By Sara Schonhardt
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Almost a year after her election, an Indonesian parliamentarian says getting elected was easy compared to working in a male-dominated legislature. After eight months she has yet to be heard in a general floor debate.
Second-term parliamentarian Eva Kusuma Sundari from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), chaired by Indonesia's first female president Megawati Sukarnoputri, seems a bit more hardened.
She says it takes confidence and preparation to be a female politician.
"Once you get in parliament, you must have a vision, a clear portfolio. If you don't have that you won't be able to maximize your role here and you won't be able to bring any change," she said.
Sundari says the problem extends to anyone in the parliament, but because women are under more scrutiny, they are only able to command attention if they can show they're above average.
The structure of the political parties is what really needs to change to ensure that the right women are recruited, not only those from dynasties, but also those who are capable, says Sundari. "If you have modern political parties that value you and measure you based on your performance, then it makes it easier for us to work in the parliament," she said.
With a background in economics, Sundari is well qualified to sit on the finance commission (though it took four years for party leaders to award her a seat there). But after criticizing a senior legislator's suggestions on a draft money-laundering bill she was booted off that commission and reassigned to foreign affairs.
The defeat might have demoralized a junior politician, but not Sundari, who says the big challenge for women is gaining leadership status when many men underestimate them.
"In their subconscious, men still believe leadership positions are meant for them," she said.
Sundari says she now knows she must stay alert so she can maneuver draft laws in women's favor. She has fought to raise the number of women on the police force above the current 2.5 percent level and pushed for $30 million to be added to the national budget to curb human trafficking.
As long as her actions don't disturb the interests of more senior politicians, it's not a problem, she says.
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Sara Schonhardt is a freelance journalist based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She has lived in Southeast Asia for five years, covering politics and socioeconomics, and has master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University.
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