Feminism and Gender Equality: How We Have Been Mislead

For someone who has been working on the issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment for a number of years, finding out that there has been a campaign against feminism by a group of women can be quite heartbreaking. The campaign “Women against Women” was posted via Tumblr with blog (( See http://why-we-dont-need-feminism.tumblr.com/)) and photo collection of women holding signs explaining why they do not need feminism. (( See http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com/)) Things like “I don’t need feminism because I don’t hate men” or “I don’t need feminism because I am not a victim” were written vividly on a piece of paper of card board. These women claim that feminism is merely an overrated concept and therefore irrelevant with modern life. I was utterly shocked. These women did not just despise feminism but they also misunderstood it.
As much as I desperately wanted to think that this was only a bad dream that someday I would finally wake up from, I must admit that this is more than real. The terms ‘Feminism’ and ‘Gender Equality’ indeed have not been popular among societies in the world, especially men and sadly nowadays, women. TIME Magazine even included the word ‘Feminist’ in the list of words to ban from the modern world in 2015 although later apologized and revoke their decision. (( See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/time-apologizes-feminist-words-to-ban-2015_n_6171028.html)) Any word that is preceded by ‘Gender‘ is seen as another propaganda for women to seek for immense freedom and boundless liberation. Feminism and Gender equality are perceived as merely a means for women to hate men, to be the dominant sex to gain power over men, to have a career outside their homes and abandon their children, to wear sexy dresses and even show up with nothing on in public, so on and so forth.
Indonesia is no exception. Although there has not been any nationwide movement to reject Feminism and Gender Equality, resentment against Gender Equality and Justice Bill by religious groups these past years pretty much says it all. The Bill that was formulated back in 2010 aims mainly at eliminating gender-based discrimination and accordingly achieving equality between men and women in various spheres of life. After all, Indonesia has become the signatory of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since 1980. Indonesia has also passed a Law No. 23/2004 on the Elimination of Domestic Violence and Law No. 21/2007 on the Eradication of Human Trafficking. Not to mention, a Presidential Decree No. 9/2000 that was enacted to serve as legal basis for all gender mainstreaming efforts in the country and various other laws and regulations that aim at ensuring women’s fair share in politics, social, and economy. The Bill seemingly serves as another logical step forward that needs to be taken to create a more gender-friendly environment for both Indonesian women and men.
However for some people apparently it is illogical to do so. Since it was officially proposed to the People’s Assembly in 2011, religious groups have been the strongest opponent of the Gender Equality and Justice Bill. These hard-liners claimed that the Bill was against Islamic teachings and Indonesian traditional culture and would downgrade the value of women and men as merely a product of culture which at the same time denied the significance of religion that has been regulating women’s and men’s roles and function in society. The Bill’s outline of marriage that gives freedom for people to choose their partners was also said to be the basis for same-sex marriage. This has left the Bill without future. After its latest update in early 2014 which revealed that the Bill was undergoing a public hearing, no further news was heard.
Let us go back to the primary question that we have all been longing to answer: do we need Feminism and Gender Equality? Or rather, have we understood Feminism and Gender Equality correctly to be able to answer the question?
Well, have we?
Having been involved in gender related projects, all I can say is that the general perception people hold against Feminism and Gender Equality is wrong, askew, erroneous. The fact that the terms have been misconstrued is, however, undeniably true.
Let’s get some facts straight. First and foremost, gender issues are NOT only about women. Gender equality seeks ways for BOTH women and men to be able to equally access, control, participate and benefit from development. It analyzes the difference between women and men and assesses their needs based on those differences. However since women in many societies have traditionally been disadvantaged compared to men, the interventions undertook in addressing gender-based issues have been focused on empowering women so that they have the capacity to equally participate in life as men.
Feminism itself is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression (Bell Hooks, 2000). It does not matter whether you are a woman or a man, boy or a girl, poor or rich, if you are oppressed by sexist attitude and behavior or even a system, then Feminism is for you. What people seem to fail to understand is the very reasons why feminism exists in the first place. It does not, for instance, attempt to force women to work outside their homes and leave their children behind. It does not encourage women to disregard the whole concept of marriage and lead promiscuous lives. It, more importantly, does not prescribe women into hating and combating men. It never does. Feminism, on the other hand, seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in order for them to be able to make informed choices. Feminism offers women options for them to decide what is best for them just like men have done so for themselves for a long time. So if a woman decides to stay home and take care of her children as a full-time mother, is that against feminism? If a woman chooses to wear hijab and fully cover her body, is that against feminism? As long as the decisions were made on their own freewill and based on adequate information on what options available for them, then the answer is a firm NO.
Some women may think that they do not need feminism because of the equal and just society they think they are living in. But the reality is that each society has its own set of challenges that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for us to over generalize the situation. In the US, for example, honor killings and female genital mutilation may not be an issue but gender disparity in wages and domestic violence may still be apparent as issues of polygamy and minimum legal age of consent for marriage in Indonesia may not be as evident in other countries. Being gender-responsive in one feature does not mean that a country is gender-sensitive in all other aspects at the same time. No matter how high the country’s GDI (( Gender Development Index (GDI) is a global index used to measure gender equality in a country. GDI asseses male to female ratio on 3 (three) basic dimensions of human development; health, education, and earned income. See http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/table-5-gender-related-development-index-gdi)) or how low the GII (( Gender Inequality Index (GII) is a measurement of gender inequality that focuses on gender disparity between men and women in reproductive health, empowerment, and labor market participation. See http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/table-4-gender-inequality-index)) is, there are still gender related issues that need to be addressed accordingly. Just because a woman can go to school and earn a living does not mean that gender-based discrimination does not exist. Would you say that “global warming isn’t real just because you feel cold today or world hunger is over because you just ate?”(( See https://twitter.com/StephenAtHome/status/534929076726009856)) Women, especially, need to be aware of this.
Next stop, Gender Equality. Although the words literally speak for themselves, I feel it is more than necessary to reiterate this: gender equality DOES also concern men. It is absolutely incorrect to understand that gender issues are only about women. In the issues of child rearing, for instance, men are becoming more and more involved these days and demand their rights to also take part actively in raising their children. Men are as good as women in child care although there are biological roles such as giving birth or breastfeeding that only women are able to provide. However what we see and hear now is totally the opposite. Backed up by the traditional gender stereotyping, men are believed to be as not capable as women in taking care of children and therefore the full rights of child rearing need to be granted to their mothers. We would hear policies at work place where women are given fully paid maternity leave for a certain period of time after giving birth but we rarely come across any work policies that would grant men paternity leave when their child is born. Men’s rights to their children are at stake here.
In the case of sexual abuse, although we have seen numerous cases against women and girls, men and boys evidently are also victims. The public was shocked when the news of sexual assault against children as young as 6 years old at one of the most well-established educational institutions in Indonesia, Jakarta International School (JIS), surfaced in 2014. Then another shocking case was revealed where a man was accused of sexually molesting more than 80 children in Sukabumi, West Java. As if those incidents were not troubling enough, there was another sexual abuse case against 6 children in the Riau Province in which the victims were not only sexually abused, but also killed and the bodies were dismembered. To note, the perpetrators are all male and majority of these abused children are boys.
Statistically speaking, according to a survey on violence against children conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection of Indonesia in 2013, among respondents aged 13-17 years who had experienced physical violence, emotional and sexual abuse in the past 12 months, approximately 3 million boys or 1 in 4 boys, admitted to have experienced physical violence of some sort. While 1 in 12 boys and 1 out of 7 girls were found to have experienced sexual violence. (( See http://m.jurnas.com/news/148587/Pencegahan-Kekerasan-Terhadap-Anak-Perlu-Koordinasi-Terpadu—-2014/1/Sosial-Budaya/Humaniora/)) The surprisingly high number of sexual abuse incidents against boys is argued to be closely related to another set of gender stereotyping which claims that boys should be strong, tough and unemotional. This wrongfully construed image of men and boys causes embarrassment for male victims of sexual abuse to come out and speak up which in the end makes it even more difficult for the law enforcers to unveil the cases. In case you fail to notice, these issues ARE about men.
Without gender-based analysis that addresses the needs of men and women, we may never even know the issue exists.
I say it’s time we do justice for Feminism and Gender Equality. Let us start putting the two terms into their correct perspectives and framing them in the right angles. I was more than pleased to see Emma Watson, the famous young British star, stood up with her powerful speech at the United Nations (UN) to speak about #HeForShe campaign to urge men and women everywhere to start having a correct understanding of Feminism and Gender Equality8. #HeForShe encourages men to be actively involved in advocating the issues as Feminism and Gender Equality are also about them. Men too can be feminists!
It is, indeed a long and winding road ahead. But with everybody on board, men and women, I believe we can cut the road short and achieve the equal and just society we have all been longing for. It is no longer you or me, it’s us. And the time is now.

About Marisna Yulianti

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