RISING Women Ulama: Dwi Rubiyanti Kholifah’s FULL SPEECH

16 March 2018 | By Zain Luke Ali

RISING Women Ulama: Women Leadership for Peace, Prosperity and Pluralism welcomes Dwi Rubiyanti KholifahIndonesia Country Director for the Asian Muslim Action Network and winner of an N-Peace Award in 2016.

“My name is Ruby Kholifah. I was born in a modest family. My mother has a strong belief that a woman should be independent financially so she can have the power to decide her own life. I guess her strong belief has influenced me in choosing my life paths as a Muslim feminist. In the last 11 years, I have been serving the Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) in Indonesia in strengthening community resilience in 25 villages to prevent conflict and radicalization by empowering interfaith groups of mothers.

Through my work, I have ensured women’s place at the center. I have seen, in our long engagements in the community, that when we involve women, we create processes and produce results differently. By engaging with marginalized women, we become better in engaging other marginalized groups. This, in turn, enhances our legitimacy and sustainability in the community. From this journey, I am convinced that when mothers are empowered, they will bring transformation into their families and communities.

When I started working with these mothers, in 2007, Indonesia was undergoing a process of democratic transition and decentralization. The government was building the foundations for democracy and human rights, by amending our Constitution to be in compliance to human rights, revoking government control over the media, allowing freedom of expression and association, releasing political prisoners, implementing gender mainstreaming, performing security sector reforms to ensure that the military departs from politics.

I am proud that our country is one where democracy, Islam, modernity and women’s empowerment can walk hand-in-hand. I am grateful that we were able to avoid the fate of other democratic transitions that have been wracked by conflicts or retreated back to undemocractic rule. I worry seeing the trend of democratic regression in my region, Southeast Asia, where ethno-religious conflicts are rising and causing millions of people, including women and children, to be displaced or become refugees.

After 20 years of reform from our authoritarian past, Indonesia has made a lot of progress in terms of addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment. At least, three big reforms have taken place, such as: institutional reform on women’s human rights, legal protection of women’s rights, and increasing the role of women’s human rights defenders and Islamic education reform.

In terms of institutional reform on women human’s rights and women’s empowerment, institutions have been set up to monitor implementation of gender mainstreaming and women’s human rights. The Ministry of Women’s Affair was renamed as the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. The National Commission on Violence Against Women (KOMNAS Perempuan) was established as a national mechanism for women’s human rights. Women’s Studies at the universities were spreading across the country.

On legal protection on women’s right, a presidential instruction on gender mainstreaming in 2000 paved the way for the government to endorse key legislation that protect women’s rights and promote women’s empowerment. These include legislation on domestic violence, women’s political participation in elections and in village governance, combatting human trafficking, women’s role in managing social conflicts, and gender budgeting.

Women’s human rights defenders have also utilized the widening democratic space to engage in decision making from village to parliament bodies, ensuring gender-responsive and peace-oriented policies. An NGO report on Indonesia’s 20-year implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action mentioned that currently there are more than 276 local regulations that are gender-sensitive.

In the area of Islamic education, formal elementary and secondary schools, the Islamic State University, and Pondok or Pesantren (our Islamic boarding schools) have developed a condusive space for boys and girls to have equal access for both religious and secular knowledge. The Pesantren, in particular, has contributed significantly to the regeneration of Islamic scholars and ulama, including women ulama, as well as promoting moderate Islam, among others by expanding the space for producing women-friendly reinterpretations of Islamic text and by directly engaging with gender equality and women’s empowerment movements.

Despite these achievements, however, Indonesia’s democratic space is now being challenged by the slowdown of bureaucratic reform at the risk of bringing back oligarchic power to the country. The rise of religious conservatism has made fertile ground for the mainstreaming of Islamist politics which is biased against women and minorities. This trend has resulted in 421 local regulations which KOMNAS Perempuan declared discriminatory against women and religious minorities.

Although Indonesia’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and worship, after Reformasi, blasphemy cases have been increasingly made against faith minorities, like Shia, Ahmadiyah, Gafatar, or against even individuals. The biggest blasphemy case was made against the Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaya Purnama (Ahok), who was accused of insulting the Qur’an. The judges sentenced him to 2 years of imprisonment after an edited version of Ahok’s speech was disseminated widely via social media, and then used to mobilize a ‘million Muslim’ march in a campaign against having a “non-Muslim leader” and a call to put Ahok in jail. This was a wake-up call for us, as it clearly showed how successful a coalition of political pragmatism and religious fundamentalism can be.

With intolerance on the rise, as reported by several surveys (such as by the Wahid Foundation, Indonesia Survey, PPIM etc), our President Jokowi began a campaign to promote the cultural symbols associated with the Indonesian nation. He is bringing back Pancasila[1] and NKRI (the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia) into the mainstream, as our foundational state ideology, in order to resist the extremism and terrorism which have been increasing during our Reformasi era. He also took the step of banning Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (Party of Liberation Indonesia), which has been banned in several countries, but was widely considered controversial among Indonesians in terms of violating the freedom of expression and association. The Jokowi administration moved forward with this in the belief that it will weaken the process of radicalization in the country. However, this will only succeed if our laws are enforced, our schools are cleared from radicalization, and all of our civil servants strongly defend Pancasila and NKRI.

In response to such reality, and through my organization, AMAN Indonesia, I have embarked on four endeavors: to spread an inclusive interpretation of religious text, to build women-led community resilience, to consolidate progressive voices and to carry out advocacy. I have dedicated the last 11 years to empowering “millitant interfaith mothers” through what we call ‘Women’s School for Peace’. Through these schools, we provide a 2-year peace education program for conflict transformation. Currently, in collaboration with the women at the community, we manage 25 schools with 1296 interfaith mothers in regular classes. We believe that when we have strong mothers as leaders in the community, they will be able to motivate men and the young generation to take a part in the process of development. Indonesian women have been known to be the caretakers of culture and community and, with their strong leadership, they will be able to integrate their new knowledge and skills into the whole cultural process and through day-to-day interaction.

In regional level, I have been engaging with diverse Muslim communities in Asia on conflict transformation, as part of AMAN’s 28-year endeavor to facilitate exchange knowledge on peacebuilding among inter faith young leaders and youth, and to spread progressive interpretation of Islamic text through research, humanitarian work, and intra- and inter-faith dialogues.

For me, the first Congress of Indonesian Women Ulama (or KUPI for short) that was held on 25-27th April 2017, has expanded the dimension of our transformation project from within the Muslim world beginning from Indonesia. During KUPI, my organization hosted an international seminar brought together women ulama from several countries, like Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Afghanistan. They became an integral part of our effort to reclaim the space for women ulama and to establish women ulama’s authority to interpret religious text. Moreover, the women ulama in these various countries could also utilize KUPI’s methodology in producing a gender-sensitive and peace-oriented fatwa. KUPI has reminded us all that there is still not enough space to bring about a new generation of women ulama. I, for one, am committed to take this struggle forward.”


[1] The official foundational Philosphy of theory with 5 principles; Belief in the Oen and only God, 2. A just and civilized humanirty, 3. A unified Indonesia, 4. Democracy, 5. Social Justice)

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