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Jakarta Post

‘This nation is not all right’: Activists to reclaim Dec. 22 as the day women rise and speak out

  • Karina M. Tehusijarana
    Karina M. Tehusijarana

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, December 20, 2019   /   08:08 pm
‘This nation is not all right’: Activists to reclaim Dec. 22 as the day women rise and speak out Valentina Sagala (‘second right’) speaks at a press conference about the Perempuan Meruwat Negeri (Women Heal the Nation) demonstration in Central Jakarta. (The Jakarta Post/Karina M. Tehusijarana)

Women activists from several civil society organizations working in different fields plan to take to the streets on Sunday to reclaim Mothers’ Day through a demonstration called Perempuan Meruwat Negeri (Women Heal the Nation).

“Dec. 22, historically, was twisted by the New Order to become Mothers’ Day,” Valentina Sagala of the Women’s Institute said at a press conference about the demonstration in Central Jakarta on Thursday. “But if we talk about history, December 22, 1928 was actually Women’s Awakening Day, when the first Indonesian Women’s Congress was held, which discussed the socio-political agendas of women.”

The congress, which was held in Yogyakarta, expressed the importance of girls’ education and decried child marriage.

“That was 1928, and now it’s 2019. We are saddened to see the current state of women in Indonesia, especially since many agendas that were brought forward in 1928 have yet to be realized,” Valentina added.

She said that many of the country’s societal ills, such as discrimination, structural poverty and human rights violations, hit women the hardest.

“Perempuan Meruwat Negeri is a symbol for us to return Indonesia to its mandate as expressed in the 1945 Constitution, which declares that the state must be present in ensuring women’s rights,” she said. “Now is the time for Indonesian women to demand that the state fulfil women’s rights.”

The activists also touched upon broader issues such as environment, labor rights and land conflicts.

Khalisah Khalid of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said the demonstration was also meant to bring the public’s attention to the widespread environmental damage throughout the country and how it affected women. 

“This nation is not all right,” she said. “We are faced with a situation in which crises are a staple of daily life for the Indonesian people, especially women.”

She cited the massive levels of air and water pollution in cities and how farmland was being converted into industry in rural areas. 

Sukinah, a farmer from Kendeng, Central Java, who has protested the construction of a cement plant in her hometown, said she had directly witnessed the effects of environmental damage on women. 

“Right now in Kendeng, the weather is very hot, so we still cannot start planting because once we plant, there’s no rain so the plant just dies again,” Sukinah, who also attended the press conference said. “If it keeps going on like this, Kendeng might face a food crisis.” 

She said that the weather could be the result of the environmental damage done to the area due to the construction of the cement plant.

She referred to state-owned cement company PT Semen Indonesia, which has repeatedly denied that their factory causes environmental damage. The company has several scholars backing their claim.

“Hopefully this demonstration can remind Pak Jokowi that women are one of the reasons that this country is strong,” she said. 

Women’s rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana said that the movement would not stop with Sunday’s demonstration but would continue to monitor legislation affecting women throughout the new year. This included the long-awaited antisexual violence bill and the domestic workers bill. 

“Of course, this movement will not only focus on policymaking but also on how to empower people, and we will work together with other civil society organizations to strengthen people’s political movements,” she said.

Asfinawati of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (YLBHI) encouraged women across the country to take to the streets on Sunday wherever they were and said that in Jakarta the demonstration would start at 9:30 a.m. at the Horse Statue in Central Jakarta. 

“From there we will walk towards the National Monument and the State Palace,” she said.