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By Mufliha Wijayanti, lecturer at a State Islamic University in Indonesia

“These “gender ladies” just add more work. Making regular planning is already a hassle, let alone having to use gender analysis, complicating things.”

“PSGA must be careful, do not put the campus reputation at stake just to defend students. Let us work quietly, don’t make a fuss, we will finish it.”

“What else does PSGA want? The Chancellor is already a woman, the deans, a lot of the heads of departments are women. This campus has a lot of women, what else do you want?”

The three sentences above reflect public opinion on the existence of the PSGA (Center for Gender and Child Studies) in different contexts. Rebelling, demanding, threatening, and troublesome are the attributes attached to the PSGA and its members. This stigmatizing perception attached to PSGA has institutionally narrowed and limited its working space. 

But in reality, the contexts underlying these sentences are gender-responsive planning and budgeting, the handling of sexual violence cases, and the phenomenon of male panels.

We Lead as the Meeting Space for PSGA and Rumah Kita Bersama (Rumah KitaB)

I joined the IAIN Metro Center for Gender and Child Studies (PSGA) on 1 October 2019 as Head of the PSGA. Even though I started my struggle and learning process on gender issues long before my time at PSGA, leading and controlling the direction of PSGA’s journey made me second-guess myself. It also forced me to repeatedly pause, think, and consider what needed to be done while calculating the most impactful action to take. 

A reflective question from Ms. Lies Marcoes of Rumah KitaB on the position of PSGA-PTKI in the Indonesian feminist movement and thinking at the Second Webinar Series Forum held on 6 July 2021 managed to bang on my consciousness: which direction are we moving PSGAs toward? I had, on many occasions, heard similar questions before, which, in principle, motivated me to strengthen PSGA’s position and role in fighting for justice and gender equality. PSGA IAIN Metro partnered with Rumah KitaB to strengthen PSGA institutions and the capacity of their administrators. 

In addition to universities, Rumah KitaB also invited pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools), Ma’had Alys (Islamic studies-focused higher education institutions similar to pesantrens), and NGOs/Pre-NGOs into the partnership through the We Lead network. The partnership between Rumah KitaB and these institutions created a meeting space for the sharing of knowledge and experience, as well as mutual strengthening.

Ever since the initial assessment to join the We Lead network in July 2020, I felt like I found myself a friend to work with. The We Lead is a consortium of 7 organizations working in Indonesia that challenges and counters the negative impact and influence of religious fundamentalism on women’s freedoms. We Lead-Rumah KitaB carried out several activities to meet the needs of assisted communities. This included knowledge and perspective building, basic gender training, feminist research, and serial discussions to respond to real issues. Radicalism, sexual violence, and mental health during pandemic were some of the themes highlighted in several discussions inviting experts in their respective fields. 

During the second year of the program in August 2021, a discussion with the head of IAIN Surakarta PSGA led to a conclusion on the importance of building a road map for PSGA movements and activities. Alongside seven private PTKIN-PT PSGAs, we agreed to create a meeting space, work together, and grow toward gender-responsive tertiary institutions. We decided to call this meeting space for the reproduction of experience-based knowledge the PTRG Alliance. 

PTRG Alliance Expands Beyond Documents

The PTRG alliance’s tangible activities include processing the PTRG Guideline operationalization documents prepared by the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection. The output is a document disseminated to tertiary institutions, specifically within the scope of Islamic tertiary education institutions. However, behind the scenes of knowledge reproduction manifesting as books, relationships between individual members of the alliance remains the real output. The PTRG Alliance has rebirthed each individual member as a new human. A new human who is aware of her humanity, cares for humanity, and also acts in the name of humanity.

Growing Self-Awareness

Realizing that this was a collective dream, and that to make it come true required energy and ammunition, we agreed to contribute to the cost of trips on a number of activities. There were knowledge, experience, inspiration, and learning harvested from every meeting—small harvests that led to individual growth and change, with impacts on institutional changes.

I feel that the PTRG Alliance is a space for growth as well as for critical friends to support and strengthen each other: collaborating on our potential, sharing our individual experiences, and gathering weaknesses into strengths. My minor skills in communication and negotiation, which I possess even though I lack courage and swiftness in decision-making, can be complemented by my colleague Elfa Murdiana from the IAIN Metro PSGA. Elfa  is more firm and brave than I am. Mapping the PTRG Alliance personnels’ different potentials is a supporting factor for the establishment of a mutually strengthening and complementary support system. I feel strong because I am with them. I become bolder to step forward, because we walk together.

Meanwhile, my friends and I must also face the challenges of resistance and negative attributions to gender justice and activism at all levels. The three sentences at the beginning of this article are fragments of dialogues which do not require fierce responses on many occasions. It is important to consider strategies and the art of communication so that the idea reaches others. 

We subconsciously built these kinds of communication skills within the PTRG Alliance. Witnessing how the facilitators and members of the We Lead network communicated, I felt like it was a humanizing pattern of communication. Without hesitation, I tried to imitate their ways, the way they ask questions, their tone of voice, body gestures, and choices of words. 

I believe that kindness is contagious. A good way to communicate and manage a forum in an egalitarian way in We Lead is uswah hasanah (a good example for others), which I personally am working on to improve my way of communicating and interacting.

All of these are just an overview of the great process of growth that I and the PTRG Alliance experienced with We Lead-Rumah KitaB.

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