Sunday, February 06, 2005

Women on top? Equality does not come from spouting slogans

Among the aggressive TV ad campaigns for the recent legislative election,
one made me cringe the way I do when I am watching a nasty horror flick.

The woman in the ad, while serving jamu (herbal tonic), said that she would
only cast her vote for a party with many women in its ranks.

I can understand that many of us want to see more woman representatives in
the legislature, and political parties are already supposed to apply a
minimum quota of women candidates.

But I believe that people should be picking the most reliable, competent
party and candidates, regardless of whether they are from Mars or Venus.

The ad struck me as ironic in a country where women's rights have long been
an issue, where women have had to deal with the chauvinistic and patriarchal
nature of society. By calling on women to vote for women only, aren't we
turning the clock back to a gender-centric era, except from the other

If that is the case, as I believe it is, then where are the women's rights
activists when we need them?

Women right's activists today seem distracted from what they were fighting
for in the first place.

Their main task should be to open the minds of women to make them realize
that they have options in life and that they have the right to choose,
instead of accepting what this male-dominated society wants them to be.

But the ad, and the lack of any comment on it, reflects they are sleeping on
the job.

My view is the women activists, in their pursuit of their goals and their
conduct, alienate themselves from the general public -- including other

Perhaps that is why their activities fail to register with the people.

Women activists here could learn a thing or two from the struggle of gay
activists in the West. In their pursuit of their rights, including to marry,
they have been determined but have made their campaign fun, lively, colorful
and open to others.

Here in Jakarta, women activists are gathering to light the candles before
an already pretty enlightened populace, while many other areas sadly remain
"in the dark".

Seemingly mundane issues -- the right of women to breastfeed in the
workplace, housemaids demanding and getting one-day off a week, pay
commensurate with their skills, for example -- are important in making a
better quality of life for women and working against discrimination.

Instead, for some, it seems the fight against discrimination becomes an
entirely personal cause without looking at the issues affecting other women.

If what they were fighting for in the first place was against the problem of
discrimination, then it is not a problem exclusive to women. So, women, as
the backbone of civilization, make it a movement based on humanity.

(Thanks to Hera & Baby for publishing my thought on The Jakarta Post)

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