Women and Fundamentalism in Indonesia

Although many books have been written on fundamentalism in Indonesia, almost all of them have underestimated or neglected the role of women. There is an urgent need to include women in the de-radicalisation efforts in Indonesia, concludes a newly published book supported by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Photo: M. Nur Abdurrahman, DetikFoto

Cooperation with Yayasan Rumah KitaB

In cooperation with the OC, the Indonesian organisation Yayasan Rumah KitaB has conducted research on women in Islamic fundamentalist movements.

25 female informants, either former or current members of the fundamentalist Islamic movements, are observed and interviewed in-depth.

Ideological, economic and social factors

The results confirm that there are at least three factors which motivates women to engage in fundamentalist Islamic movements: ideology, economy and a social element.

In terms of ideology, most of the women interviewed were born-again Muslims in search of religious purification and authenticity, and they adopt Islam as a holistic life system.

All informants also noted economic advantages of becoming a member. These included a promise of afterlife reward, writing and speaking skills, or benefits through their positions as teachers or preachers or from selling Muslim outfits and Islamic books.

With respect to the social factor, the women explained that they found true sisterhood in the movement, an indication of their desire for collectivism. A feeling of solidarity among the women thus provided psychological comfort and social protection.

Women's role in the growth of the movements

- Religious radicalisation has mostly been assumed as a masculine activity, within the domain of men. However, no social religious movement can develop without women's involvement, says editor Lanny Octavia.

On the one hand, women play the role of cultural and biological reproducers. Unregistered marriage, polygamy and having many children are considered part of their jihad. A woman's body thus becomes the battlefield between modernisation and fundamentalism, apparent in their rejection of contraception and full-body covering.

On the other hand, women play a productive role in the movements.Thus, women are not only the receivers of ideology, but also the interpreter and implementer. For instance, the women interviewed held trainings for female members and tried to garner public support for the movement by mobilising other women and children.

Women must be included in de-radicalisation efforts

On the basis of their research, editors Lanny Octavia and Lies Marcoes argue in favour of feminist perspectives on how women are perceived in fundamentalist movements and how they become active agents. In conclusion, they find that there is a need to include women in the de-radicalisation efforts in Indonesia.

By Solveig Igesund
Published Aug. 14, 2014 12:41 PM - Last modified Oct. 31, 2014 9:21 PM