The Jakarta Post
Being the chairperson of Aisyiyah, the women's wing of the country's second-largest Muslim organization Muhammadiyah, might never have been the ultimate goal for 57-year-old Siti Noordjannah Djohantini.
Her track record, the kind of family she was raised in, her passions, however, all seemed to point to the fact that she really deserved the movement's top position, which Noordjannah, as she is affectionately known, has held for the last five years.
'I was raised in a Muhammadiyah family. Ever since I was a little girl I felt the organizational life in my family,' Noordjannah said before departing for Makassar, South Sulawesi, for Aisyiyah's congress held on Aug. 3-7.
And that was not all. As she grew up she also went to Muhammadiyah schools, from elementary to senior high. She was an activist of the Association of Muhammadiyah Students (IPM) and was elected vice chairperson for the 1983-1986 periods.
It was during this time that together with the other executives of IPM she published a book on the guidelines for the uniforms of female students in Muhammadiyah schools that applied nationwide.
She was also chairwoman of Muhammadiyah's female youth movement Nasyiatul Aisyiyah (NA) for the period of 1990-1995, before she was finally elected as chairperson of Aisyiyah in 2010.
'I don't know if this [her involvement in Muhammadiyah] is biological or ideological. It's just that simple,' said Noordjannah, who is also a lecturer at Muhammadiyah University of Yogyakarta's school of economics.
She said that since she was young she basically did not like to stay at home. She liked to go out, to make friends and to seek new experiences.
She was a co-founder of the country's first women's non-governmental organization, Yasanti (Annisa Swasti Foundation), which was established in 1982 to provide advocacy and supervision for female workers.
Her activities outside Aisyiyah were no less rigorous. Her experience as a woman activist led her to be elected as a member of the 2003-2005 Election SupervisoryCommittee (Panwaslu) for the 2004 general elections. She represented community figures together with priest Saut Hamonangan Sirait and Rozy Munir.
Previously, in her capacity as NA chairwoman, she was also entrusted as the coordinator of the political education program for women for the 1999 election in eight regions across Indonesia.
'Even up to now I still like going out, meeting with people, seeking experience from seniors. That's maybe how I enjoy myself in Aisyiyah,' said Noordjannah who considers the organization as a medium to make her life useful.
Through organizations, she said, she could pursue her ideals to live a useful life, to help women become more developed and useful, the way she had been told when she was still a little girl about what Muhammadiyah was all about.
'Personally I just want to be useful, for my family, for the community. I am happy to be useful for others,' Noordjannah said.
With regard to her position as the number-one person at Aisyiyah, Noordjannah said that she was serious in leading the organization toward its goals, i.e making it a progressive movement to defend those who really need to be defended.
She said she wanted Aisyiyah to continue to be active not only at the national level but more so at the grassroots level to get the esteem of the people. This could only be achieved, she said, when Aisyiyah was really present in the community, being useful to the people.
And in doing so, she added, Aisyiyah did not have an intention to take over the state's task of creating welfare for the people.
She said Aisyiyah considered it as part of its message obliging Muslims and Muslim organizations to implement the amar ma'ruf nahi munkar teaching, i.e. God's command to advocate goodness and prevent wrongdoing.
'Even if we have to implement 'nahi munkar' [preventing wrongdoing] against the state, we must do it,' said Noordjannah, citing examples in which Aisyiyah provided advocacy to people being denied their rights by the state.
Asked about how she managed her time as an activist, a wife and a mother of two, Noordjannah said that she just went with the flow.
Now that both her children had already graduated from the schools of medicine at Muhammadiyah and Gadjah Mada universities respectively, it was much easier for her and her husband to manage their time.
'When they were still kids, we had an arrangement on when I could go out or spend nights out and when I had to stay at home,' said the wife of Haedar Nashir, a vice chairman of Muhammadiyah.
With regard to the nation's life, Noordjannah expressed concern that as a big nation with great potential, Indonesia was still struggling with problems of social conflict, inequality and poverty.
'I am sad knowing what happened in Tolikara [Papua], that Indonesia is still shredded as such. That's why we continue promoting moderation so as not to face violence with violence,' she said.
In the eyes of Asyiyah activists, Noordjannah is a visionary leader, a representation of a progressive woman.
'She does not just have a vision but also a capacity to interpret that vision into the praxis level,' said Hajar Nur Setyowati, a member of Aisyiyah's research and development institution.