By Erma Susanti, Felippa Amanta, and Siti Nurjanah


Affirmative action advocacy for female representation in politic is unstoppable with the birth of Reformation Era in 1998, marked by UU No. 12 2003. However, the implementation of this law had always faced great political challenges, from the annulment of UU year 2008 by Constitutional Court, sponsored by a few dominant parties, until the recent one, the maneuver by Komisi II DPR against 30% quota as written in UU No. 8 year 2012. The quota law requires parties to have at least one female candidate for every three candidates. This maneuver was answered by various pro-democracy organizations, such as Perludem, IPC, KIPP, KIPP Jakarta, JPPR, YAPPIKA, Puskapol UI, Demos, ICW, Indonesia Budget Center (IBC), and Seknas FITRA, building a coalition to secure the implementation of the 30% quota.


Unfortunately, after fighting earnestly for female quota for a few decades, many female activists from the frontline are now reluctant to get involved either in legislative seats or executive seats. There is a sharp gap between the idealism and political reality, while political sphere seems too dark to know. Idealism became a prominent excuse when answering why potential female activists do not dive into political practice, as if giving a sense that so far female activists are in an imaginative world, that political parties are harmonic, peaceful, populous, and always putting the people first, not the other way around that political parties are full of corruption, elitism, full of conflict, exploitation, manipulation, and the list goes on.

One of the reasons for the quota system for women is that women’s involvement in the competition in political parties is hoped to bring a different color to political sphere and voicing minorities’ aspiration that had been silenced by dominant political currents.


Groups that Benefitted from the Quota System

A long time is needed to know a political arena well, which inevitably is hard to achieve when we are outside the arena. Women need to take part in the political arena and start the practical learning process with fellow male politicians, in the process of having a big role in operating the system, especially mastering the sensitive crevices of party and strategy to win. Unfortunately, until the third election since the quota rule was established, every election was dominated by new contestant mostly from public with low knowledge of party dynamics from the perspective of women’s representation. This, of course, became a big challenge in the effort to reach the number and quality of women politicians who are qualified and equipped by gender perspective.


One of the outcome in women activists’ reluctance to dive in the political arena, the quota for women became an outlet of power expansion for corrupt politicians by flapping their wings of power and exhibiting their status quo. Why? Because they are the ones who are ‘ready’ politically to take advantage of the opportunity. We witness many instances when politicians modify the quota for women to quota for their wives and daughters. For that, the implementation of the quota in both legislative and executive bodies seem real on the surface, while substantively still far from decency. Most of the women who received their quota ‘pie’ are those who inherit power but do not have any pro-gender mission, and have no ties with the struggle mandated by the quota system law.

For example, from 17 female regional heads – with the only female governor holding a corruption suspect status—two mayors, and 14 regents, most are wives or daughters of former regional heads who cannot run again after being in power for two consecutive periods. While this does not mean that we have to annul women who inherit power from men (father/husband), but from this type of female politicians with this kind of background, we need to know what their platform and vision and mission are, whether we can invite them to build a vision of pro-female political struggle together.

Building Female Politicians’ Image

With the majority of female politicians inheriting their power, the negative image of female politicians in the society and in the media became dominant. Therefore, there needs to be a development for a coalition across-parties to build a better image of female politicians, to go against the negative stigma implanted in the society, that female politicians are often considered shallow, elitist, corrupt, not sensitive to gender issues, or even proud with a more masculine leadership pattern (strong, firm, unsympathetic, etc.). Letting that political image around will surely hurt the potentials of female politicians in the future. That is even more so with the unstoppable media’s role in shaping opinion in the society. For example, lately the media are hyped on publicizing a number of female politicians involved in a corruption cases. Naturally, it has a big influence in female politicians’ image in the upcoming election. There needs to be a counter argument to build people’s trust and to shape a clean image for female politicians.

To gain people’s trust, female politicians need to collectively prove that they are really clean and capable of working for the society. Coalition and solidarity between female politicians across parties need to be built and activated, especially to fight misogynist issues that threaten female politicians’ image under any party. Most of the political party’s image is not always positive in people’s eyes. Meanwhile, the cultures in political parties that are patriarchal and tend to be closed from capable females remain dominant. To political parties, quota rules are only a matter of fulfilling administrative needs to pass KPU’s sanctions.

Challenges for Newcomers

Female organizations are collaboratively struggling for assistance and facilities for political education to female candidates so they can be more mature in facing the upcoming election. For example, last early December, WYDII together with Puskapol UI and supported by The Asia Foundation held a Female Candidate Winning Strategy Course for 2014 election. This effort is followed by further stages to assist female candidates in preparing themselves. This course was attended by representations from every party from the election (12 parties), aimed towards female candidates in provincial DPRD and city, especially those who were not in office.


The course was attended by 104 female candidates from 15 regencies/cities in East Java, separated into three groups. Most of them were educators, from playgroup until university level; entrepreneurs; and every attendee is an active member of a Moslem organization (Fatayat, Aisyiah), farmers union, political wing, social worker, KONI, KPPI, RT-RW, or PKK. The materials given covered knowledge and technical skills, such as: politics and women, meaning of female representation in politics, electoral system in 2014 election, vote counting in election, preparing a campaign, and securing a vote for female candidates. Although the majority of the participants came from a well-endowed organizational background, their gender perspective and background on quota regulation are not adequate, very basic, both about gender jargon and general political map. This reality becomes very dilemmatic; on one hand, the situation flared the journey of our democracy that in every election, thousands of new female candidates emerged, but on the other hand this reality is also tiring because our political system needs to invest huge number of resources to educate those new candidates from the beginning. That raises the question, how about the candidates who were not successful the first time but do not return to the political arena? Why? Will the recurring trend increases or decreases in our democratic journey in the future?


Starting from the Beginning

The basic step used in the training was, among many, getting participants to understand what politics mean, that politics is not only about formal politics but also in daily lives. Especially, women need to understand personal is political, so women need to seize formal politics for the benefit of women. In the course, a few basic foundations that were held true by female politicians include:

  • • Women need to be involved in politics and be represented in the parliament,because women issues cannot be represented by others.
  • • Class and gender system in the society have a big potential in increasing social gap
  • • Female candidates take on female mandate; therefore, the quota system guaranteed in the Election Law is aimed to change the lag women experienced.



A few newcomers in politics were surprised with the political reality, especially about the role and challenges that they have to take on. Also, not every messages or communication in the course were fully processed positively by the candidates. In many instances, participants challenged or rejected values of equality, for example proclaiming as a ‘gender neutral’ candidate, and there were even participants who stated their disagreement with the female quota system. There was even a heated debate when a collaborative campaign materials and anti-money politics were suggested. A number of participants rejected this idea because they indirectly state their strategy of giving money to the voters, assuming that is what the constituent wants. After a long debate, the issue of anti-money politics was accepted collectively.

However, not a small number of participants responded to the materials positively. Here are a few random examples of opinions from new participants or first-timers in politics:

“I will apply the materials I have learned today. As a female representative, we should fight for issues concerning women. However, I personally prefer discussion about women’s role in every field and aspect… session presentation. The meaning of female representation should be given with a clear language and well-paced so that it’s easier to be understood by participants.” (Warti, Surabaya candidate, PDIP)

“The benefit of the course for me is amazing. Because I am a newcomer, I dived in as a candidate without any preparations, having no idea and just trying and seeing everything. But this program is a blessing to me. There are a lot of new knowledge, starting from what society expect with our representation as female candidate—through the affirmative action program. So we are considered candidates with ‘affirmative action’. We need to be responsible for that. When we get elected, we have to focus on women issues, we have to fulfill the problem solving by dialogues with opposing public figure. We need to be strong. Therefore, that is what’s on my mind, because this is a very though job as a female candidate with 30% quota, there’s a big responsibility.” (Ira Damayanti, Provincial Candidate, Gerindra)

The following are opinions from two participants who attended similar training more than once, one of them won a legislative seat:


“What was most interesting from the female candidate course was the vote counting session and how to secure votes because this was my failure in legislative election in last 2009” (Redatini, Legislative Candidate for Surabaya, Golkar)

“What was interesting from the training was that we are taught how to count voting target. That was incredible. Usually female candidates will just run. They do not know how much vote they should get. This is women’s experience when they get nominated, becoming very passionate. But when they became a candidate, they no longer care about which party and just follow along. Fortunately there exist this kind of course, with winning strategy that we do not get from parties” (Hamidah, Legislative Candidate for Mojokerto, PPP).


Enthusiasm and Rate of Understanding

Generally, coming from this course in terms of learning enthusiasm and rate of understanding, the participants are promising. Female candidates, both experienced and newcomers are serious in utilizing the opportunities and increasing their skills in understanding basic needs of a candidate. Participants are very enthusiastic in learning about practical needs to win vote, where majority of participants are still beginner and do not have the technical knowledge of election, both from parties or other institutions. Based on result of evaluation, the followings are a few participants’ achievements in the level of understanding:


  • • Although it’s the first time being taught how to count votes and how many votes they need to get elected, participants state they already can count the vote.
  • • Participants express that they obtain knowledge related to securing votes, but they still need exhaustive information regarding in which stage the votes are most susceptible and how election organizers guarantee those violation will not happen. They also hope that a speaker from KPU can attend, who can answer what steps KPU take to make sure there are no violation in counting the votes.
  • • But almost all participants did not understand the election system because they have never read Election Law and their understanding of the election system is still weak. Other than the fact that participants never receive education on election system from their parties, the selection system of party candidate is inadequate.
  • • Participants understand campaign material well and each participant share their campaign strategy.
  • • What was alarming was practice of buying and selling vote in every level of vote counting, so the training will be more complete and satisfying if the committee can get election organizer (KPU) to come in order to understand KPU’s strategy in anticipating violation of vote recap.



Although slow, the progress achieved by participants that are mostly coming from zero cannot be ignored. It is important for female candidates to get back to the political arena even if they failed the first time. Endurance and maturity of women in understanding the importance of reaching success to make a change are principal. Daily, women are already used to regulation and authority control in various contexts. Men who insist on neutralizing public office from women perhaps have strong reasons. Among many, they worry about power-sharing with women in every line, both at home and outside. A requirement of power-sharing in the public domain will definitely limit men’s potential of arrogance in their domestic territory.


In reality, not every male politician are more capable than female politician. Just because we are trapped in a strong patriarchal culture, people tend to ignore and justify male politician’s lack of competence. On the contrary, the spotlight on female politicians, wherever and in whatever level, tends to be excessive. A gender bias society is shaped to blame the mistake of one female politician to the every female politician. Because of that, it is important for female candidates to understand that getting a seat is not the only goal for entering political arena, but political education for society and a long-term self-learning is also important.