GABY RUSLI WRITES — Beautiful beaches, divine seafood, welcoming people, a wide array of flavors-those are the words I would use to describe Indonesia, my birthplace. I take pride in having lived there most of my life, but at the same time, I grieve the lack of progress in certain social issues, particularly those of identity.
Sexual and reproductive rights, along with many informal laws in Indonesian society, limit the role of women. Formal laws limit the distribution of, and information on, contraceptives to unmarried women. According to Health and Human Rights Journal, “Their argument is that the availability of condoms and other contraceptives contributes to higher rates of pre-marital and extra-marital sex.” This offense results in a fine equivalent to $750 (an amount that would take years to acquire in Indonesia).
Another example of closed-mindedness in Indonesian culture: The rights of LGBTQ+ people who fear persecution, as the government recently enacted a law to “rehabilitate” homosexuals, who are considered a threat to family life. Those who reject rehabilitation face grave consequences beyond the already horrible shaming and payment of outrageous fines. If they do not submit, their family members would be compelled to report them.”
Why is Indonesia behind the times, in this way? Religion. Religious beliefs and practices in Indonesia heavily influence lawmakers to adopt conservative practices and perspectives— leaving no room to create and interpret laws that should be secular. Ironically, Indonesia is unique – its government is neither secular nor a complete theocracy. As Tom Pepinsky, a Professor at Cornell University wrote, “The Indonesian state has the constitutional architecture necessary for state actors to take a position on what religious beliefs and practices are normatively acceptable, which ones are deviant, and which ones are a threat to social order.” He also argued that legal language in the Indonesian Constitution permits the protection of religious values as the basis of lawmaking.
Religion of all varieties in Indonesia can be beautiful. Religion teaches people to strive to better themselves, to treat each other more kindly, to help each other in need, and to commit to a Higher Power that guides people’s hearts. Still, a line must be drawn between freedom of religion and the duties of government. Would you want to live in a world where your ancestors’ beliefs result in resistance to change? More importantly, would you be willing to hold yourself accountable for not only forming but reinforcing outdated and harmful cultural judgments?
Indonesia is an inevitably significant part of me. But I had to move to another country to foster acceptance as to who I am. I found it challenging to be my own person because I felt out of place. I tried abandoning who I want to be in order to be someone who fit well into society before ultimately taking steps into the unknown, seeking acceptance in a different environment. I hope that my Indonesian brothers and sisters will soon be accepted and encouraged for being who they want to be, without fear-and without having to make huge geographical moves or become alienated from their own country.