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Title KLIPING BERITA: Women’s political representation: Prepare for 2019
Edition January 27 2014
Call Number
Classification Page. 36
Series Title The Jakarta Post
Language English
Publisher The Jakarta Post
Publishing Year 2014
Publishing Place Jakarta
Collation 27 Januari 2014

What’s special about women’s political representation in this year’s legislative election? Perhaps it is the number of critical questions and overall pessimism that is coloring public sentiment, compared to the more positive tones in the lead-up to the 2004 and 2009 legislative elections.

Such questions mirror the disappointment with the country’s legislative bodies, in which women representatives have proven to be just as bad as their male counterparts in practicing transactional politics, aiming for instant results, and in their ignorance of the history and ideas of the women’s movement. Sadly, they have become a vital means of perpetuating masculinity in politics, by strengthening the existing oligarchy as well as a transactional political model. Masculine politics is the reflection of power and authority through the imposition of will, instead of persuasion and education.

Years of training women legislative candidates since the first post-New Order legislative election in 2004 have shown that almost all the women who entered political races did so to win by whatever means possible. Winning seats at a local and/or national level has been inspired by their dream to improve their economic status, to become political celebrities and gain influence — to strengthen their respective networks to accumulate individual, family and group power.

The candidates have been virtually uninterested in understanding “the engendering of electoral politics”, meaning not merely electoral competition but also the competition of ideas on why women should be represented in formal politics; the capacity to articulate the link between formal and informal politics, and how women can play a positive role in politics and become agents of change.

Most women candidates are generally disinclined to increase their empathy and sensitivity with voters, while they are actually the ones engaging daily with issues that are not normally considered politically strategic, such as the price of meat, cooking oil, rice and the recent increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

While most candidates say they understand the issue of “gender”, they in fact only understand it as sexual differentiation. Try to explain it further and they say, “Just teach us how to win and how to get the most votes.” Yet, gender as a basis of politics is about a set of knowledge, perspectives and ideas on a comprehensive concept of change — leading us toward a political structure that is civilized and ethical, enlightening and encourages empathy toward the marginalized. We need more such “feminine” attributes in politics, such as those seen in the leadership styles of Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo and Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini.

Among most candidates, a masculine style of politics has seeped into their speeches and campaign strategies. Their sensitivity toward public issues is low, and not all realize the essence of elections as being an opportunity to change existing power relations.

In the public eye, women’s political representation is only about the women’s quota, making women comprise 30 percent of legislative bodies. But what is far less understood is the message of the women’s movement, which should mark a difference and influence women legislators. That message maintains that the competition in elections and within parties and legislative bodies can only be effective if women candidates team up with other women from different parties, and also with those in the women’s movement, to change power relations.

However, other parties and other female and male candidates are still perceived as rivals in the battle to gain seats.

This trend reflects the low performance of political parties in both recruiting women candidates and in their education of party members. Almost all the women candidates for the upcoming legislative election have had little interaction with their political parties; indeed, many will be recruited only just before the April election, mainly to meet the minimum 30 percent quota.

Thus, we fail to see any integrated strategy comprising qualified and regular recruitment, promotion and political education of party members. Most do not even have track records telling us why they should be promoted. Female candidates fail to show why they should be legislators, what they will stand for, what their platforms will be and what strategic issues they plan to promote. Many of the women have merely said they were asked by their husbands, parties, families, neighbors or friends to become legislators.

Not surprisingly, then, we find female candidates with little political skill and ability in articulating their ideas, as they have not been prepared by their parties to become capable politicians. The situation is even worse among municipal and regency party branches. Generally, this political reality provides a small-scale reflection of the widespread gender gap that remains across the country.

The last election in 2009 successfully increased women’s political representation at all levels, as described in the table (on the next page).

From the 11.3 percent of women members in the House of Representatives in 2004, 18 percent or 103 women out of 560 politicians gained seats in 2009.
Therefore, the 2014 election should see a shift from representation in terms of numbers only to more substantial women’s representation. But the signs show we are not heading there yet, for three reasons. First, the free market-style electoral politics that dominate our nation today will be repeated this year, resulting in representatives who are not so different from those in 2009. Women are forced to compete on an unlevel playing field, where there is no guarantee of them being elected in the open-list proportional system. As most of those elected will likely be those with the most funds, this is intimidating to potential women candidates lacking money. While winners will be those with the most votes, which on the surface is progress in our democracy, many female candidates have been handicapped compared to male competitors regarding political experience, networking, financial support and prejudice against women in politics in many areas.

Second, the substance of female political representation has deviated from the original concept. We see a huge gap in how political parties, the public and women themselves understand women’s political representation. Politics with a gender lens is reduced to a formal understanding that seems unrelated to the main battlefield — people’s daily lives that legislators should aim to improve. In this context, elected representatives do not primarily aim to fight for people’s interests.

Third, today’s fragmented women’s movement contributes to the lack of synergy, empowerment and promotion of strategic issues, which should be our joint concern.

There is a solution, however; we need to better prepare for the next election in 2019. Most of the candidates elected this year will become part of their political parties with a similarly narrow understanding of elections. The candidates who fail this April must immediately start working at the grass roots, to deepen their understanding of the concrete issues that need to be solved, such as maternal mortality, economic issues and migrant workers. They will be the link with constituents who will become their social capital, while they will be forced to network with the women’s movement and other elements of civil society, to work on selected issues together. This grassroots experience is needed to sharpen their understanding of a number of issues. Those candidates that engage in serious preparation will then have considerable resources for the next battle in 2019. Meanwhile, those who gain victory this year should strive to practice a refreshing style of politics, involving persuasion and cooperation, much deeper empathy with the grass roots, and join the fight against corruption.

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