International Women’s Day Spotlight: Indonesia

  • Jennifer Mowbray

More than 20 years ago, in September 1995, world leaders, activists, and NGO’s gathered in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women.

The outcome of that conference, The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, set the stage for most of the work around the world on advancing women’s rights for the last two decades. In some endeavors, for instance increasing equal access to primary school education, great advances have been made and the targets almost reached.  In advancing the participation of women in politics, and in particular the 30% threshold that was first formally adopted following Beijing, many nations around the world have fallen short. Indonesia is one of them.  

From Indonesia’s independence in 1945 to the elections in 1999 women’s representation varied from 6.5 percent in the first general election in 1955 to a peak of 13.0 percent in 1987. Following the first general election of the reform era, in 1999, women made up 8.8 percent of elected representatives. Between the 1999 and 2004 elections, Indonesia transitioned from an integrationist state to a conventional presidential system. In 2004 the country voted for their first-ever directly elected president, a national legislature, and a newly established second chamber of the legislature, the regional Dewan Perwakilan Daerah (DPD, Representatives’ Council). This era also saw Indonesia’s first woman President, Megawati Sukarnoputri was inaugurated on July 23, 2001.  

The next set of major reforms to election laws took place in 2004 and included important changes for female candidates. Article 5(1) of the Election Law was passed, asking each political party participating in the election to “bear in its heart the desirability of a minimum of 30 percent of women in each region for the national, provincial and district-level legislators in their lists of electoral candidates.” Many parties attempted to fulfil the requirement to propose 30 percent female candidates in their lists for elected bodies at all levels. Prior to the 2009 election, a similar election law turned this recommendation into binding law. The law stated “the list of nominees of candidates for members of the House of Representatives shall contact at least 30% of women’s representation.” Indonesian election observers gave parties whose list did not meet this criteria a chance to amend it. If a party continued to fail at including 30% women, the party’s candidate list was not accepted and the party would not be able to contest the election in the relevant district. The participation of women in parliament increased significantly, and a record percentage of women were elected to the DPR.

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