The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 20      May 21, 2012

Tour in Australia discusses
women’s rights in Indonesia
Promotes Indonesian edition of ‘Woman’s Evolution’
(feature article)
SYDNEY—Two representatives of Kalyanamitra, an Indonesian women’s rights organization, Rena Herdiyani and Hegel Terome, concluded a successful speaking visit here at the end of April. Herdiyani is the executive director and Terome the organizational deputy of Kalyanamitra. Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, joined them in their main speaking engagements.

The tour was co-sponsored by Pathfinder Books and Indonesian Solidarity. It was aimed at learning more in Australia about the fight for women’s rights and other social and political struggles in Indonesia today, as well as promoting the recent publication by Kalyanamitra—in a handsome boxed-set—of Indonesian translations of the Marxist works Woman’s Evolution by Evelyn Reed and The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Frederick Engels, co-founder with Karl Marx of the modern revolutionary workers movement.

Terome edited the Indonesian translations of the books by Reed and Engels, each published in English by Pathfinder. Waters, who has written and edited many works on the fight for women’s emancipation, authored the preface for the Kalyanamitra edition of Woman’s Evolution as well as the introduction to a recent Farsi translation of the same work published in Iran.

The tour opened with a meeting on “The Struggle for Women’s Liberation from Indonesia to Iran to Cuba,” held at the Militant Labour Forum hall April 28. Linda Harris from Pathfinder Books chaired the event. In addition to Herdiyani, Terome, and Waters, the audience also heard Eko Waluyo, a leader of Indonesian Solidarity, who spoke about the work of that organization.

The Australian leg of the tour, which has moved on to New Zealand, also included two activities at Sydney University. About 20 people came to hear the guest speakers on Kalyanamitra and women’s rights in Indonesia at an April 30 seminar hosted by the Indonesian Studies Circle. Earlier that afternoon Herdiyani—speaking in Bahasa Indonesian, the Malay-based national language of Indonesia—addressed a class of senior language students on the same theme.

Waters joined the seminar discussion, which was hosted and chaired by Adrian Vickers, head of the Asian Studies Department. She explained the importance of basic materialist educational books like Woman’s Evolution being translated and published not only in Indonesia but in other countries with a majority Muslim population, including Iran and Turkey.

The Kalyanamitra representatives were also interviewed for two radio programs—on the Australian station SBS, which broadcasts programming in Indonesian, and 2SER, a university-based station in Sydney. They participated as well in a gallery talk led by Waters on the case of the Cuban Five at an exhibition of political cartoons of Gerardo Hernández, one of the five Cuban revolutionaries who have been imprisoned in the U.S. for nearly 14 years (see accompanying article).

Kalyanamitra and women’s rights

In each of her presentations, Herdiyani explained how women began to organize as part of the Indonesian independence movement against Dutch colonial rule.

In 1965, “[General] Suharto, supported by American imperialism, staged a coup against the Sukarno government,” she said, in which hundreds of thousands were killed. The military dictatorship banned all workers’ and peasant organizations, including women’s associations.

Kalyanamitra—the name is a Sanskrit word meaning “good friend”—was established in 1985. “It was involved in the movement by students and workers to topple the Suharto regime,” Herdiyani said. One of its most important campaigns has been defending the victims of the mass rape of Chinese women that occurred during the 1998 riots that marked the final days of the dictatorship. Many have come to believe the anti-Chinese violence was orchestrated by the military itself, including the rapes.

Since the fall of Suharto, Kalyanamitra has organized around numerous issues facing women in Indonesia, including domestic violence; the wages, rights and working conditions of largely female domestic laborers; child marriage; access to medically safe abortion; and defense of “migrant women workers in countries like Singapore and Saudi Arabia, often domestic workers with no legal protection,” Herdiyani said.

She explained that abortion is legal in Indonesia only in cases of rape or for medical emergencies but not for “economic reasons, mental health, or family planning reasons.” There are up to 2 million abortions every year performed under unsafe conditions, which contribute to Indonesia’s high maternal mortality rate.

Herdiyani explained that under the present government of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the influence of Islamic fundamentalists has grown. Sharia-based laws curbing women’s rights have been adopted in some regions. These forces also oppose changing the 1974 marriage law, still in force in Indonesia, that allows polygamy and assigns wives a status subordinate to their husbands in the family.

In his presentation Terome explained some of the basic economic and social facts about Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. The archipelago has a population of 240 million people, making it the fourth most populous country in the world.

Terome is responsible for Kalyanamitra’s publishing work bringing out one book a year on average, he said—if funds are available. He explained why Kalyanamitra had decided to publish Woman’s Evolution, together with the “closely connected” book by Frederick Engels.

“We have a historical responsibility, a historical obligation,” to provide these weapons to “understand history,” Terome said.

Engels and Reed not only give us a scientific—a historical materialist—foundation to understand the origins of women’s oppression in the “rise of private property and class divided society as advances in the productivity of social labor made it possible for human beings to produce more than necessary for mere survival,” said Waters. “They also point us toward the road along which both class society and women’s oppression can be ended.”

In her talks, Waters noted the way the struggle for women’s liberation from Indonesia to Iran to the Cuban Revolution “has been converging.” That is because the path along which greater equality for women will be won, she said, is “totally intertwined with the struggles of the working class to take power.”

Speaking at the forum on “The Struggle for Women’s Liberation from Indonesia to Iran to Cuba,” the SWP leader explained how “the explosion of the global economic crisis of capitalism in 2008 has begun to generate a new level of resistance from working people in the countries hardest hit so far, from Greece to Spain to the United States.” The capitalist rulers have no way to resolve their growing crisis, which is still in its early stages, she said. They react in the only way they can—by accelerating assaults on our working and living conditions trying “to drive down the price of our labor power in order to continue to ‘accumulate, accumulate, accumulate,’ as Marx explained.”

In the U.S. today we are already seeing examples of “working-class resistance not seen for decades.” Throughout U.S. industry, “workers have stood up to the lockouts and bosses’ attacks on wages and working conditions,” Waters said. What’s ahead of us will be much more like the world of a century ago with expanding financial and economic crises, national competition and conflicts, wars, and revolutionary struggles, than anything we have seen since World War II. The “only thing that can prevent us from living with the devastating consequences of these unfolding crises is for the working class to take power,” Waters noted.

A worldwide struggle

“Evelyn Reed’s Woman’s Evolution was originally published in 1975 as the women’s movement in the U.S. and elsewhere arose alongside other deep going social and class battles, such as the mass struggle to bring down the Jim Crow system of race segregation in the U.S., and the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam,” Waters explained.

This was “the deepest, most brutal period of the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia” she noted. But more than 30 years later “the gap is closing.”

“A whole new generation of young fighters in Iran brought the struggle for women’s participation to life when the Iranian Revolution exploded in 1979 and the Shah’s regime was overthrown.” Waters said. That is what has led to the publication in Iran of books like Woman’s Evolution and other Marxist works on the fight for women’s rights.

Waters also spoke of the recent publication by Pathfinder Press of Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution, which she edited. She pointed to the importance of the example of the unwavering commitment to the fight for women’s participation and women’s equality that has been a hallmark of the leadership of the socialist revolution in Cuba.

She closed by quoting from a letter Pathfinder recently received from Fernando González, another of the five Cuban revolutionaries imprisoned in the U.S., after he read Woman’s Evolution. Calling it “one of the most interesting things I’ve read in recent years,” a work of “inestimable value” that “describes with very clear reasoning and scientific foundations the process through which” class society emerged.

“These are the struggles and the course of history that have brought us together on this platform today,” Waters concluded. The odds that the working class and its allies will prevail are better than ever before, “but only if we educate ourselves to learn from the lessons of history and organize ourselves to fight with discipline.”  
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