Indonesia: Cultural and historical baggage----
by David Jardine
It's not just misogyny. Women academics often have to overcome cultural difficulties and prejudice engrained by centuries of experience and tradition that favour their male colleagues. Indonesia is a case in point: any historical assessment of its educational development for women must take into account two broad things - the record of Dutch colonialism and the often turbulent record of the post-independence period.
If we begin with the former we find that in 1930, the colonial authorities published statistics showing only 6.4% of 'natives' could read and write, and more of these were men than women. This figure probably only counted people literate in the Roman alphabet and any literacy in Arabic for religious purposes or in the Pali script of the Javanese was probably discounted.
Whatever, the figure was truly dismal and would not have improved much, if at all, in the 15 years between its publication and the Indonesian Proklamasi of Independence, given that time included the Great Depression and the Japanese Occupation.
Following former President Sukarno's historic proclamation of independence on August 17 1945, there came four years and four months of bitter struggle with the Dutch, supported by the British. This was hardly an auspicious time for the new nation to build an education system of its own.
Basic literacy was the first target but that of course would have to wait on the training of teachers. The country's founding fathers, however, included a few of the tiny handful of Indonesians who had enjoyed higher education at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and in December 1949, weeks before the final Dutch withdrawal, Indonesia got its first university, Gajah Mada in the Central Java city of Jogjakarta.
In these circumstances, it would be quite startling to find more than a very few Indonesian women going to university and the first intake was predominantly male. What few who had received a good formal education, Dutch-style, included the national heroine and activist Raden Ayu Kartini who successive governments have iconised as a symbol of female emancipation, a position disputed somewhat by some Indonesian feminists. The latter include Gadis Arriva, who, as a philosophy professor at the University of Indonesia, remains one of the few highly placed female academics in the country.
Sukarno's leadership during the 1950s was undoubtedly popular with large segments of the Indonesian people but was erratic. Nonetheless, the state university expanded somewhat in these years with the creation of campuses outside Java as well as inside. Again, the impression is that women were in a minority in the student intake.
Sukarno was displaced in 1966 in the aftermath of the anti-leftist bloodbath that brought General Suharto to power with Western support. Despite this, there was a major expansion of both basic education infrastructure and the higher education system during the 32-year Suharto New Order regime from which large numbers of female students undoubtedly benefited.
At the same time basic literacy figures soared and showed very little disparity between boys and girls. Since the financial crisis of 1998 precipitating the student-led movement that brought Suharto down, however, Indonesia's school drop-out rate has climbed rather dramatically, with both genders affected but with poorer children doing worse than their richer classmates.
The paradox of the Suharto years is that along with the expansion of both state and private universities went a regime of quietism on the country's campuses. Towards the end of the regime this was bound to give way and the boisterous student movement that took to the street was far from universally male. Female college students, though, were also commonly in the way of the water cannon and baton charges.
Current constraints on female progress in education either as students or as academics include religious objections to female leadership. The same applies across the spectrum of public leadership. Although Indonesia has recently had one woman president, Sukarno's daughter Megawati, she appears untypical if not atypical. Only a small number of local governments are female-led.
The current Cabinet includes two influential women, Sri Mulyani as Finance Minister and Mari Pangestu as Trade Minister.
Clearly, in a country with a vast and overwhelming Muslim majority, such religious objections as are expressed are most likely to be Islamic. It is of note that overwhelmingly Hindu Bali is one of Megawati's political power bases.
A recent survey by the current affairs weekly Tempo found that women graduates were turning up in previously all-male fields of employment, including engineering in the oil industry and internet technology. This would seem to indicate that certain gender biases have begun to break down. Equally, it is of note that the women's studies programme at the University of Indonesia was established by a male rector.Previously published by University World News
......................................DJ tells that he has "since discovered several women professors in the better unis."