increasing politiYoung women looking at posters and taking notescal harassments as well as the proliferation of unjust and sexist bylaws are only some of the contexts around FAMM-Indonesia’s development. Since 2007, JASS Southeast Asia has been opening safe spaces for women to share experiences and strengthen their organizing efforts. It was in Indonesia, along with Timor L’este, where the first JASS movement building institutes were initiated. In Indonesia, what began as JASS-Indonesia – a loose network of women who took an active part in JASS’ capacity building activities such as dialogues and write-shops – has now grown and strengthened its ranks of mostly young grassroots women activists.

This is where the women’s movement can fill in the gap. It is trying to raise community awareness about the importance of organizing as a way to establish collective power. We’re against the misogynist statements made by Indonesian government officials and we circulate our stand in our listserv and we utilize the social media to disseminate our press releases. We also maximize on events and campaigns such as the International Women’s Day and JASS Southeast Asia’s regional campaign ‘One Day, One Voice’ to turn the spotlight on violence against women issues. ~ Niken Lestari, FAMM-Indonesia’s National Coordinator

FAMM’s vision is to engender strong future leadership of young women activists in the Indonesian women’s movement. Key strategies include learning institutes and formal as well as informal dialogues across generations of feminists. Niken adds,

Young women directly feel the impact of many policies that aim to control their body, sexuality, political decisions, and economic conditions. By empowering young women, we ensure that the movement keeps progressing across different issues, organizations, and locations. We try to keep them involved with social activism because there are many young women who are giving it up. Young women can also contribute to generating knowledge that reflects the changing contexts.

While FAMM focuses on young women, it is also building a movement based on multi-generations of women, therefore allowing for women of different ages to hold various positions within the organization. It is closely allied with well-established, reputable, and well-grounded women’s organizations in Indonesia such as PEKKA, PESADA, and PPSW.

We cannot offer tips or tricks because challenges are constantly changing. Instead, what we can provide is leadership capacity that could be developed and used to navigate these many forms of challenges,” says Dina Lumbantobing, JASS Southeast Asia’s Strategic Advisor and FAMM-Indonesia mentor.

Through FAMM, Niken Lestari hopes to build a community of women activists who are equipped with strong leadership and political tools, such as the ‘power analysis’, to organize their communities.

Judging from the leadership skills and potential of the women of FAMM-Indonesia, a blueprint for building young women’s movements has been set in motion.


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