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

Wednesday, May 02, 2007



Next Saturday (21 April) is Kartini Day, celebrating the birthday and brief life of highborn Javanese emancipationist Raden Ayu Kartini who died in 1904 aged 25. How have things changed in the past century? Duncan Graham reports from East Java:


'Women are too emotional. They are not prepared to take risks. They easily forgive - and easily forget. Overall they are too unstable and therefore unfit to lead'.

A scathing assessment of more than half the population of a nation whose fifth president was a woman – a goal yet to be reached in the US.

You might think those who hold such opinions would be unreconstructed Neanderthal knuckle-draggers out of touch with their feminine side – and the modern world.

Sadly these views were expressed by women surveyed by consultants working for the Indonesia-Australia Partnership in Basic Education program (IAPBE).

The three-year AUD $9.1 million (Rp 65 billion) project covering three regions in East Java (Jember, Jombang and Gresik) has been lifting teaching and education administration skills through 'train-the-trainer' workshops.

The genesis for the project is the 2003 Education Act. This promoted a competency-based curriculum, and community involvement in school management decisions.

Progressive moves – but they've come with decentralization of power; this has left many regional public servants confused about what they should be doing and how.

If you've been a bureaucrat unquestionably carrying out orders made in Jakarta for more than 30 years and never had to think, suddenly being cloaked with the authority to do the job yourself can be a bit of a shock.

This social earthquake is also shaking up parents. Being asked for your input in running the school might sound like democracy in action, but for many young Mums standing up in a meeting and giving the old blokes at the top an earful takes great courage.

As with most overseas aid programs the IAPBE includes raising gender awareness and equality. In the West this is no longer a big deal because society has widely accepted the principles, even if they're not always applied. (For proof of this observation, check the age and gender of big Australian company boards.)
But in Indonesia gender equality doesn't have a well-cured concrete foundation.

To help get the message across Alfianda Mariawati and her colleagues at the IAPBE have produced a set of five big glossy handbooks on how to implement and manage gender inclusive teaching and workplace equality.

This is another of the fancy terms that proliferate in modern education policy, leaving the average parent nonplussed. Even more so when there are no equivalent words in Indonesian – a point flung at Alfianda by some critics.

They claim the lack of language proves there's no problem in Indonesia. Women being barred from promotion, getting lower wages than men and denied access to some jobs just because they have different genitalia is the way things are done in the archipelago.

The other shaft is that making the sexes equal in the home and workplace is a Western ideal that has no place in Indonesian culture and religion. Real men don't change nappies, and only wimps wash dishes.

"Not so," said Alfianda, a former non-government agency activist. Her photographer spouse is a househusband caring for the couple's new baby boy while Mum is at work. Dad apparently looks cute wearing a selendang (the traditional child-carrying sling worn diagonally across the body). But not all the muttering mothers in the kampong smile and nod, proof that gender stereotypes die hard.

"The principles of Islam are that men and women have the right to achieve their potential as human beings," Alfianda said.

"Islam clearly promotes justice and equality for men and women – a point we've made in the handbooks. To improve the welfare of the family women should be smart and well educated – that's an argument with wide appeal.

"Then look at the job facts: The ratio of women to men is two to one in the classrooms but the other way round in education administration.

"Women are better qualified – 63 per cent of teachers with S 1 (bachelor's degree) are women – but only 31 per cent of women are principals.

"When we show such statistics in workshops there's a clearer understanding."

"Gender equality is also part of Indonesian law," said Jakarta-based consultant Leya Cattleya. She used to work for the State Ministry of Women's Empowerment, a department established during the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid.

"The policy grew from the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (popularly known as the Women's Bill of Rights) that's been signed by the Indonesian government.

"Gender equality is necessary to improve the delivery of government services to the people."

Commented IAPBE Australian team leader Barry Clark: "This isn't about religion or culture. It's about education and efficiency.

"It's not our job to influence policy in Indonesia or interfere in any way. Our task is to help Indonesian teachers deliver the curriculum more effectively and assist administrators do their job better."

Clark is a well-seasoned educator and veteran of the 1970s sex wars in Australia. He knows why some men will use any excuse – including a lack of segregated toilets and an inability to concentrate on the job in the presence of females– to avoid change. "They see women as a threat," he said bluntly.

Passing a law in Jakarta is one thing – it's quite another to get it accepted and implemented down the line. Officials at the lower levels of government, particularly in distant provinces, don't always accept national edicts with good grace.

Imagine getting an instruction from above to promote women and meeting outrage in an office where men rule. For a quiet life such orders are best left in the pending tray. Apart from the usual excuse of overwork, resistance can be rationalized by pleading the preservation of cultural practices that cement male power into the brickwork of society.

This is where the handbooks become useful because they spell out in detail the ways gender equality can be implemented. Perhaps in too much detail for use outside an intensive and well-planned meeting.

One of the simplest and most effective techniques is to ensure teachers encourage questions and comments from girls. Boys tend to dominate classroom behavior in many cultures and smart teachers will ensure everyone gets a fair go.

There are useful case studies to promote discussion (wife on a higher salary works as a teacher while hubby is a driver and often away from home), questionnaires and some simple pictures to relieve the text-dense handbooks. But overall they look heavy going and the drawings lack credibility because they don't match the quality found in comics.

Leya, who has been involved in gender issues and women's empowerment for more than 20 years, has been hired by the IAPBE to review the handbooks and recommend changes. These will be based on the way the books have been received and used by workshop participants.

Some of the criticisms have been revealing. Consider the reaction to the picture on this page. The text bubbles include comments about the man getting more money and status than the woman even though they have the same education.

But some users were less interested in the message than the drawing that shows a man and woman alone. "She should not be seen talking to a man like that in public," said some. "She should be accompanied by other women, friends or relatives."

Others feared that teaching boys to dance and design batik might make them effeminate.

A VCD is being planned as another tool to help get the messages across. Although the project is due to close at the end of June, revised materials should be ready before the money tap gets turned off.

Then it will be up to the hundreds of teachers and administrators - men and women - who've been trained by the IAPBE project to keep Kartini's message from the 19th century alive: Equality benefits all.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 23 April 07)



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