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Female activists seek greater political role

Jakarta Post - January 12, 1999

Jakarta – Women activists and scholars, demanding a greater say in politics, are urging that at least 30 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives be allotted to women legislators.

Led by journalist Herawati Diah and psychology professor Saparinah Sadli, the activists grouped under the Women for Election Awareness Movement aired their views during a meeting with Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid on Monday. The meeting occurred during Abdurrahman's open house for women at his residence in Ciganjur, South Jakarta.

In the meeting, the activists urged Indonesian women only to support political parties whose list of legislative candidates was composed of at least 30 percent women. The group also urged the support of "political parties which promote women's causes".

Also among the women in the group were journalist Toeti Kakiailatu, Titi Sumbung and welfare activist Kardinah Soepardjo Roestam. The group also boasted the support of women activists from organizations such as Fatayat NU of Nahdlatul Ulama and the Indonesian Bishop Council.

Only 108 out of the 1,000 seats in the People's Consultative Assembly are held by women as of November 1997. In the Reform and Development Cabinet there are only two women ministers out of a total of 36 ministers: State Minister for Women's Affairs Tutty Alawiyah and Minister of Social Services Justika Baharsyah.

"Why only 30 percent?" Abdurrahman, known as Gus Dur, asked the activists. He added that the proposed figure was realistic for the present because of the generally lower level of education among Indonesian women. Education was important in lifting the position of women in society, he added.

The activists also aired their concern over social and political developments, including recent unrest and the sexual abuse of women during the May riots here.

Following the report of the fact-finding team formed by the government to investigate the May riots, the government last month acknowledged that 76 women had been violated but denied the team's conclusion that the riots were in any way organized. Abdurrahman said he doubted whether the facts of the riots would ever be known.

Saparinah, a member of the Joint Fact-finding Team and chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, repeated earlier statements that it was difficult to verify the exact number of rapes. "The victims of rape only wanted to talk to the few people they trusted," Saparinah said.

Separately, Arnold Purba, representing Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa and eight other organizations, shared the results of a workshop on ethnic, religious, gender and social class discrimination. Arnold said that the public expected a democratic and fair state which protected their interests without discrimination.

The groups also demanded that decision makers ratify the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination and thoroughly investigate riots with ethnic, racial and religious overtones.