The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 23      June 11, 2012

Leaders of Indonesian women’s
center speak in New Zealand
‘In ‘Woman’s Evolution’ we found theoretical foundation
to explain history of women’s exploitation worldwide’
(feature article)
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—“We found in Woman’s Evolution a theoretical foundation to explain the history of women’s exploitation around the world,” said Hegel Terome, of Kalyanamitra, a women’s rights center in Indonesia, addressing a seminar at the University of Auckland May 3.

Woman’s Evolution: From Matriarchal Clan to Patriarchal Family by Evelyn Reed was published in Indonesian last year by Kalyanamitra, in a boxed set together with an edition of the Marxist classic The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Frederick Engels, that contains an introduction by Evelyn Reed. Terome edited the Indonesian editions of both.

Terome, the organizational deputy of Kalyanamitra, and Executive Director Rena Herdiyani were invited to New Zealand by the Indonesia Human Rights Committee and Pathfinder Books. Touring with them was Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. Waters, who has written and edited many books on the fight for women’s equality, wrote the preface for Kalyanamitra’s edition of Woman’s Evolution.

The three had just concluded a number of speaking engagements in Sydney, Australia (see issue 20 of the Militant).

The visitors began their tour May 2 with a powhiri (traditional welcome) by some 40 members of the Maori Students’ Association at their University of Auckland marae (meeting place), followed by a rousing performance of kapa haka (song and dance).

The university seminar was held the next day. Sponsored by the New Zealand Asia Institute, it was titled “Changes Facing Women Today in Indonesia and Iran: why previously banned books are now being published.” Associate professor Natasha Hamilton-Hart, director of the university’s Southeast Asia Studies Centre, chaired the meeting, which drew some 45 people.

When Kalyanamitra was established in 1985, under the Suharto dictatorship, Herdiyani said, “there was no freedom of association; Kalyanamitra operated underground. Women were controlled by state policies, stereotyped in domestic roles, and subject to government-enforced family planning measures to limit population growth.”

Suharto had come to power in 1965 in a bloody imperialist-backed coup in which hundreds of thousands of workers, Communist Party supporters and others were slaughtered. Kalyanamitra was involved in the movement that eventually forced him to resign in 1998.

Among Kalyanamitra’s most important campaigns has been the representation and defense of Chinese women raped during riots that took place in the final months of the dictatorship.

Kalyanamitra has led the campaign denouncing violence against women for many years. On International Women’s Day this year, Herdiyani said, it helped organize a protest against Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo, who last year blamed women wearing miniskirts for a rash of rapes that occurred in public transport vans.

Mary-Alice Waters said that since it was first published nearly 40 years ago, Woman’s Evolution has been published in 10 languages and many countries, including Iran.

In 2004 a law on domestic violence was passed. “They make some beautiful laws on paper,” Terome said. “Implementation, however, is a different matter.” He noted that 50 percent of women in Indonesia are “economically active.” All but 30 percent work in agriculture.

Women played a leading part in the 1979 revolution that brought down the imperialist-backed Shah of Iran, Waters said. Before the revolution, many Iranian women living in exile in the United States and active in the fight against the dictatorship had been part of the rise of the women’s liberation movement there. They began publishing in Farsi works on the fight for women’s rights, such as Evelyn Reed’s Problems of Women’s Liberation, and continued this work on their return to Iran after 1979.

‘These books are needed today’

“These books are being published in countries like Indonesia and Iran today because they are needed,” Waters said. “The problems women face as a sex with second-class status are shared by all of us and that brings us together.” She noted that the scientific explanation provided in Woman’s Evolution of the origins of women’s oppression means “if this oppression had a beginning, it can also be ended. That’s what the book is about.”

Associate professor Sharyn Graham Davies, from the School of Social Sciences at Auckland University of Technology, described the rich history of publishing in Indonesia over many centuries. Under Suharto, however, any writing critical of the regime was banned, she said. Today, space has opened for publication of books, including on controversial subjects such as homosexuality.

In the discussion, Hamilton-Hart noted the recent emergence of many books dealing with the 1965-66 period. So far “few deal with the annihilation of the left, but more are coming,” she said.

The next day, the visitors spoke to more than 40 people at a seminar hosted by Sari Andajani, a professor of public health at Auckland University of Technology’s Manukau campus, titled “Women’s Rights: How far have we come?” Herdiyani, Terome and Waters were joined on the panel by Denise Wilson of AUT’s Taupua Waiora Centre for Maori Health Research, who spoke about domestic violence in New Zealand.

“There is still a lot of discrimination and violence against women” in Indonesia, said Herdiyani, but, “the openings are much better now for women to speak up.” She outlined some of the campaigns Kalyanamitra takes up, including fighting to improve wages and working conditions for domestic workers; opposing Indonesia’s marriage laws, which allow child marriage and polygamy; and access to safe abortion.

In the lively discussion, Herdiyani said that contraception is only available for married couples, abortion is legal only in cases of rape or medical emergency, and sex education is not taught in schools. Divorce is available, she noted.

After discussing the rise of the women’s liberation movement in the United States in the 1960s and early ’70s, Waters explained that “today women comprise a greater percentage of the workforce than ever before.” As battles against the effects of the deepening crisis of capitalism accelerate, she said, “women will play a more weighty leadership role in those struggles than ever before in history.”

Joins meat workers picket line

On May 4, the visitors joined members of the Meat Workers Union on their picket line outside the Horotiu plant south of Auckland. They are fighting a selective lockout by the company, which is demanding a free hand to set work speed and staffing levels.

Following a hearty lunch, served by the locked-out workers to all those walking the picket lines, Waters and Herdiyani expressed their solidarity with the workers. “In Indonesia, we are facing the same problems—workers are being attacked by the bosses,” Herdiyani said. “We hope you continue to fight until victory.”

Waters told the meat workers their resistance was not for themselves alone. She said the struggle is being closely followed by workers reading the Militant in the United States who are engaged in similar battles against lockouts and it gives them great encouragement.

Herdiyani and Terome also met with representatives of Shakti, which assists migrant women facing domestic violence and other problems; visited the Auckland Women’s Centre; attended a government-organized seminar on race relations; and were hosted at a lunchtime discussion by members of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee.

Herdiyani was interviewed on the TV3 breakfast news program Firstline, and both speakers were interviewed by Radio BFM at Auckland University.

The tour drew students, academics, Indonesian migrants, solidarity activists and others. Raukura, a Maori woman student at Auckland University, who participated in the opening powhiri for the visitors, attended the seminar the next day. “I wanted to come and learn,” she said. “While there are things to be fought for in other countries, we should all be aware of them.”

For more information on Kalyanamitra, visit
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Maori farmers’ boycott threats aided struggle  
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