UNIFEM Finland Supporting The Political Participation Of Women In Aceh

60 Acehnese power women, supported by a delegation of their “sisters” from Finland, took part in a seminar on political participation of women in Banda Aceh recently.
The project funded by UNIFEM Finland culminated in a 2-day seminar, which gave the woman activists of the Aceh province an opportunity to discuss issues related to the upcoming local elections in 2009 and women’s political participation in general. The discussion was vivid and active, and the lunch break had to be postponed with one hour in order to let everyone to express their opinions, writes the Finnish daily Sanomat.
The Helsinki peace agreement, which ended the decade-long confrontation between the Indonesian government and the Aceh Liberation Front (GAM) in Finland in August 2005 states full political rights for every single Acehnese person. Traditionally however, the political arena has been seen as the kingdom of the men.
Even though women would not agree with this view, the lack of support from the society and families has traditionally decreased women’s trust on their own capabilities to be active on the political arena. Even though women represent the majority of the voters, they are under-represented both in politics and in the highest posts of the nation-state of Indonesia.
Some religious leaders also condemn the political participation of women as an anti-Islamic act. Political parties are rather indifferent on promoting women into leading or other significant positions and too often participation of women in practise means only a symbolic name or two at the end of the candidate listing.
The 2-day seminar acknowledged these challenges, but instead of complaining, the focus was on ways to overcome these challenges and to increase the role of women in the policy-making of the Aceh province. Inspiration was searched both from the Acehnese history, the Koran as well as from the political emancipation of Finnish women.
During the 17th century Aceh was governed by four female leaders for 60 consecutive years. Even if the times have surely transformed, these strong female leaders from the times of the sultanate are still today role models and bases for argumentation.
It is difficult to imagine, that the political empowerment of women would happen without the argumentation of the Islamic framework in a deeply Islamic province, such as Aceh. It was clear, that the women participating at the seminar were well aware of both the Koran as well as the universal treaties of women’s rights.
What could the Acehnese women learn from the experiences of Finland? Collecting inspiration and motivation from abroad is of course positive, but at the end it is the Acehnese women (and men) who themselves have the best knowledge on how to develop Aceh the best suitable way. Since Finnish women have longer experience on political skills such as campaigning, learning from Finland’s experiences on issues like that could be useful for the Acehnese.
The last session of the seminar contributed to the future aspects of women’s participation on the political arena. It was agreed, that studies on social sciences should be increased. It is important to trim potential candidates for the election process, but at the same time also to remember to give the voters enough information in order to increase their understanding of political processes. The seminar participants expressed worry over the deepening gap between the active elite, and the women of the countryside. It was agreed, that the educated women in cities should pay more attention to the needs at the grassroots level.
A scene from the monologue theatre play performed in Taman Buddy in Aceh. A monologue theatre play produced by the Institute Ungu and Yayasan Pitaloka and sponsored by the Embassy of Finland was performed at Taman Budaya as a side event of the seminar. This was the first theatre play in Banda Aceh since the tsunami catastrophe in 2004. The freshly renovated theater did not yet have an air-conditioning, but the heat of the night did not prevent some 400 theater guests from enjoying the performance. The monologue focused on social and civil problems and possibilities of women in a form of a comedy. As a pleasant surprise and contrary to the seminar, also plenty of men found their way to the audience of the theater play, according to Sanomat.

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