Women Account for Less Than 7 Percent of Candidates in Upcoming Regional Elections

A campaign event for Aceh Besar's district head election on Feb. 11. (Antara Photo/Irwansyah Putra)

By : Jack Britton | on 7:17 PM February 12, 2017
Category : Opinion, Commentary

According to data from the General Elections Commission, known as the KPU, women make up less than 7 percent of the candidates in the upcoming regional elections. This sad fact represents enormous problems of gender inequality in all aspects of Indonesian life, but especially in politics.

The election for the governor of Jakarta has been by far the most publicized of these elections and has dominated national headlines for months. With over 50 percent of the nation’s wealth concentrated in the capital, this is no surprise.

In the Jakarta election, out of the six gubernatorial and vice gubernatorial candidates, only one is female.

Candidates in the Jakarta election is obviously too small a sample size to draw conclusions about female representation in Indonesian politics, and this is where recent data published by the General Elections Commission (KPU) is useful.

Data from the KPU show that 101 regions consisting of 7 provinces, 76 regencies and 18 cities will hold simultaneous elections on Feb. 15. The winners of these elections will become mayors, district heads or governors.

The number of male candidates running for election across these 101 regions is 599 while the number of female candidates is a paltry 43.

The fact that only 6.7 percent of candidates in the upcoming elections are female suggests the enormous problems of gender inequality that persist in Indonesian society also permeate its national politics.

In the People's Representative Council (DPR), female representatives currently hold only 17 percent of the seats. A significant number of these women are celebrity politicians including models and actresses as well as relatives of powerful (male) politicians.

The entrenched political culture and system in Indonesia tend to favor female politicians who are physically attractive, have large economic and social capital and close family ties with established politicians.

Nominating female celebrities because of their social and economic capital has become a popular tactic of political parties to win seats in parliament.

The media’s focus on candidates’s beauty rather than political skills works to further embed patriarchal norms in politics.

This political status quo results in the marginalization and exclusion of women who have great political potential but no capital.

Indonesia has introduced a rule which stipulates that during general elections political parties must make sure 30 percent of their candidates are female, or risk a penalty. While in theory this is good policy, in practice it is deeply flawed.

It is common knowledge that nearing election time, political parties recruit wives, daughters, relatives or low-ranking female civil servants to be placed on the parties’ drafts of political candidates.

Although these women have no political ambition or hope of being elected, their names are placed somewhere on the bottom of the voter ballots. In this way, the 30 percent quota is reached and the political party avoids penalty.

When women become politically viable candidates in elections, they are liable to be targeted by negative campaigns.

An example is a campaign attacking Hevearita Gunaryanti in the mayoral election in Semarang in 2014, which was done by spreading quotes from religious texts that reportedly state women are not permitted to lead and that men are the rightful leaders of women.

This is a harmful example of the politicization of religion that has become a constant feature of Indonesian politics.

The widely held belief that women are unsuitable for politics because their "natural" roles in society are to take care of children and other domestic duties result in a gross under-representation of women in Indonesian politics.

Legislative reforms are needed to ensure women have increased access to and representation in the political sphere.

Capacity building for female politicians and mandatory training for political parties regarding gender issues should be implemented immediately from national to local levels.

It has been proven in many cases around the world that as women’s political participation increases and  more of them are elected to government, education, health care and economic empowerment issues are increasingly prioritized and governments become more responsive to the needs of citizens.

On Friday (01/02) afternoon, commissioners from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and Juri Ardiantoro, the chairman of the KPU, attended a joint press conference at the KPU Media Center in anticipation of the simultaneous regional elections on Feb. 15.

Voters were called upon to be critical and to choose candidates with integrity on the protection and advancement of women’s rights.

Komnas Perempuan also urged all candidates to make the elimination of violence against women a priority issue in their work plans and ensure that the electoral process is inclusive and friendly toward women.

Jack Britton is a volunteer at Komnas Perempuan, the National Commission on Violence Against Women, in Jakarta. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Komnas Perempuan.

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