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26 Apr 2016

Reigniting Talk of Gender Equality in Indonesia

Nina Nurmila had planned to get married after she graduated from thepesantren, which is the Islamic boarding school equivalent to high school. Her parents, who were both teachers, disapproved of the idea and insisted that she continue her studies.

Fortunately, Nina listened to them. After completing her undergraduate study in Bandung, she became a lecturer at the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN, now UIN), which is under Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry. This eventually led to her studies in the neighbouring country of Australia.

Under a patriarchal upbringing in a small village in West Java, Nina believed that in Islam men were superior to women. However, the question of women’s place in Islam was always in the back of her mind and her curiosity only grew when she studied in Australia.

Are women and men equal in Islam? Nina spent months in the library, studying Muslim feminists from other countries. Eventually she changed her way of thinking. She won scholarships for her Master’s degree at Murdoch University and for her PhD on Gender and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne. She graduated in 2007.

Earlier this year, Dr. Nina was appointed as a commissioner of the highly respected National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan). This is an independent institution that promotes women’s rights in Indonesia.

Dr. Nina continues to voice her concerns for gender justice and equality in the family. She wants to open up a discussion in Indonesia on gender roles in marriage that offer both individuals more flexibility in a marriage based on ability and circumstance.

“Sharing knowledge is a type of charity and I’ve always wanted to give back. Through the National Commission on Violence against Women, I now have a special vehicle to utilise my expertise and contribute on a national level. A substantial support system allows me to express my ideas. We know the core problems and we know how to respond,” said the 46-year-old alumnus.

Others in Indonesia recognise Dr. Nina’s expertise. She is part of the team working with the Indonesian government to draft a new bill on sexual violence that includes rape, sexual exploitation, sexual control, harassment and sexually-charged punishment. The bill is being formulated at a time when instances of violence against women and children in the country are frightfully high and under-reported. Greater protection of women and children and harsher punishment to perpetrators is imminent.

Dr. Nina was one of several experts invited by the State Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) to help develop a roadmap of indicators of gender equality and justice in the country. She is involved in another project with the Religious Affairs Ministry to put a fresh perspective on human rights and gender issues into a new curriculum for use in State Islamic universities in the country.

Under the National Commission on Violence against Women, Dr. Nina is also involved in MAMPU, an Australian government aid program which empowers Indonesian women for poverty reduction. The commission body works in partnership with support groups that assist new victims and survivors with case handling and the rehabilitation process.

Dr Nina, a mother of two boys, won Best Lecturer award in 2011 at State Islamic University Bandung, where still she lectures. From her time studying in Australia, Dr. Nina recalls how lecturers always provided feedback to her on her work. “I loved reading their comments. It meant that they read my essays. This is what I have copied in my work as a lecturer at UIN. I don’t just mark my students’ essays. I give feedback to help them get better,” she said.

Dr. Nina has shared her knowledge gained with experts internationally. Since completing her doctoral studies in Melbourne, she has been a Fulbright Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Redlands in California, U.S.A. She has presented numerous papers at international conferences and delivered training in such places as the Philippines, Malaysia and Afghanistan.

Dr. Nina has written two books: Women, Islam and Everyday Life: Renegotiating Polygamy in Indonesia(London; New York: Routledge, 2009 & 2011) and Module Study Island and Gender (PSW UIN Jakarta, 2008).

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