Since President Joko Widodo chose you as the Minister for Marine and Fishery, I have heard a lot of positive and inspiring stories about you. Honestly, I am very impressed by your hard work, and as a fellow woman and as a feminist, I am very proud of your courage and achievements which are comparable to, even better than, some of male ministers, and, let’s just admit it, we live in a men’s world.
Then one day I read an article on an online news portal that went viral on social media about your comment on those demanding gender equality.
“The real challenge is for us to not keep talking about women this and women that. Just do what you want to do. Do you want to be seen as equal? Stop thinking that women are different.”
It also reported that according to you, Madam Minister, if we keep questioning and talking about gender issues, it will never be resolved, and we will never move on.
I was surprised. I do not know you personally. I also do not really know what you actually mean and the context of your statement. Nevertheless, if you really meant as women we should not keep bringing gender inequality issues on the table if we want to be treated equally, I will have to say that I disagree with you, Ma’am.
Dear Minister Susi, maybe you feel that whether or not people asking for gender equality does not really have a direct or significant impact on you or some other women. But, millions of girls in across the world do not have access to education just because they are not male. More than 100 years ago, Kartini saw the problem of women lacking access to education, which she voiced in her letters to her best friend in the Netherlands. And yet, today, two-thirds of illiterate citizens of Indonesia are females.
Today, too, thousands of girls in Indonesia are still “forced” to get married before they get to finish school. And hundreds of millions of women in many countries in the world, including Indonesia, are still paid less than of their male counterparts for doing the same job with the same qualifications.
While our government has declared a zero tolerance policy on violence against women, the National Committee for Violence Against Women found that the number of reported incident tripled between 2010 and 2015. Many people accuse sexual assault survivors of “asking for it” because they were wearing certain clothes or happened to be in certain places, making survivors even more hesitant to report the assaults. A national polling held in July 2017 reported that 90 percent rape cases in Indonesia go unreported. Our sisters who want to serve our country with the National Armed Forces have to undergo virginity test, which is not only humiliating, but it can also be traumatic.
For them, gender equality awareness matters, dear Madam. For them, it is significant. And if perhaps you have not heard, according to a survey in 2016, Indonesia is ranked 8th for the worst countries for gender equality.
But if you meant to say that we should not only talk about gender equality but also show some actions, I am with you. Still, as with other important issues, we need to express our opinions, thoughts, arguments, to shed light on it. For me, that is an action. We need to raise awareness that gender inequality is real and it exists in our society so we can work together to find a solution. Just like corruption – if nobody knew about its existence among us, how were we supposed to find a way to eradicate it?
I do believe in and respect your freedom to express whatever opinion you have. But I wish a respected female public figure like you would support women’s hopes and dreams for equality and social justice. In my field, this role is known as “influencer.”
Being a feminist does not mean we hate men, nor think that women are above men. Being a feminist means striving for social justice and equality amongst all existing genders, and for our basic human rights. Being a feminist is to fight for women’s freedom to express themselves without being judged or mocked, either through our life choices, profession, fashion, or how much time we spend applying our makeup and taking care of our looks.
I hope you can find a way in your heart to forgive me if I said anything undesirable. Thank you and I wish you all the best.
Dana Fahadi is a graduate student pursuing a degree in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University, Australia. She is a feminist and an aspiring singer. These days she dedicates her time to finishing her thesis and working as Media and Communication Fellow for World Center for Women’s Studies. Any other day, she spends it by chilling on the beach, trolling Facebook and Instagram, traveling, or re-binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy.
*Read the Indonesian version of this open letter here.