Happy women in an Islamic Republic


Anywhere in Indonesia you will find that 70% of the bikers are women, and 80% small businesses are run by women. All guides who speak English at the Sultan’s palace in Yogyakarta are women, and nearly all looking after the ancient Stupa at Borobodur are women.  Rarely do we associate a ‘hijab’ (a scarf covering head of a woman) with the dignity of labor. Indonesia certainly is a pleasant exception.


How did this magic happen? Socially, Indonesia still follows a strictly matrilineal code. Islam here was never an import of the conquerors as Indonesia was never conquered before the Dutches came in 1800. Indian traders first brought into Indonesia in the Majapahit period in late 13th century the epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and these two epics still define Indonesian culture in all its forms. Because of a very lyrical message of living in a somewhat equal society these two epics radiate, equality comes to Indonesians just as a matter of fact. While the same Indian traders introduced Islam to Indonesia in the sixteenth century, it came as a philosophy and not as a compulsion to take it as an identity and obliterate all old ways of life.


Radicalization of Islam started as oil all on a sudden made some of the West Asian countries rich. Not having that superior a culture to link them to other old Islamic countries like Egypt, Turkey, Syria or Iraq, these countries took Islam to be a culture by itself that can lend them an identity at par with the other old Islamic states. By spending money earned through sell of a barely natural resource, and by giving away a part of it as help, these West Asian countries started recruiting soldiers to fight in their idea of a Holy War. They did it in Africa, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, and even in some of the superior states that had by then seen their brighter days. The idea was an invasion of the world by Islam as to them Islam no longer remained a philosophy and turned into a device for ruling.


Indonesia, luckily, remained out of this vicious cycle. After independence it remained under a democratic system propagated by Sukarno, and the non-democratic rulers after Sukarno never used religion as a tool to oppress. The world’s most populous Muslim democracy practiced stringent economic reforms instead, and in 2016 its per capita GDP is maintained at $3379, inflation rate is kept within 3.5%, unemployment rate remains lower than 6%, and the overall trade balance kicks $ 7.6 billion. More important is the fact that for oil Indonesia doesn’t depend on the West Asian Muslim block.


A country that has flourished only by using the manpower its 2.5 billion people provide it with doesn’t discriminate along the gender line as far as labor is on offer. This has made Indonesia a happy and somewhat equal country. Economic stability brings in a kind of feel-good factor and this is reflected in society at large. Economics here has made radical Islam redundant, as this country has a past and has an identity drawn from a vibrant past. Indonesia doesn’t have to reinvent a history based on religion, and its mechanism is radiated in its’ women’s happy faces.