The Indonesian Feminist Movement, Between Past and Present

A discussion with professor Saskia Eleonora Wieringa, Honorary Emeritus Professor at the University of Amsterdam and Co-Founder of the Kartini Asia Network.

Among the most dynamic democracies in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is a historically fascinating country. After the February 2024 election, following two terms in office, President Joko Widodo’s era continuity is uncertain, leaving behind a fragmented political landscape with little chance of finding true popular representation. While the president endorsed the candidacy of his son Gibran Rakabuming Raka as a vice-presidential candidate with his former rival, Prabowo Subianto, many segments of civil society are suffering from a sense of loss of historical perspective. Therefore, faced with the uncertainties of this political future, it seems crucial to question back history. To quote the classicist Jasper Griffin: “We delve into history for two reasons. There is curiosity about the past, what happened, who did what, and why; and there is the hope of understanding the present, how to place and interpret our era, our experience, and our hopes for the future1. It is in this perspective that takes place this interview with Saskia Wieringa, a professor emeritus at the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Amsterdam, and an expert in intercultural relations between people of the same sex.

In this interview, we will delve into a part of Indonesia’s contemporary history, over thirty years after the end of Suharto’s regime (1966-1998), particularly through the work of Saskia Wieringa on feminist movements. This eminent professor has authored numerous scholarly articles and books on Indonesia, including several impactful ones written with the prominent feminist lawyer and human rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, Propaganda and Genocide in Indonesia: Imagining Evil, and Sexual Politics in Indonesia. At the heart of the key moments recounted in these works, Prof. Wieringa examines the role of feminist movements in Indonesia and their evolution through the events known as the G30S (September 30th 1965 Movement), a genocide that left between 500,000 and three million victims, particularly within leftist intellectuals at large, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), its supporters, and its women’s organization, GERWANI (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, Indonesian Women’s Movement). The interview will also explore the impact of Suharto’s regime on the country’s perception and social and political vision, addressing the period of reform initiated in 1998 (Reformasi).

The topics covered, ranging from political movements in Indonesia and their history under the Suharto regime to the current official narrative, demonstrate the lack of a common social vision in Indonesia. This fragmentation results in minorities, such as the LGBT community, often serving as convenient scapegoats in politics, obscuring the country’s real problems, such as high levels of social inequality.


Your career gives a prominent place to the analysis of the events of 1965-1966 and their consequences until today: why did you delve into this topic, and why it is important for the young generation?


The 1965 events represent the deepest violation of human rights in Indonesia’s contemporary history. Probably between half and 3 million (depending on which scholars you cite) have been murdered straight away. Hundreds of thousands were detained, and thousands of them perished in prisons. This event is the largest mass killing in Indonesian history. Larger than the independence war, larger than any other wars (there were 400 of them) that the Dutch inflicted: we can call it genocide, not just mass killing.

The impact that the genocide still has on Indonesian life nowadays is not well realized, and the idea of genocide itself is not well understood in Indonesia. I started out by studying the women’s movement because I wanted to know, in the early eighties, how come Indonesia had certain insipid, silly women’s movement, whereas, in the fifties and early sixties, it was really known internationally for its vigorous and strong women’s movement. I thought, how come in such a short time that all these figures, this power, this international reputation, totally disappeared when GERWANI became suppressed, until its eradication, by other organisations like Dharma Wanita and Dharma Pertiwi.

In addition to the massive loss of lives, the whole leftist aliran (“current”, “movement”) was destroyed. What was destroyed was not just a number of people who were members of PKI (Indonesia Communist Party) or GERWANI, but a whole way of life, with its own cultural and intellectual roots in society. And, as you know, at the moment the trade union movement is very weak in Indonesia, and every time they try to speak up, they are called new GERWANI or new PKI. The ghost of this event is still strong in Indonesia, which is also linked to the events after “Reformasi.” Indeed, after that period, the whole structure was left intact. Suharto was chased out, but his cronies remained; the generals, the economic power holders remained in place and were very well able to model the state according to their wishes.

Take as an example what’s happening inside the army. Some of them are fighting amongst each other and there are big rifts between various army departments, but there is one thing about which they are very much united: that no one will be punished for the 1965 crimes against humanity. And that is exactly what is happening. The justification is that there isn’t enough evidence, which is total nonsense. For instance, the KOMNAS HAM (National Commission on Human Rights) has this huge research and hundreds of very telling interviews. I’ve been able to look at them. And not only that, like the case of the prison island of Buru, that is fully documented. Who were the leaders? What happened? There have been so many books, statements, and testimonies about it. And who was responsible for that? It is also very clear. So if they say “oh, there is no proof, we can’t go back, it’s so long ago”... Well, look at Germany; they are still putting in trial guards of the prison and concentration camps, almost 70-80, years after it all happened.

So, it is sort of fake this idea that there is no proof. If they want to, they can get any kind of proof. Because the victims are not shy, they are brave and willing to testify, and the archives are also very much still there. Nobody has been able to look in the archives, but I assume that if that was possible, we would get the information on the plate of those kinds of archives. A lot of archives at the local level have been destroyed. Still, where I am now, close to one of the largest mass graves—possibly 800 people in Kebun Raya in Purwodadi—, the people are still there, most of the murderers have passed away, but their families are still there, the stories are known and the villagers are willing to testify. They’re willing to tell their stories. This cancer in Indonesian society will not get away unless there is some form of justice and reconciliation. Nevertheless, it is likely that justice is not going to happen in the future period. Jokowi promised, but of course, he never did because then immediately, the generals stood on his doorstep and told him to move away from that. And so, Indonesia lives on with this huge wound in its social consciousness and the bogeyman that communism is. Indeed, over the whole world, we know very well the problems with communism. Its weaknesses have been exposed; nobody is going to revive the PKI in Indonesia. Nobody’s going to do that, and nobody’s willing to or able to do it. So that’s not the issue. Communism, as such, has had its day. And if you look at China and Russia, you don’t see communism there, not according to what Marx thought of it, at least. But we need to have another kind of social consciousness, not of the communism that he had maybe or those other kinds of European and Latin American parties had, but a new kind of social consciousness in which people’s humanity is valued, in which there is an idea of equality and social justice. But if you try to do that, if you speak up about that, you are immediately in hot weather because you are demonized as GERWANI or as the new PKI. The whole debate on social justice, on equality has been hijacked. The four richest people in Indonesia have more than 100 million Indonesians: the inequality is so huge and so painful. Personally, I think Indonesia will never reach its full potential as a modern state if this issue is not resolved in whatever way.


Saskia Wieringa et Katjasungkana Nursyahbani, Propaganda and the Genocide in Indonesia. Imagined Evil, Londres, Routledge, 2019.

Saskia Wieringa and Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, Propaganda and the Genocide in Indonesia. Imagined Evil, London, Routledge, 2019.

To better understand the most extreme forms of authoritarianism in Asia, the study of Hannah Arendt on Nazi Germany and on the banality of evil is enlightening. Could you tell us more about the recognition of the word “genocide” in Indonesia and of the events that occurred?


Those are important, very important questions. Yes, the banality of evil; in Indonesia, you cannot organize such a mass murder, such a genocide of these kind of proportions if you don’t have a bureaucratic apparatus that supports it. Indeed, the bureaucratic apparatus was both legal and medical, and even psychological in the case of Indonesia. Now, we still have to know more about that because of those who were involved. I’ve heard one student leader, who is dead now, who cried, who said, “yes, I joined this movement.” I did some research on psychologists in the book Propaganda and Genocide in Indonesia: Imagining Evil. There was no legal process. It was clear that all the members who were being imprisoned were there for nonsensical reasons; nobody had committed any crime. So, what does the Indonesian state do? It set up a system of classification in A-B-C and further refinements. The A class of people were the ones who were directly involved in the events, and most of them got the death sentence and were straight away executed. But B and C were clearly people who were innocent. In the B group, usually but not always, there were lots of leeway and lots of messing around, and the B people were people who may have had a leadership position or had been local leaders. The C people were those who were just joining, they had no formal leadership positions and could be released much earlier. The B people had to stay much longer, like in the island of Buru were mostly B people. And on what criteria was this done? For that, psychological tests were made based on what is now an outdated Eysenck model of quantitative psychology in the United States. They had a list of questions and many fluctuations in it in which they tried to figure out how communist the person was and whether the person was already able to enter into society. And entering into society meant that you could recite Quran and, of course, you could recite Pancasila [the Indonesian state “philosophy”], and there was no trace of communism left in you. And in this process, the psychologists took the rule of legal judicial operators, and they did that willingly.

Psychology at that moment was a new science that was being set up, for instance, at Universitas Indonesia (Jakarta) and in Bandung, and some of the major leaders and professors who were setting up this new quantitative, post-Freudian study, sent their students to take these kinds of tests to the prisons. Now when you go to them—and I went to interview quite a few of them—they deny it sometimes. They say “oh yes, we did some tests.” But I know they went there because I have testimonies of people who were interviewed by them. So, they deny their involvement in establishing the category of the prisoners, and thus in determining the number of years in prison. But how ‘wrong’ were the prisoners? What crimes had they committed? They were just members of a totally legitimate organization at the time.

Now, I just finished research on Minangkabau, and I saw some papers that were produced by Andalas University. I was working on GERWANI, there, and those papers said, “oh, these people were put in prison because they were members of an illegal organization.” GERWANI was not illegal. It only was made illegal after 1966, after SUPERSEMAR (Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret, Order of Eleventh March). Until that time, it was a legal organization. They were perfectly legal when they were imprisoned. But there is this idea that these people must have been wrong just because they were imprisoned. In Bukittinggi, it’s even worse because you’ve got to pay attention there, which also has struck deep wounds in society. There’s all the time the justification that these people were wrong, they deserved to be punished, and they deserved to have their houses confiscated, to be raped, beaten up, tortured, all of those things to be banned from any kind of meaningful occupation and all that because they were wrong. This is never researched into what that means, and people do not discuss it. They don’t say: “honestly, we were totally lied to. We were lying also to whoever was around us.” So, this cleansing of society, this self-consciousness, has never been there. Also, in Germany, this process of self-awareness took a long time, particularly because in the first years after the Second World War, quite a few Nazis were still around. But still, they have worked through that. It is clear that Nazism is seen as a very bad thing, and everybody who was associated with this is culpable. Now, that idea is still not there in Indonesia.

The New Order (Orde Baru), the killings, the murders, the imprisonments, the executions, all that was a very bad thing. It should never have happened. And anybody who participated in that is guilty of a crime. You can’t say it out loud, and you can even be imprisoned now for that. And that’s why it’s so difficult to build up a society in which there is a strong civic sector. Now we are moving into the 2024 elections again, right? As you know, it is relatively quiet now in the political field, but two groups are waiting to be chased out of the shadows again, and that can be used for any type of intimidation to kind of boost one’s own political ego. One is the communist, and the other is homosexuals. And sometimes they’re even together. There are pictures of banners that say “Kita tolak LGBT dan PKI” (We reject the LGBT and the PKI), they classify all the LGBT people as communists and all communists are LGBT; this is, of course, total nonsense. This is on what my research also focused initially. I researched what I now call the “first sexual moral panic”; the sexual moral panic organised by Suharto, accusing young girls, most of whom were not members of GERWANI but of Pemuda Rakyat and other organizations—because they were much too young for that—of having castrated and killed the generals.

That was the first sexual moral panic. And that was extremely effective because, among other related propaganda, the PKI was shown to train women to skinning cats as a kind of exercise. The idea was that PKI was totally inhuman. And that is being used now also for LGBT. The second sexual moral panic started at the end of 2015 because the idea of sexual perversion is deeply ingrained in society, as a big threat to the social structure, as against majoritarian Islam. And so that’s why these two (LGBT and PKI) come together very clearly. And, I am looking with some trepidation at what will happen in 2024, because we saw in 2019 that the political parties have, actually, very little to distinguish them from each other. They’re all political leaders, faces, egos with some kind of program trailing behind them, which they can exchange at any moment for any other program. They have no ideological kind of stable core.

That’s why, Prabowo and Gerindra [the Great Indonesia Movement, its party] and other hard liners in 2019 switched sites as early as possible and became the pal of Jokowi. It’s like what Ben Anderson said, the idea is that there’s power at the center, and, as long as that power is contested, there is strife, but if there is one clear leader power is shared out. Because you must keep everybody together. That’s what happened in 2019, very clearly. And I’m afraid it may very well happen in the next 2024 election. Look at what the major presidential candidates have to say about their programs: nothing. It’s just about personalities. And that is why misinformation and slander can come in very handy, which simply say that your adversaries are very bad because they’re LGBT, because they support communism. It can lead to raids on bars, nightclubs, or seminars. And it’s all because society still has not come to terms with this big wound that is 1965, as I call it again, genocide.


You are recognized for your work on settling the IPT 19652. Has there been any outcome on the side of the UN?


We submitted a report to the Human Rights Council for the previous round when Indonesia was subjected to a Universal Periodic Review. But the problem is you need to have consultancy status, which we don’t have. We tried to find an organization with whom we could link up last time, but nobody wanted to work with us. They thought that this was a much too dangerous thing to be associated with. Nobody dared to include our report in there. We submitted a statement, like outside of the shadow report, which had no official status, and it was actually more or less ignored. Now, this time we tried again, but nobody wanted to host us, and then we tried to get consultative status ourselves. But that’s such an important, long, and difficult process. We can’t get it because we are a very small organization. Nobody wants to fund us. Everybody thinks, “oh, you know, Indonesia is great, it’s a wonderful country, and so we should not antagonize it.” And so, nobody wants to associate with us, because they don’t want to risk it.


GERWANI was one of the most important feminist movements in Indonesia during that time; what role did they play during the movement in the 1960’s, why were they considered as an enemy of the regime, and what legacy did they leave to the current social movements in Indonesia?


That’s two questions, right? First, let’s see what happened and why they became controversial in the end. During the independence war many of them were active as many organizations were, not yet as an organization, but more as individual members of the PPI, the student guerrilla movement. Many were quite radicalized by the ideological work that had been going on during the revolution. Much of the revolutionary rhetoric was also very much anti-feudal. It was both an anti-feudal movement, an anti-colonial movement, and of course, a nationalist movement. And so, many of them got their first education in socialism and feminism during the guerrilla period when they worked there. Some of them were doing the most dangerous work, that is, the work of the messengers. who. had to carry actual letters through enemy lines. And then, there were quite a few members of earlier pre-1942 socialists and feminist movements who became radicalized and who wanted to keep up that struggle. And so, when they came together in 1950, there were about six, seven organizations of them, which were quite radical. The nice bunch of young women and some older leaders were all very nationalist, but they also wanted to really end what they called the feudal remnants of society. A lot of forced marriages and all the remnants of women not getting any education and all that. They were among the vanguard. But they were not the only ones at the time. I mean, other middle-class women’s organizations were also against feudalism and for nationalism.

And they were much radicalized, not in the way of GERWANI, who were more socialist-minded, but nationalist-minded, independent-minded, and feminist-minded. Now many of them, like the Catholic women, many of the Muslim organizations, and also the nationalist organizations, apart from Perwari, Persatuan Wanita Republik Indonesia or Women’s Federation of the Indonesian Republic (Perwari was the only one who kept up their feminist credentials throughout the period of Soekarno’s presidency), most of the other ones kind of let themselves slip down back into the household, like the ideology that women are responsible for the kitchen and things and so on. And they were happy with what had been achieved, and also because their leaders stopped them, and the revolution had been achieved. Although Soekarno kept saying “we need a full revolution”, what he meant most with it is Irian Jaya (Papua) that he wanted to get. So, the fulfilment of the nationalist movement, of the total liberation of the people. Furthermore, he wanted more socialism in the field. But for a long time, he was not powerful enough to do that.

Saskia Wieringa, Sexual Politics in Indonesia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Saskia Wieringa, Sexual Politics in Indonesia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

And so many of the more traditional women’s organizations lost much of their revolutionary fervor. But not GERWANI. They had courses, they were reading, they had international leaders like A. Kollontaj and C. Zetkin, and they read, studied, and discussed that. And they wanted more, they wanted political participation. They wanted men to become a little bit more responsible for the household, they wanted to remain militant. I call them in my book, Sexual Politics in Indonesia, “militant Mothers.” Indeed, they remained mothers. You know very well that the word for “mother” (ibu) is the same as the word for woman. They kept up this mother status and function who looked after the children and cooked. But they expected men to become a little more active in the household. And they were against the kind of male arrogance in which men try to prevent their wives or their daughters from getting a better education than they themselves had or against men who were not as brilliant as their wives were. And their wives then became leaders of some organizations, while they did not. It was difficult for male egos at that time to accept that. They were active in the anti-polygamy struggle, more active than most of them apart, of course, from the Christian women’s organizations. In their own organization, the PKI and Lekra (Institute for the People’s Culture), if men wanted to have a secondary wife, they could count on GERWANI getting active with them and trying to, sometimes very successfully, to remove them from the organization. Among women, the mostly younger wives could never become members of GERWANI. If women accepted to become a secondary wife of a PKI person, then they were out of GERWANI. They were very radical in that, at least at that moment, that was considered very radical, apart, of course, from Soekarno, who remained their hero, and they never criticized him for his womanizing.

The only organization that kept up doing that was Perwari, and they paid a very high price for it. They became branded as anti-nationalist because they were anti-polygamy. And they received death threats and many obstacles in their path. But they kept Soekarno as the big leader who could not do anything wrong. This rift between GERWANI and the other women’s organizations became more pronounced in their socialist credentials, and lots of feminist socialist ideas began to be spread about wages and things and so on. They kept talking about workers’ and peasants’ rights. The split between them and the more nationalist organizations who did not object so much to the housewife role that they were kind of moulded into again became wider; these traditional women were happy enough if their husbands made a career and they didn’t have to make a career themselves. The tensions were more at a national level than at the grassroots level. At that level they kept working together because that work was very practical, literacy courses, sewing courses. If there was a disaster, a flooding or a volcano erupted, then they would all come together, and all work together side by side.

But still, it was clear that GERWANI was the most radical of all women’s organizations. The most feminist, however, was Perwari. However, Perwari was being ignored, and it lost much of its importance because of all the flags they got from the Soekarno government. And also, there were the Muslim women’s organizations, which had no problem with polygamy. Individually, a lot of leaders said “yes, there is no woman who likes it, but our religion allows it, so we must allow it also.” That rift became clear by 1965, but GERWANI still dominated the field. They claimed they had three million members. I think that is an exaggeration because the numbers were very important. PKI also claimed to have so many million members, but they had, maybe, between one and two million members, which is enormous, making the organization huge, the largest women’s organization outside of the Communist bloc, right after the Russian and Chinese Federations, and they played a major role in the world. They dominated the national kind of umbrella organizations, causing some resentment because the voices of the other organizations, which were much more mainstream, were drowned out.

GERWANI dominated the field ideologically in a feminist and socialist way, but also simply through the power of their numbers and the sheer hard work of the cadres. There were no organizations that were working as hard as GERWANI members did. I spoke to many, and I’m speaking now again to local leaders who went barefoot on their free days to faraway villages to teach the women how to read and write. You know, no other women’s organization would do that. They remained in the cities, and they had nice meetings, but GERWANI would gather the women together in the neighbourhoods and ask them what their problems were. Approach them through ways in which you can approach Indonesian women, for instance through cooking lessons. But it never remained with a cooking lesson. The cooking lesson was always infused with what they called “a rights content”, and the content was there. “Why is the price so high of our rice? Why is it so difficult to get tofu, why are our wages so low? Why is this happening to us? Why is it so difficult for us to get good food? And why are we so poor?” They would always give them some political content. Later, after 1973, when PKK (Pendidikan Kesejahteraan Keluarga or Family Welfare Education) came up, the state organization copied many of the programs of GERWANI, like this kind of neighbourhood meetings. But they completely erased the political content.

In the seventies, when I first met PKK and attended the meetings, what was important was how the dish looked, and how nice tomatoes or vegetables looked. Does it look beautiful? The issues was not – is it nutritious food? Is it food that is suitable for poor people? And definitely no discussions about prices of rice and veggies and all of that. They took some of the things, the outer garment I would say, and they left out the content. And that is exactly what happened between 30 September 1965 and the destruction of GERWANI. When I did my first research on GERWANI in the early eighties, nobody knew about all these kinds of things. Everybody kept quiet.

The young feminist women were not active yet at that time. I could find nobody with whom I could discuss these issues, and I was very surprised when all of a sudden, I thought I would only be able to study the transition from particular women’s organizations before 1965 to after 1965. I was thinking of the Catholic women’s organization and Perwari, but I never thought I would be able to have access to GERWANI, but they came to me. They found me because I had done some socialist work. And they asked me to do that research for them. And so I did. And that was a difficult decision to take, but I think it was a very important decision. And I’m, of course, still happy that I did it.

In the end, it cost me. I was blacklisted, and there were lots of problems. I was blacklisted for 13 years when they found out that I had been working on GERWANI. But my first articles, and that lead us to your second question, were immediately picked up because already by the mid and late eighties when I was no longer allowed to go into Indonesia, the first fledgling feminist groups came up again. In Yogyakarta and Jakarta particularly. And some of these women I met outside of Indonesia—I was teaching women’s studies everywhere—got hold of my articles and translated them and used them for their trainings. They never asked me for that, naturally. I only found out in 1995 in Beijing, at the Women’s World Conference, that they had been training themselves with the use of my articles; they read my articles, the critique of the PKK, the effect of the change, the history of GERWANI. And they realized their own organization was so terribly weak at that moment. And the political restrictions, of course, they knew very well themselves, but they also learned about the history of their own women’s movement through my articles. And so, that was training material for them. It was as in Russia, you would say, samizdat, right? It was illegal. They photocopied it, they retyped it. Later, I came across some of these copies, and so they used it. They trained themselves on that.

After 1995, I came back through letters, through visits, not to Indonesia. I could only go to Indonesia in 1998, but my analysis was already accepted and had become mainstream in the Indonesian women’s movement. Also it took me a lot of time to finish my Ph.D. thesis, because I could not go back to Indonesia because of the ban, and I had promised them that I would be responsible for the security of my informants, the women I interviewed. I had to go back, and I had to ask them to check it because it was not a matter just of anonymizing them. If I wrote that this woman was interviewed at some place, and she was the leader of this, that, and the other, they would be able to trace her, and they would be imprisoned again or killed because of my research. That, of course, was impossible. So, I had to check it with them, which took a long time. That’s why my book was actually out only in 1995. And then, in 2002, my book came out in English. But by then already, the Indonesian women’s movement accepted my thesis of their deep politicization, the destruction of their movement, and the sexual slander that still haunted them because they were often accused of being GERWANI baru (new GERWANI) if they became politically active. It is still very difficult. I mean, I’ve been following the women’s movement, and the development of civil society in Indonesia. It’s not only the women’s movement, of course, that lost out. It is the whole socialist movement. The whole socialist family was destroyed. And not only the family physically, the members, but also the thinking, the idea that there is a future of more equality, more humanity, and human rights, that idea is lost.

Indeed, what I liked about GERWANI was they had a vision of the society that they wanted to create. And the women’s movement is now fighting on amongst themselves all the time, like the whole of civil society. They’re fighting on KPK (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi\Corruption Eradication Commission), and they’re fighting for the sexual violence law. Those are important issues, but they’re issues within a larger framework. And that larger framework is never spelled out. I mean, LBHI (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia\Indonesian Legal Aid Institute) movement, the human rights movements, they have a human rights vision, but they don’t have a vision of what an Indonesia would look like and what is necessary. A human rights framework is more than looking at crimes against humanity. It is a matter of envisaging a society that is more equal, in which incomes are more equitably divided, in which power is not in the hands of the army and the economic tycoons but in the hands of the people. And so, it’s very easily wrested from them because they, again and again, stumble into one issue after another. And that is what I liked about GERWANI. And, of course, the PKI as a whole, and the leadership of Dipa Nusantara Aidit, of course, was very important there. And Lukman, Njoto and many of those leaders, like Soekarno—well academically you could disagree with him, and I think in his later years, he made many mistakes—, had a vision. But now, the idea of a vision is lost. And it was lost after 1965. And that is one of the effects of the “creeping coup”, as I call it, how Suharto took over power from Soekarno and destroyed a whole movement, a whole way of living, a whole culture, and a whole way of looking at society. So that is, in a nutshell, the answer that I would like to give to you.


In this context, what role does religion play in the vicinity of the forthcoming elections?


Well, let us start then with what’s happening right at this very moment. Looking at the importance of the KUPI (Kongres Ulama Perempuan Indonesia), the Congress of Women Ulama Indonesia is possibly observing the critical impotence of religion in Indonesian politics. This congress sees women Muslim leaders and thousands of members follow up at this conference, it is huge. And they are seen as the most progressive Muslim women in the country. They are all educated women. Many of them are leaders or teachers at pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) and madrasahs (Islamic schools) and all the various kinds of Islamic State universities. What they’re saying is that they’re there for all the victims, and they have a progressive position on Islam. But two topics are never discussed at KUPI: what about the victims of your own violence against GERWANI; because they were actively involved in that. Many of them are Aisyah members, and Aisyah took over the kindergartens of GERWANI and was very active in helping to denounce and defile GERWANI women. They never, none of them, came to the prisons where the GERWANI women were held and captured and tortured and raped. Never one of them, only Christian ministers and priests, no one Muslim leader came. They had been colleagues and had worked together, but they did not come and visit their former colleagues or save them and speak up. I was going to ask them then, but there’s no word from KUPI on that.

And the second thing, I’ve just finished a book on that, is that the most progressive women leaders in Islam have no words about the violence inflicted by families and their own organizations on the LGBT people. It’s their organizations that support the inhuman conversion therapies in their institutions. And they don’t speak a word about it. It is their organizations that promote forced marriages and the corrective rapes of young lesbian women. And there’s no word about that. I would like to ask them that question, but I cannot do that publicly. I have asked some of the leaders I know personally about those conversion therapies, but they say it’s impossible to talk about these issues. So, what I mean, is that these Muslim women must come together and at least have a moderately progressive view on Islam, but there are many black holes in their analysis, and they don’t come up with a sufficiently, as I see it, radical perspective on freedom and humanity. They say rahmatan lil alamin, that’s what Islam is, a blessing for all mankind. Well, it’s not a blessing for all mankind. Islam can be very intolerant, and it has been intolerant in the past, and it’s still very intolerant to the LGBT community, and it is still supporting the homophobia and the communist phobia that may erupt again. We are all fearing it in relation to the next elections because none of the political leaders who are up for the presidency have any kind of political program at all. It’s all about personalities and about political power. Because they have no program, they will just hit at the weakest members of society, former Communists or those associated with them and the LGBT community, because they’re the most vulnerable ones. And I don’t see the women leaders taking any principled position on that. It’s fine that they are there, it’s good that there is a moderate voice, but it’s not enough.

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Jasper Griffin, “It’s all Greek!,” The New York Review of Books, 18 december 2003.

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The IPT 1965, or International People’s Tribunal 1965, is an independent tribunal that conducted an investigation into the 1965 anti-communist purge in Indonesia. The “Final Report of the IPT 1965: Findings and Documents” refers to the comprehensive report and supporting documents produced by this tribunal, detailing its findings and evidence related to the events of 1965.