Women and Islam in Indonesia

The World Culture Group Study held a discussion, on October 30th, on Women and Islam in Indonesia led by Siti Nurjanah (Nur). Nine members of the group discussed a range of issues from how the power relation between men and women is influenced by the natural environment and how political Islam affects women’s life in Indonesia. Nur proposed that there are definite consequences of environment for cultural and society, including gender relations. Radical Islam uses a standard of morality and security that justifies the exclusion of women from the public sphere. But Indonesia’s tropical environment has allowed women to oppose this standard. Women have dominated most traditional markets in Indonesia, as sellers and buyers. Indeed, Indonesia has the highest percentage of women in the work force in the region. A simplistic understanding of Islam facilitates extremists’ distortion of Islam; it allows extremists to define Islam in ways that are exploitative of women.

Nur described how until the early late 1990s many Indonesians lived with a syncretic mentality. Suharto’s departure to hajj in 1991 – an attempt to diversify his power base away from the military and to court support from Islamic elements – marked the politicization of Islam. This was followed by overwhelming influences of Islamic elements into the educational system, banking, and the media, which altered social-cultural norms toward the pseudo-Islamic. At the same time, political Islam has been challenged by women’s freedom of expression. Many women belong to religious and non-religious organizations and actively engage in community building, including family planning, health and sanitation, child nutrition and immunization, income generation, lending circles, and other family-oriented welfare programs.

Linda Bond and Ruth Nemzoff raised questions about the role of women in family planning programs and men’s imposition of morality on women. Discussion focused on how gender insensitive policy-making trigger exploitation and gender biased social norms. The family planning program was a failure until the government invited Islamic leaders to help to ease the worries of women. In this case, Islam contributed significantly to human development and women’s welfare.

Submitted by: Siti Nurjanah

Students From Cambodia Visit the WSRC

The Harpswell Foundation Students from Cambodia Visited the WSRC on December 20, 2013

Attending: World Cultures members Rajashree Ghosh, Ornit Barkai , Oge Dashzeveg, Marguerite Bouvard, Ruth Nemzoff, Linda Bond and other scholars Janet Freedman, Annette Miller, Karin Rosenthal.

Harpswell students from Cambodia: Sivgech (Sue) Chheng, Chandy Eng, Lina Hun, Bormey, Sivorn

World Cultures with Harpswell Students

Our guests from Cambodia graduated from four year colleges in Phnom Penh and are here studying in fifth year programs at Bowdin College and Rhodes College. During their semester breaks they are staying in Concord MA with Alan Lightman, author, MIT professor and director of the Harpswell Foundation which sponsors these students. The Harpswell Foundation provides safe dormitory housing for young women coming to college in Phnom Penh from rural villages in Cambodia. Without this housing they would be unable to live in the city and unable to obtain a quality education. The Foundation is committed to helping the women build self confidence and take responsibility for themselves, their families and their country. All of the women spoke about their early years and the support & obstacles they faced in pursuit of an education. They expressed pride in what they have accomplished, gratitude for the opportunities they have been offered, and a desire to act as role models for other young women. It was an inspiring afternoon for both students and scholars. (Submitted by Linda, photo by Oge)