By: Eva Zuleni and Dr. Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat

Since 2003, Indonesia has required every political party to include at least 30 percent women in their organizational structure at the national level and to nominate at least 30 percent women as legislative candidates in electoral districts or face disenfranchisement. It is a requirement that has never fulfilled its potential, and one that assumes additional importance in the general elections scheduled for April 2019.

In 2004, the first year the mandate took effect, women only managed to secure 11.24 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. That increased slightly, to 18.21 percent in 2009 but fell again in 2014.

Parties that don’t meet that quota process are expected to fail the nominating process for the legislature, making women a vital element in the country’s once-every-five-years general election process. But while the number of women legislative candidates nominated from the seven major competing parties continues to increase in each election, it hasn’t translated into putting women into seats in the legislature.  Women candidates in the 2019 election have increased slightly, with 3,200 women out of 7,985 total candidates fighting for 575 seats in the house of representatives, or about 40 percent. But how many are elected is something else. The most recent house of representatives was composed of 463 men and 97 women, meaning women make up 17.32 percent of the body.

That is a proportion that pretty much prevails across government, with women taking 16.14 percent of seats in provincial parliaments and 14 percent in city and municipal councils. 

With exceptions, it appears that Indonesia’s political parties are not happy that they must meet that mandate although the common wisdom is that the presence of more women in the body would drive issues identified with women’s interest including poverty eradication, parity in education, health care and women’s rights in a conservative, Muslim-dominated society.

The parties don’t place female legislative candidates at the top of their tickets and in the field they do not privilege female legislative candidates. The position on lists greatly influences a a candidate’s electability. In the 2014 election candidates listed as number four and so on had a tenfold increase in terms of electability, from 1.6 percent in 2004 to 16.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the electability of candidate number one decreased from 73.6 percent in 2004 to 62.1 percent in 2014. The open list system enacted in 2014 increased the chance for candidates that were nominated under big numbers in the list; a trend that has continued to go up.

Too often, women are limited to complementary administration and in some cases, discriminatory actions are carried out by party functionaries against their own female party members in selecting regional and national legislative candidates. Too often, women are selected just to fill out party lists. Some female candidates don’t even appear to understand why they can be selected.

The political world is masculine. Meetings and political strategy sessions are often done at night. It is not pleasant or even feasible for some women to go out at night and even if they do, it is uncomfortable for many. Even if women are unable to follow masculine political styles, they might be considered unprepared for practical politics and even not loyal to their parties. Women candidates must be prepared to overcome these challenges.

Women politicians must be called upon and have the intention to actively promote the community. Don’t just follow along, which worsens their image.

Statistics show that women legislative candidates are mostly those who with a mass base outside politics, such as teachers, religious teachers, assembly leaders, entrepreneurs and even actresses. Some women candidates don’t understand why they are nominated. In fact, it is not uncommon for political parties to choose actresses to become candidates to attract the attention of the masses because of their beauty without thinking about their ability or awareness.  Some have become enmired in corruption and jailed without understanding the implications of what they are involved in.

It is undeniable that the experience of women in practical politics is indeed not equal to that of men. This reinforces the notion that women in their world are not political. Few parties have any kind of education system for women, leaving them unprepared, without sufficient knowledge or capabilities. That reinforces the idea that political parties are dominated by men do not really want women to be equal.

So political women must really think before plunging into the world of practical politics. Is the involvement utilized or synergized? The minimum for women must be intention and will.  

Political parties should organize and prepare carefully for the selection of women as candidates, to educate them in the democratic system. They should conduct literacy on politics to make them qualified candidates. Fulfilling the 30 percent quota shouldn’t be used as an indemnity. If not, that will only produce unqualified female leaders. The 30 percent quota is only a minimal number so it doesn’t need to be a limit.

Women’s political education can be done via political literacy schools specifically for them. Political parties must have programs to produce quality women within a systematic framework. The quota is just a figment. Meeting it without preparation will set women back even more.