Posted by: mel | May 24, 2009

Newly elected female legislators told to get tough

The Jakarta Post |   JAKARTA   |  Sat, 23/05/2009 |  City

Having secured seats in the House, winning women candidates from Jakarta’s electoral districts say female legislators should also focus on issues other than gender.

Vera Febyanthy, 38, an incumbent legislative candidate of the Democratic Party, said she was expecting to see more women serving in “tougher” House commissions in the upcoming period. 

“Women legislators should not limit themselves to serve merely in education or women’s empowerment commissions. 

“They have to make the most of their potential by entering more challenging commissions like those which oversee defence, legal or financial affairs,” Vera told The Jakarta Post on Friday.  

“If they keep flocking to the same commissions, the 30 percent quotas for women will never make a difference.”  

Vera, currently a member of House Commission XI for financial affairs, secured her re-election after clinching more than 35,000 votes from the Jakarta-3 electoral district covering East Jakarta, West Jakarta and the Thousand Islands regency.

Melani Leimena Suharli, 58, another winning Democratic Party candidate echoed Vera’s view, saying she had seen many women candidates trapped by a false perception that they had to focus their House duties on gender-related issues. 

“Women’s discrimination, for example, is a problem at the tip of an iceberg. It needs an integrated solution to solve the basic problem which triggers it, like poverty or a lack of education,” Melani told the Post.      

“So, I basically don’t believe that a big number of women legislators would instantly solve all women-related issues.”   

Melanie, who is the only female member in the party’s supervisory board, won her first election after clinching 73,312 votes in the Jakarta-2 electoral district covering South Jakarta, Central Jakarta and voters residing overseas. 

To focus on her upcoming duties in the House, the mother of three, who currently runs an executive-class Hajj Travel business, is planning to hand over the family business to her son.

Among the 21 House seats contested in Jakarta, five went to women candidates which include the Democratic Party’s Melani, Vera, novelist Nova Riyanti Yusuf, Chinese-Indonesian Ratnawati Wijana and the United Development Party’s (PPP) model-turned-politician Okky Asokawati.

Almost half of the 171 million eligible voters in Indonesia are women, and of the 12,000 candidates who contested seats in the recent general elections, almost 35 percent were women. 

However, the proportion of female legislators in the House has always been lower than these figures.

The highest number of women sitting in the House was during the 1987-1992 period, when women occupied 65 House seats, or 13 percent. This dropped to 9 percent in the 1999-2004 period before rising slightly to 11 percent during the 2004-2009 period. 

Activist groups have long sought a ruling to ensure that a minimum 30 percent of legislative representatives are women, but such a law has yet to be introduced. 

Some of the prominent women already assured House seats are former president Megawati’s daughter Puan Maharani, Surakarta Sultanate Princess Koes Moertiyah, former Miss Indonesia and incumbent House member Angelina Sondakh, and two actresses, Rieke Diah Pitaloka and Nurul Arifin. (hwa)

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