09 October 2010

Can Women Be Leaders?

I actually read the genesis of what I am about to post in The Jakarta Globe. What I had intended to say was way more confrontational and self-righteous than what follows here. It is so because I forced myself to stand up and walk away. I made a sandwich and drank a glass of juice. This was probably a good thing.

I consider myself a tolerant person, although sometimes I have to wonder, but there are some things that really press my buttons. One of them is the idea that women cannot lead and that this is justified in Islam. There are more than enough examples of poor male leaders throughout history that should make us pause and wonder whether men have any inherent right to call themselves the chosen ones, the leaders of men and women.

Yet, Ridwan Muhammad, Speaker of the Local Biruen Government in Aceh, has been lobbying for the need to change the female Head of the Plimbang Subdistrict, Anisah. To all intents and purposes it is politics as normal for any where in the world; you have those that like the job you are doing and those that think you are woeful. It seems that the woeful ledger is winning out as they have gained the support of Ridwan.

The move to replace Anisah though is not based on her woeful performance per se,but rather because she is a woman. And, at least, as Ridwan sees it, this means under Islam and the brand of Sharia Law (ad I use the term loosely) that Aceh has adopted women are not permitted to lead. Presumably, this is because leading men is not the job of women. Yet, the manner in which Ridwan made his views known by saying that women were "unfit" under the laws of Islam to lead is an affront to all women irrespective of their religion.

So, I wonder, Ridwan, what is it that women are good for in your view? Is it that women exist only to serve the pleasures of men? Is it that a good shellacking in the bedroom to satisfy the needs of men is the intent God had in mind? Is it that women are only good for breeding; the old 'bare foot and pregnant' deal? Are women to be judged solely on their abilities to serve their men, where a woman who can cook, wash, iron and sew gets a higher ranking than one lacking in those essential skills?

I wonder, how does this sort of misogyny and chauvinism support the idea that Islam is about protecting the dignity and rights of women? How is it that the Ridwan alternative is one that promotes tolerance, harmony and acceptance? As an aside, Ridwan, are there no prominent women in the history of Islam that had what might be perceived as leadership roles within the religion or the broader community?

Let's not get too deeply into the religious debate. The point of this post is not to dissect Islam and its views on women, in spite of the issue lending itself to such discussion and debate.

Therefore, just focusing on the legal ramifications in a constitutional sense. Does the special autonomy granted to Aceh allow it to discriminate against women within the perceived framework of the implementation of Sharia Law? My limited understanding of the Indonesian Constitution is that discrimination is not permitted, including discrimination against women.

Maybe this idea that women are inferior to men can become part of the new "Visit Indonesia" tourism campaign?

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