by: Okky Madasari

It’s the month for mothers in Indonesia! 

Many efforts have been made to clarify the history of Dec. 22 — which the New Order regime designated as a national day to celebrate motherhood — and that it’s actually Women’s Day. Nevertheless, I would like to discuss one kind of motherhood in Indonesia today. 

“Motherhood now” (referring to the so-called zaman now, or ‘the now era’) is not as private or domestic and non-political as it was before. The digital revolution has allowed women to combine motherhood with activism, movements, a public role and political engagement at their best — and their worst.

Fueled by the increasing access to the internet and social media platforms, women — and mothers in particular — have launched many public initiatives and movements. 

Recently, a mother posted a petition to boycott a TV commercial featuring South Korean girl group BLACKPINK, because the group’s members wore miniskirts and hot pants. The mother claimed that the commercial, which appeared during children’s programs, would have a negative influence on young girls that would follow the band’s style of fashion. 

The petition soon garnered massive support as word spread from one mother’s Facebook account to another’s, from one WhatsApp group to another. The mothers, they claimed, must act to protect their children from bad influences.

The women then met with the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) and legislators to ask that they issue a warning to the TV station to stop airing the ads. They did it: The KPI issued the warning as per their demands.

Almost a year earlier in November 2017, a mother posted a note on her Facebook account, criticizing the children’s film Naura dan Genk Juara(Naura and the Winners Gang), starring child actor Naura.

After watching the film, she reviewed it, saying that it spread hatred against Islam and gave Islam and Muslims a bad image. She mentioned that the villain was a bearded man whose catchphrase was “Astaghfirullah” (an Islamic exclamation meaning, ‘I seek Allah’s forgiveness’). She warned other mothers against allowing their children to watch the film, and if possible, to boycott it. 

Her note led to the creation of #BoikotFilmNauraDanGenkJuara. Many mothers who agreed with the suggested boycott added that the girls in the film always wore shorts and accused the film of setting a bad example for children.

Back in 2014, a group of social media activists — mostly mothers — demanded that the WHY: Pubertas (the Indonesian edition of Why: Puberty) be banned, accusing the life science comic book of promoting gender minorities. The group succeeded in getting its publisher to withdraw the comic book from stores.

These are times when political mothers have been at their best, and at the same time, their worst.

They are at their best because we can see how women, especially mothers, have reached awareness to the point that they have gained an influential voice, that they have a right to express their opinions from their standpoint. The above examples also show how these women were skilled at organizing themselves into a force for change to influence state institutions and businesses, challenge laws, or just to make a public statement.

In an immature democracy where uncertainties prevail in law enforcement and which falls short in women’s empowerment, it’s imperative that women and mothers raise their voices for the betterment of not just women, but the nation as a whole.

Mothers — seen as the most innocent player in politics — quickly gain sympathy and support from state institutions, which believe that supporting mothers would mean gaining the support of a significant social segment and hence, a significant increase in public approval.

But now, these mothers must be careful with the immense power they hold in their hands. Their actions, driven mostly by personal beliefs and ideologies, have elevated them as the new moral authority of now, and in the process, they are suppressing other voices in society.

Any protest or movement should follow the law, conscience and honesty, instead of simply following blindly an interpretation of certain religious teachings on how people should dress or behave. After all, Indonesia is not a theocracy.

Forcing public policies or political decisions to change according to moral and religious judgments will always produce an arbitrary result. It may sometimes coincide with public interests, but in many cases, it will oppose them. Thus, many morally based initiatives will go against the very spirit of the women’s movement — or in this case, the spirit of Mothers’ Day or Women’s Day.

Take the case of Naura dan Genk Juara. Accusing the movie of hounding Islam just because the beard-sporting villain repeats the istighfar is highly subjective, if not downright nonsense, especially when beards are currently trending among young people, including basketball superstar James “The Beard” Harden of the Houston Rockets. Also, istighfar has become a commonplace phrase, even among non-Muslims. 

Furthermore, demanding that the movie be withdrawn from cinemas is blatant censorship and denies freedom of expression.

Such morally based movements have always ended up — and will always end up — suppressing others’ voices and denying freedom of expression.

While it’s clear that these groups of mothers represent only a small fraction of Indonesian mothers and women, they are the ones speaking louder, claiming to represent all the country’s women and mothers. 

This must act as a wake-up call to the silent majority of moderate and open-minded women and mothers. Unless this silent majority starts speaking up, the nation will continue to be hijacked by these morally based women’s movements of political mothers at their worst. 

This should be the main issue of this year’s Indonesian Women’s Day.

*Published by The Jakarta Post December 2018






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