Yogyakarta. Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organization has given its endorsement to female motorcycle taxi drivers during its ongoing national congress in Yogyakarta, rebuffing a fatwa issued by East Java clerics in January that banned women from riding motorcycles.
Muhammadiyah, which claims about 28 million members nationwide, is allowing qualified women motorcycle taxi, or ojek, drivers to work at the organization’s 46th caucus along with men for the first time in the body’s history. The female drivers, however, are only allowed to drive female passengers.
“We wanted qualified men and women drivers to work at our six-day caucus. We want to be able to provide affordable transportation for our participants, and we believed that ojeks were the way to go,” the congress’s deputy chairman, Haryadi Suyuti, said on Sunday.
“Well, you can call it emancipation, although women do not necessarily need to be able to do all the jobs men do.”
In order to become a driver at the caucus, men and women were required to have a valid motorcycle registration document and driver’s license.
Official caucus records show that 760 ojek drivers are working the event. Some 38, or 5 percent, are women.
Rosmawati Harianja, 43, is one of those drivers. The mother of three told the Jakarta Globe that she was happy to get the job, adding that she made more money at the caucus than at her normal job of cooking for food stalls.
On her better days, she earns Rp 50,000 ($5.50) as a cook, but as an ojek driver she clears Rp 90,000, for a shift that starts at 6 a.m. and finishes at about 8 p.m.
Rosmawati said she resolutely followed caucus regulations, which include charging passengers Rp 10,000 for a single trip within the city, and Rp 20,000 for a trip across district borders.
“When I heard the committee had invited women to join, I immediately applied. I felt I could make more money. I have three children in school. The oldest needs Rp 750,000 next month for school registration fees,” she said.
Her husband, she says, works on Bangka Island, off the east coast of Sumatra. Rosmawati said that initially she hid her “newfound activities” from him.
“But then my children told him. Thank God, he understands,” she said.
Another ojek driver, grandmother Puji Rahayu, said she was drawn by the “challenge.”
At 59, the mother of four and grandmother of four said she became an ojek driver to save money for her grandchildren. Puji said her family was supportive of her decision.
“They always say as long as I am happy, I can do what I want,” Puji said, adding that she does not clock up a lot of hours on the road compared to the other women.
She said her new “side job” would never take priority over her first responsibility — babysitting her grandchildren.
“I wanted to participate in the caucus and Alhamdullilah, I feel fine and healthy,” she said. “Age couldn’t stop me from taking part in this. In any case, I know the roads here quite well.”
Eni Rumaningsih, 43, said she took the job to help put her oldest daughter through school.
“My husband is a scavenger. The money I make [as an ojek driver] will help him,” Eni said, adding that Sunday was her first day on the job.
Erwan Wahyudi, 26, a male driver at the caucus, said he was proud to be associated with his female colleagues. He said it was refreshing to see women getting out on their bikes in an effort to support their families.
“Normally I am a contracted laborer at a milk company. I only make about Rp 25,000 a day. I know how hard it is to make money,” he said.
“I don’t see them as my rivals. Seeing these mothers with their veils driving ojeks, I get enthusiastic. I am proud of them.”