Friday, April 24, 2009

Ani Widyani Soetjipto: Women in politics

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 04/21/2009 2:16 PM | Lifestyle

For lecturer and activist Ani Widyani Soetjipto, the 2009 legislative elections were a big loss for the women's movement.

They were a real political loss, as female candidates who many were former activists failed to win the elections, she said.

"It turns out what we called the women movement is really fragile. Many activists have been working at the grass root level for decades, which is supposed to be the place to raise awareness among constituents and get votes," Ani explained.

"But the election results appeared to show there was no correlation between years of work at grass root level and actual voter support. It's very sad."

The woman who co-founded the University Network for Free and Fair Elections (Unfrel) in 1998 said women and civil society movements in general needed to reassess their strategies before deciding on any kind of policy intervention.

"What we don't have is the determination to stay in the course of the struggle and we don't have the people's mandate either. That's why the women's movement is easily shaken," she said.

Ani, who gained a master's degree in international studies from the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, said a better problem-mapping and role sharing between the movement's stakeholders could create better coordination and synergy.

"But we know the women's movement has very diverse agendas and interests," said the 48-year-old woman. According to Ani, although many activists became involved in community economic development, their intervention was not successful at gathering votes for the elections.

"We are assuming when the people are economically independent, they are able to cast their vote independently. It doesn't seem so. I guess many people who have empowered themselves economically have not done so in a political context," she explained.

For a long time, Ani has been advocating the 30 percent legislative seat quota for women since she became the head of the women's division at the Centre for Electoral Reform (Cetro) in 2002.

One of the obstacles the women's movement faces - when pushing its political agenda - is opposition from activists fighting against the state, she added.

"There is always tension between those who want to disengage from politics and those who want to take part in shaping politics."

There are at least three solutions to such a problem, Ani said, adding that prior to deciding which course to take, the women's movement needed to reassess itself in a holistic way in order to prevent the movement from failing again in future elections.

The first option is to withdraw from politics for a while to rebuild political power from the grass root level.

The second option is to reconfigure how constituents engage with and support a number of select activists that play a role within a party or in the House of Representatives. Such support should be a full package from supplying them with conceptual ideas to financially supporting them.

"We have seen that without money, many activists struggle to manage their campaign and maintain their connection with their constituents.

"It *support* can't start only one or two years before the elections. It has to start now if we want to see changes in the 2014 elections. It has to be a long-term, systematic and localized support for selected activists that will be expected to become the agents of change," she said.

The third option is full intervention at the legislative, executive and judiciary levels, said Ani, adding any intervention at the national level always had a bigger impact.

"However, we have to be prepared for the risk of total failure at any level."

The women's movement has had little impact at the executive level since early political reforms in 1998.

"We have no control whatsoever at the executive level. Even if the House speaks as loud as it can, the executive won't listen."

The movement needs to ensure its candidates have integrity and are competent enough to be appointed at the executive level.

Participating in parties' internal reform is also another option, said Ani, because parties are at the upstream level of the political process.

The House will not improve until parties reform themselves, said Ani, who in 2008 successfully pushed for the adoption of affirmative policies for women in parties and election laws. Many activists have been preoccupied with their democratization work and failed to notice the state was still repeating some of its old antics, she said.

"What we see is the recycling of political elites. We see the same faces. The old enemy returns with a new face while we are not ready to face it." If the women's movement did not immediately come up with a common strategy to tackle the current political situation, the movement would fail once again and gain nothing from the political process, she said.

Although many women had already enjoyed greater opportunities to emancipate, said Ani, they still faced cultural and structural challenges. Therefore women should not be perceived as already equal with men.

"Cultural intervention is a long-term process because people's mindsets have to change. In order to accelerate it, we must intervene at the structural level by supporting passing laws and regulations ," said Ani.

"They could speed up the process."

For Ani, who has already had years of experience fighting for women's rights, celebrating Kartini's day is about remembering the essence of her struggle.

"The issues she fought for, like education for women, economic empowerment as well as political representation or the issues she fought against, such as polygamy, are still relevant. These issues are even more complicated now and we still have to do something about them."

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