[Jakarta, LTTW] First thing first, although a little late, Happy International Women’s Day! It is very important for us to mull over and appreciate the role of women in establishing and nurturing human’s life in the frame of equality. The last estimate from World Bank (2017) suggests that the percentage between the number of women and men is more or less equal: 49.6% women and 50.4% men. However, in terms of the role and involvement in formal employment, women are still minorities, especially in the Middle East. Apart from being outnumbered, women often receive unfair treatment in the workplace, be it in terms of income, appreciation, and recognition.
Gender inequality is actually a ridiculous notion; how could mankind be able to build a life without the existence of women? Not only is it ridiculous, gender inequality should have never existed in the first place. We should be appalled and amazed to see the patience and tenacity of women in facing this life. Amidst injustice (and also danger), women will always have their own warriors who relentlessly fight for changes, for mankind. They are the dual minority with the heart of steel who envision a better future .
Women Activists: Risking Their Lives Above All Else
The world is dealing with numerous unpleasant events such as war, refugee crisis, terrorism, mass killing, education system that has been moving away from ethics, famine, and environmental degradation due to human activities. It is not surprising if many have said the “civilization is crumbling.” To respond those issues, many women have stepped in and acted. Yes, act! That’s why they are called activists. Principally, there are two things that one must understand to define activism. First, direct action. It means one would act voluntarily by directly countering the issue at hand. Quoting Sacred Bridge Foundation Chairman, Serrano Sianturi, changes can only happen on the ground, underlining the importance of “doing real things.”
The second, they do it for the greater good. An activist fights for others, to fix all things that she/he deems not right and harm many people. Therefore, becoming an activist means becoming a minority, because not everyone would “sacrifice” their life for the sake of others. Becoming an activist demands a great sense of care and courage. Many of them have to “sacrifice” their entire life, some even ended tragically.
Bertha Caceres (1972-2016) and Gauri Lankesh (1962-2017) are two of the daring activists who lost their life because of the idealism that they fought for. Bertha Caceres, a Honduran environmental and indigenous activist was murdered because she stood in the way between the government and multinational companies in the transaction of the land belonging to her ancestors. Gauri Lankesh, an Indian activist and independent journalist was murdered because she bravely fought and criticized the far-right wing of Hindu Nationalist in India.
Another risk-taking activist is Norma Andrade, a Mexican, who has fought against human trafficking run by big cartels. Her loud voice gave her a few bullets in her body. Norma Andrade was a mother whose daughter was kidnapped and eventually killed by cartels. With her bravery, she fights relentlessly against those cartels so no one would be their next victim . No one could have stopped her – even the world joins her in the combat against the cruel cartels. These are the reasons why we wrote about women activists. Let’s be honest, being dual minority, doing double job (working and being moms), and facing danger at the same time have put them in an extreme situation in which most of us would not dare to enter.
Their legacy and aspirations have both directly and indirectly inspired many young women who also take their path. One of them is Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani young activist awarded by the prestigious Noble Prize for her courage in fighting for the rights of women and children to go to school amid the no-mercy attitude of the draconian Taliban regime. Besides Malala, there are more young activists who also battle for a greater good.
The Young Generation
Mosul, Iraq, has been overwhelmed with problematic matters. Not only has the city been under the control of IS for three years, but this place also gives very little space for women to speak and express their opinions.
Tahani Salih, 27, is a young activist from Mosul who tirelessly confronts those issues. Trained and supported by Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) – one of the new groups of Mosulite activists – Tahani Salih held a cultural event not long after IS was defeated. This event was aimed to rebuild the hopes of Mosul, as well as to rekindle the spirit of Mosulites to regain freedom, hopes, and dreams. This event offered variety of programs, from the restoration of Mosul University Library, painting exhibition, music performance, photography, festival and cross-gender soccer tournament. She also empowers women to stand up and speak out. As quoted by BBC, Tahani claimed, “People need to know that being a girl is not shameful.” She also argues that the culture of fear and repression is “the very condition that helped IS come in.”
Sacred Bridge Foundation (SBF), a not-for-profit organization focusing on cultural cultivation, views that human empowerment is often overlooked. When it took part in Aceh rehabilitation after the devastating tsunami in 2005, it saw that most organizations gave their supports in terms of the tangibles – food and drinks, medicines, shelters, restoring damaged buildings, and so on. Realizing that these tangible needs had been fulfilled, SBF decided to focus itself in exercising psycho-therapeutic healing for the survivors so that they can start establishing a strong sense of self-reliance despite their suffering. Utilizing Acehnese own cultural wisdom and manifestations, the organization reintroduced and reconnected the survivors with their precious roots to develop sensibility and (re)discover their history, identity, and enshrouded vernacular knowledge – an attempt that was later proven instrumental.
In Middle East, gender inequality remains the part of women’s life. This is why women are considered as “property” rather than men’s counterpart. It’s no surprise if marriage turns out to be a “business” transaction.
Take a look at what happened to Sonita Alizadeh, a rapper from Afghan. She was yet to be 18 years young when she was almost “sold” by her family so they could raise money for her brother’s wedding. She bravely rebelled; the last rap song entitled “Brides for Sale” is her way to protest the situation. To this day, Sonita keeps on fighting her battle to eliminate forced marriage and child marriage culture.
Sonita Alizadeh shows us the role of arts in society; how art is “alive”, and influential to our life. Sonita has yet to change the world through her music, but she had managed to transform her family’s point of view on forced marriage. That’s actually how arts work: it starts from the inner circle, then gradually expanding. There are other senior women activists that also work in music, namely Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Riot Grrrl Movement, and Beverly Bond.
In our view, art is, and shall ever be political (see “Music is an Art because it’s Political”). Art, in its many forms, has been born due to challenge socio-political events. Music genres such as rock, punk, grunge, and breaking emerged as the musical manifestations of society’s shared critical responses toward unsound and degrading political mores.
In Rajasthan village, India, poor families often prefer to send their underage children into marriage instead of to school. A 17-year old Payal Jangid has had every intention to change that. She has actively advocated children’s rights to combat child marriage through education. Her routine includes visiting families to educate them about the importance of education to parents. Payal Jangid efforts finally came to fruition; the villagers heard her and turned to support her. In fact, more and more adults would come to her if ever needed advice. Together with adults and children, she has turned the village into a child-friendly one.
To our parent organization, the solemn mission of education is to materialize the ideals, thus people from early age need to be equipped with morality, courage, uncompartmentalized knowledge and proper skills so that they will be capable of bouncing back and rising above any occasion.
Melati & Isabel Wijsen
A study conducted by NOAA/Woodshole Sea Grant suggests that it takes more or less 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade. Unfortunately, plastic has become an everyday item and people treat them as if they are easily broken down. Now, plastic has overwhelmed our planet, both on land and ocean. Bali, the Island of Gods, is no exception.
Melati and Isabel Wijsen are sisters from Bali, Indonesia. They managed to bring the government of Bali to sign the free plastic bags program in the region that is expected to be in effect this year. It all began when they ran a campaign titled “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” in 2013. They invited people of their age to clean up the beach from plastic bags, started an online and offline petition to say no to plastic bags. They also visited schools to promote the use of alternative materials for bag such as paper, net, and other organic materials made by local craftsmen. They even went as far as having a hunger strike. Let’s not looking just at their today’s accomplishment, let us observe and re-question what was actually their greatest achievement in this matter? Well, it is what makes activism exist in the first place: assemble conscience and courage to take the first step of action.
Based on our observation in recent years, Bali urgently needs this kind of initiative, since we have noticed a growing trend that one day may wipe one of (ancestral) environment-friendly qualities in Balinese culture. Prior to their holy “Seclusion Day”, Balinese undertake a ritual to exorcise evil spirits. People parade the streets with giant puppets made of used and degradable materials found in their neighborhoods. These puppets are disposed, with no designated area, as soon as the parade is over; it’s quite OK since the materials are easily degraded.
The making of the puppets is in itself a social ritual in which everyone in the neighborhood participates anyway they can. Today, such ritual begin to disappear. Their modern day jobs in making a living limit their availability to do so. Outsourcing is the solution. The puppet making is “subcontracted” to commercial contractors. As a result, most puppets they produce are made of Styrofoam, a material that would need a few centennials to decompose. Now that’s a different ball game! So Bali certainly needs more activists like Melati and Isabel Wijsen.
The BuSSy Project
Tahani Salih challenge gender inequality by organizing cultural events, while Sonita Alizadeh uses music as her means of protest.
Let’s check out BuSSy, a performing arts project originated in Egypt in which storytelling is utilized as a means to combat gender inequality and other social issues. This Art Project includes workshops and storytelling performances in which people can tell their horrifying experiences that happened to them like rape, discrimination, forced marriage, honor killing, child abuse, and other eerie stories.
This Arts Project was initiated in 2006 by two students of American University of Cairo (AUC) who told their stories about growing up as women in Egypt. According to their website, “The monologues, which were by women, for women, exposed real women’s stories and provided a space for free expression on issues that society often failed to address.” In year 2010, BuSSy Project expanded its coverage by accommodating their space not only for women, but also men. This step was taken to cover both sides of the story.
Storytelling is indeed a powerful means. Similar to BuSSy Project, Afro-Americans had relied on storytelling to pass down their folklore to the next generation in the 16th/17th century slavery in the New Land of the Americas. They were not allowed to bring any possession from their native land such as musical instruments, clothes, etc. In this bitter period, folklore had become instrumental to African people because it was the only thing that they could “carry” (read: “The Church and Afro-American Music”). While BuSSy Project utilizes storytelling to open up, defeat injustice and voice identity, the African slaves utilized it to create a tranquil realm in the reality of inhumane slavery.
Mother: The Sacred Word and Role.
How would we imagine a world without a mother? The only picture we have is no doubt that there would be no world. Most women in the world would be mothers one day, including these young activists. According to Jakob Bachofen, a Swiss anthropologist, mother is the most primordial bond in human life. Mother also symbolizes the core of life; our planet is called Mother Earth, just in case you are not aware of it.
Mother represents and simultaneously exercises equal rights due to their natural unconditional love, regardless what gender her child is. Mother is also the most courageous being since they would do anything, including risking her life, in bringing up her child. Mother is an activist by nature; it’s a noble role necessary in human life, and a role forever unmatched by man.
English Translation by Riri Rafiani