The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, March 26, 2007



You've probably seen them on TV news, big burly blokes pouring out of pick-ups and getting stuck into petty lawbreakers.

The villains – often rural folk seeking city fortunes - have usually built shanties on riverbanks, railway reserves or other public open space. They're tolerated for a while till someone important reckons the huts are an eyesore, or because the land is wanted for development.

Then the heavies are sent in to rip down the plastic and push over the flimsy dwellings. In these set-piece dramas the distraught locals protest furiously, but the boys in khaki keep smashing.

These upholders of authority are the Satpol (Satuan Polisi) a term probably best translated as public order officers.

They're employed to protect state property and uphold regency regulations, and they're not always the most popular guys in town. Theirs looks like a tough task, not something you'd expect a woman to do in a culture where many jobs are considered gender specific.

Now meet Diana Ina who isn't just one of the mayor's militia in Malang. She's the boss of his 260-man hit squad and the only woman in charge of Satpol anywhere in East Java – maybe in Indonesia. Only four staffers are women – and they have office duties.

"It's the sort of job where a woman needs the full support of her family," Diana said. "Unfortunately that's rare. I'm lucky – I do have the backing and understanding of my husband and children. I'm on call 24-hours a day and I'm often out with the patrols.

"Sometime I think that the problem with women getting top jobs in the public service or in private industry isn't always because of oppression by men.

"Often it's the women themselves showing no ambition, saying: 'I'm just a housewife.'

"They should be making greater efforts to get a proper education and training. We can do anything – but we must be capable."

Diana started work in the East Java Governor's office after graduating in public administration from Malang's Brawijaya University.

Twenty years later after holding a number of positions and proving her efficiency and effectiveness as the head of a district – particularly in handling aggressive Madurese traders who were defying local edicts - she got the chance to take the top Satpol job.

Now aged 50 she's had the hot seat for three years. It carries the rank of Commander, which is similar to Lieutenant Colonel in the police force.

Satpol agents generally don't carry firearms. They do however wield sticks and batons for crowd control and self-protection. They don't handle traffic – that's a police responsibility.

"Most of the time we're trying to enforce regulations and by laws," she said. "We also back-up the police at demonstrations or football matches when fans get unruly.

"Violence in public and peace in the kampong is one of the contradiction of Indonesian culture. When men are together in a mob and get provoked they can be brutal.

"Yet back in their home localities, and among family and neighbors, they behave quite differently. They are polite and respectful."

Though not always to authority. Respect isn't high for either the police or Satpol. Ignorance of the law is not accepted as an excuse, but the problem is made more difficult because many don't see it as their responsibility to keep track of legislation. The poor have other concerns.

There's also some confusion over which government department has the job of ensuring the people most affected are up-to-date on regulations.

So a two-month grace is imposed between a new law coming into effect, and the Satpol moving in.

Diana said she stressed to her staff the need for fairness when dealing with offenders. She said women had better 'people-skills' but few were attracted into working as law enforcement officers.

She agreed that part of the problem might be image. Unlike the tight and slinky uniforms worn by women police, Satpol use big black boots, baggy pants, shapeless shirts and unflattering berets. Great gear for kicking down doors and turning out squatters, but not to turn heads.

"Uniforms are being reviewed, and on some days I wear a skirt," she said. "But there are many other priorities. One of the most important is to review penalties.

"When we prosecute people who break building codes and don't get the right permission the fine is only Rp 50,000 (US $5.50). That might have been a significant amount 30 years ago (when it was about US $25) – but not today.

"So some try their luck and go ahead with their business without permission. If they're caught they just pay the fine. It doesn't bother them."

Is corruption an issue? "Hopefully no bribes are being taken by my staff. I stress that they must be honest and earn the respect of the public."

Have you ever been assaulted? "No. There have been many confrontations and threats but I've never been hit. Many of my staff have been hit. I tell them not to be aggressive, to try and understand human nature."

Do you have problems leading a male workforce? "Some were resentful at first. I follow an open management style. We have to work together and go ahead together. I need them and they need me."

Don't you feel compassion for poor people who are just trying to live, who don't have a job or enough money to rent or buy a house? "Yes, of course. But the law is the law and must be upheld. That's my job."

In her Malang headquarters the effectiveness of Satpol is everywhere on display. One office has been taken up with confiscated banners and produce sold illegally. Outside are rows of food stalls and kaki lima, food carts that have been seized.

Beggars are also picked up and sent back to their hometowns, or passed on to the Social Welfare Department.

The TV voyeurs' crime show delight is the sight of Satpol officers raiding brothels and herding squealing girls into vans. Diana claimed that prostitution in Malang – a city of almost one million people – had ceased on her watch.

"We want Malang to be a morally clean city," she said. "If I hear of kos bebas (boarding houses used by men and women) I'll close them down.

"The problem in Malang is drugs. This is an education city with young people from all parts of Indonesia studying in the local universities. We need information from the public to keep us informed of drug deals and dealers and alert the police.

"Unfortunately we don't yet have a free contact phone line. People often say they wanted to call us but didn't have the money. I hope this problem will be fixed."

Your advice to women? "Let's struggle together to show we can do anything – even jobs that are traditionally seen as men's work. We can have careers and maintain our home responsibilities. Don't be afraid to try."

(First published in The Jakarta Post 24 March 07)



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