Jakarta – For the first time, Indonesia, dubbed the world's third largest democracy, will hold the general elections – the presidential and legislative elections – and nationwide regional elections in the same year. Taking place in 2024, it will be perhaps one of the year's biggest democratic events, which people across the globe will closely follow.
Indonesia has, since 1999, held six national elections and hundreds of local elections, where every vote counts, to choose the president, legislature members, governors, regents and mayors, in a relatively democratic manner. But in most cases, men have won public offices.
Despite making up almost half of the population, women have traditionally been underrepresented in elected positions, including in the House of Representatives – even after Indonesia introduced over a decade ago a minimum of 30 percent female legislative candidates for each political party contesting the elections.
Female lawmakers currently account for 20.8 percent of the 575 House seats, slightly up from 17 percent in 2014. But the 30-percent benchmark has remained elusive.
Just recently, House Speaker Puan Maharani pledged to empower women to be more active in politics, saying that she believed Indonesia would see more female regional heads and, once again, a female president in 2024.
Many have expected the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) to nominate Puan for the presidential race. If elected, she will emulate her mother Megawati Soekarnoputri, Indonesia's first female president and currently the PDI-P's matriarch who holds the mandate to choose the party's candidates contesting national and local elections.
In recent months, Puan and the PDI-P have made more concerted efforts to raise her public profile, especially targeting women voters. She has thrown her weight behind two bills that predominantly affect women: the mother and child welfare bill and the sexual violence bill, which was passed into law in April.
Women's political representation at the House or any public office, however, should not only be about the quota or numbers.
Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Bintang Puspayoga has urged everyone to fight for female representation in legislative bodies, either at the national or regional level, so that they could bring a gender perspective into the law-making process.
Many indeed expect that female representation in politics would further promote equality and more gender-based policies, or at least spark conversations on reproductive rights, child care and many more policies that predominantly affect women, such as education, labor and protection for domestic workers.
The country's gender gap is particularly visible in the workplace. A 2020 study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) showed that female representation was lacking at the decision-making level of Indonesian companies, with only 20 percent of the 400 companies surveyed having female top executives.
We still need much more encouragement for more women to run for public office. And with the elections drawing near, women – and political parties – need to work on ways to join the race.
True, Puan's electability ratings remain far behind male potential candidates. So too for other female prospective candidates like East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa and Social Affairs Minister Tri "Risma" Rismaharini.
But of the 133.5 million women in the country, there must be many female figures who can really break the glass ceiling in politics in 2024, if not the following five years.