“As an American expat living and working in Indonesia, I am sickened how Islam treats women”


I received this enlightening message from an American woman who has lived and worked in Indonesia for several years. Remember, Indonesia is supposed to be a beacon of “moderate Islam.”

As an American expat living and working in Indonesia for the last few years, I am sickened how Islam treats women. Working and living within their community, I have seen firsthand how they are considered subordinates to men and basically have been brainwashed into doing as they are told, being followers (rather than initiators) and rarely have exercised thinking for themselves. Having had many conversations with Muslim women, I have found that the majority of these Muslim women know nothing else. Being brought up within the Muslim faith, they have worn a headscarf, (also called a veil or jilbab) since they were very young children, faithfully praying the obligatory five times a day. Many young women still believe that their place in life is in the home, raising their children and doing the cooking and cleaning while their husband is out working and living a much more independent life. One of my Indonesian male friends told me that he never has any extra money, as he is basically an “Office Boy” and has been for many years. I asked him why his wife doesn’t get a job to help support their family of four. He told me that his wife’s place was in the home. She is 47 years old.

Indonesia considers itself a moderate Muslim country, with as many as 90% calling themselves Muslim. In speaking to locals within my community, I mentioned that I have seen women at times stepping out into the public eye without a veil, which I have found a bit perplexing since the majority of the time they are wearing veils. These women have told me that they feel pressure from their work environment to family members to wear the veil. I asked why they don’t they just refuse, as they are adult women with their own mind and freedom of choice. They fully disagree that they have freedom of choice. They say that it is their culture. This is what they do. Come on women. Stand up, be brave and fight for your right as a human being to be your own person! Unfortunately, it is also part of Indonesian culture not to raise your voice or “make waves.”

Unfortunately, much of this female suppression is reinforced by the Indonesian government. For example, single women cannot become police officers or join the military or civil service unless they pass a virginity test. And men argue that the Quran explicitly states that men and women are equals. Not from the excerpts I have read, and what I have seen with my own eyes. Talk about the ultimate violation of someone’s body. I’d like to know how this is equal treatment of women. Indonesian government also bans celebrating Valentine’s Day because it is not part of Islamic culture. Raids are done in various ares where police believe young Indonesians may become “romantic” and make arrests. They ban anything that may symbolize Valentine’s Day from being sold in places from convenience to department stores.

School girls attending an Islamic school are all required to wear a veil while attending classes. Many female students dress in street clothes for their after-school courses and are not wearing the veil. Obviously, given the choice, many of these girls would not wear a veil to grade school, either. As with the single adult female who wishes to become a police officer or join the military or civil service, girls must pass a virginity test in order to graduate from high school. The decision to carry out such tests violates the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Indonesia is a signatory. So not only is this an issue of women’s rights, but where is the separation of church and state in Indonesia? It doesn’t exist.

Female circumcision — also known as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM — has been practiced for generations throughout Indonesia. One of my work colleagues was married to an young Indonesian woman who had been circumcised in her youth.

Aceh, a province located in the northern end of Sumatra, has the highest proportion of Muslims in Indonesia who mostly live according to Sharia customs and laws. It is well known in Indonesia that the Aceh government follows the Islamic criminal law, which states that adultery, intimacies outside of marriage, and certain homosexual acts are punishable by caning, fines and imprisonment. In 2016 alone, there were at least 100 incidents of caning.

As many of the smaller towns and cities are unaccustomed to seeing foreigners on a regular basis, no matter how long you live here, the whiter-skinned you are, the more regularly you will be stared at. First they look. Girls of all ages will snicker, whereas boys will check you out and shout either: “Hey Miss!” or “Hey Mister!,” as much of the English they have learned has come from watching Hollywood movies. Or you may hear “Bule,” which is Indonesian for “Westerner.” More often than not, teenage girls will say: “Photo, please.” I used to enjoy it and oblige their request. Eventually, I began to refuse, as I feel that they only want a picture with us bules so that they can post it to social media, bragging that they “know” a bule, when in fact, we barely said ten words to one another. I refuse to be used like that any longer. I don’t play that game. Another game I don’t play into is the whole excuse of: Indonesian men were brought up with women dressing modestly, covering their shoulders, wearing long pants, skirts and dresses, so if you dress in a conservative tank top or short pants, you deserve the drooling and stares from these men, and you are just asking to be whistled at. Like I said, I don’t play this game, either. I believe that these men know on a basic level how to treat women with respect. It is just their Muslim culture that has allowed them to get away with whistling or making derogatory remarks to women who dare to show a little skin. Indonesian men need to grow up! Personally, I believe that is the man’s problem, telling women to cover so that men are not tempted. Give me a break.

Bali. At this point Bali is still considered the Island of Hinduism, as many years ago the spread of Islam in Indonesia forced the Indonesians who practiced Hinduism to relocate to Bali. But if the island of Java has its way, Islam will slowly take over Bali as well, running the Balinese out once again. And it is not just the Balinese that the Muslims are looking to displace.

Those of us who know the truth of what is going on within the Islamic culture need to take a stand and shed light on the true detrimental nature of Islam and how repressive it is towards women and girls. The world needs to wake up and stop giving the Islamic community a free pass in treating women as second-class citizens.

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