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Countering extremism, calling for tolerance in Indonesia

Q+A with AFSC’s Jiway Tung, AFSC country representative in Indonesia

Photo: / AFSC

Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with a long history of religious pluralism. But the rise of extremist groups threatens its tradition of tolerance. Jiway Tung shares three examples of communities making gains for peace and inclusion despite the challenges, with support from AFSC. 

 

Q: How are communities successfully organizing against intolerance in Indonesia?   

A: In this climate, it’s hard to make change on the national and provincial level. We’ve recognized that working with partners on the local level is where we can have the most impact.

One example is happening in villages outside the capital of Aceh, a province where a narrow interpretation of Sharia law has resulted in increasing restrictions on women and minority groups. Right now, we’re providing support to a group that organizes women to address some of the major issues they’re facing. That includes religiously justified limitations on freedom of movement (including going out unaccompanied at night) as well as domestic violence, child marriage, and unofficial marriage (which is religious but not civically recognized, so women don’t have legal rights, such as to divorce). These women developed their own appeal – from the community to the community – that women in these villages need to be protected and granted equal rights.   

After one year of organizing and advocacy, they convinced two villages to pass ordinances prohibiting child marriage and unofficial marriage, issuing sanctions against domestic violence, and allocating budgetary resources for victims. This will help thousands of people, including women and girls, who could have been at risk for violence or other issues. They’re sharing their success with other villages to replicate what they’ve done – and they’re creating a space for women to lead in local politics, including becoming village officials. 

 

Q: Two years ago, we wrote about another success in the Yogyakarta region. Extremist groups were trying to shut down congregations using a federal decree that placed stricter requirements on houses of worship built before 2006. What’s happening now?   

Community members organized to protect houses of worship from closure. Photo: Ninik Sri Suryandari / AFSC 

A: AFSC’s partner, National Unity and Diversity Alliance (ANBTI), had coordinated a community-led campaign that led to government recognition – and the protection – of these congregations in 2016. They organized congregations and engaged in quiet diplomacy to develop relationships with key legislators, helping them see the importance of granting amnesty to all houses of worship built before 2006, regardless of their background. Because of their efforts, the region passed a decree that protected more than 3,000 houses of worship. 

The decree has stood up to legal challenges by extremist groups, and we’re also now seeing fewer instances of intimidation. ANBTI is helping groups in other regions, and similar decrees have passed in two more districts. 

 

Q: Tell us about AFSC’s work supporting disability rights activists in Indonesia. 

A: Also in Aceh, partners have organized to pass a citywide ordinance that requires public-sector and private-sector companies to hire a certain number of people with disabilities (equivalent to 2% and 1% of their workforces, respectively). 

Their message was that rather than only being the object of charity for religious groups, they wanted the opportunity to work in meaningful jobs with others. The effort came about after long-term organizing that brought together people from different religious backgrounds and different levels of disability – as well as people without disabilities – to lobby city government and talk with state- and privately owned enterprises. Now they’re working together to implement this new ordinance.   

 

Q: These examples seem to provide some hope that positive change can happen even in this challenging environment. 

A: Yes. These examples of work at the village or district level feel even more significant in places where you don’t often see “victories” for diversity and inclusion and freedom of religion. These stories are hopeful, and they provide an organizing model focused on advocacy, using a cultural approach that emphasizes relationship-building and diplomacy. It’s a model we can share with others through case studies so others can replicate these successes. 

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