Fighting for gender justice
Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak
The Jakarta Post
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, is perhaps a fitting saying to describe women's rights activist Neng Dara Affiah, who, just like her father, has a penchant for extensive learning and social work.
Ironically, it was the father-daughter issue that has made what she is today.
Neng Dara today is a commissioner with the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and is a promoter of pluralism, tolerance in religion and gender justice in the nation's predominantly Muslim society.
Born Eneng Darol Afiah to a conservative Muslim family of the late KH Tubagus Ahmad Rafei Ali ' former chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and House of Representatives legislator ' Neng Dara received her early education in a pesantren (Islamic boarding school).
As an intelligent and determined child, Neng Dara started to question the militaristic discipline at her school, which she said had clipped the imagination and concerns on social issues.
'When I was in junior high school I realized I was different [from other students]. I have these anxieties on social issues and I always have this spirit of change,' said the 44-year-old.
But her high school combined traditional and modern styles of teaching, the distinctive character of Nahdlatul Ulama ' one of the largest Muslim organizations ' and further nurtured her determination to break the unfounded beliefs and values that had validated her as a Muslim woman.
During her studies at the State Islamic University IAIN Syarif Hidayatullah (now UIN Syarif Hidayatullah) in Ciputat, South Tangerang, Neng Dara exposed herself to different views on Islam by reading the writings of early Islamic reformers Muhammad Abduh, Rashid Rida and Indonesian Muslim cleric and philosopher Buya Hamka.
The young woman was active in discussions on religions and social issues as well as in the student press on her campus and in women's organizations such as Solidaritas Perempuan and Kalyana Mitra between classes.
'It has become my obsession to present the other face of Islam ' the peaceful, loving, open-minded Islam that has a room for women,' she said.
'In this society, we see many people know about Islam but lack knowledge about Islam,' she added.
The combination of knowledge and field studies in her life experience was evident in her thesis, entitled The Movement of Progressive Muslim Women in Indonesia as the New Social Movement: A Case Study of Organizations in Java in 1990-2010 that earned her a doctoral degree from the sociology school at the University of Indonesia in early July.
'Social studies have long neglected the role of women in social changes. The thesis is a record of empirical facts on how these Nahdlatul Ulama-line women organizations I have been involved with ' including Fatayat NU and Rahima in Jakarta, Fahmina-Institut in Cirebon [West Java] and the Women and Islam division at the Islam and Social Studies Center [LKIS] in Yogyakarta ' have actually contributed to the protection of human rights and the promotion of gender justice,' she said.
Neng Dara, who has published her memoir A Muslim Feminist: An Exploration of Multiple Identities, said she was surrounded by strong, independent women that influenced her choices in life.
Her grandmother, a Banten native, established elementary schools and was confident in asserting herself in front of men and even the authorities, traits that were unusual during that time. Neng Dara's mother, meanwhile, dedicated her life to teaching.
Despite her love and respect for her father, Neng Dara said her father was not her role model in terms of providing affection to the family, especially to her mother.
In rebellion against her father, Neng Dara chose her own life partner, Fauny Hidayat, whom she became acquainted with in the reading and discussion group on her old campus.
'He is the exact opposite of my patriarch father and completes me. It was only during the last days of his life that my father came to realize that being equal in a husband-wife partnership, as in my marriage, did not relegate the husband at all.'
Although the couple has yet to have children, they share a dream of providing the best education to young minds.
When she is no longer in a public position, Neng Dara intends to be more active in managing her family's Islamic school, Annizhomiyyah, in Labuan, Banten, and will continue writing.
'The school will set an example by including gender justice, human rights, tolerance and the perspective of social justice in the curriculum. I will also continue fighting for human rights and peace and teaching.
'Whatever I do and write, they reflect my life. They are my track record.'
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