Indonesia: a political ground shift for women

Indonesian women celebrating
Enthusiastic women parliamentarian candidates trained by SWARGA in Bangka Belitung. Photo: UNDP in Indonesia

Sahanan thought her chance of being elected to the Lampung Provincial Parliament in Indonesia on last year’s parliamentary poll was next to none.

Tina Chadarsi, jostling for a district parliamentary seat in Gunung Kidul, Yogyakarta, had similar misgivings.  They were running against at least dozens of other candidates from 12 political parties. “As a housewife, I was really pessimistic that could be elected,” Sahanan said.


  • Women's representation increased 22 % within provincial and district parliaments under the 9 target provinces.
  • In 2013, Indonesia made it mandatory for political parties to field at least 30 % women in its list of parliamentary candidates.
  • More than 200, 000 people watched public announcements, calling people to vote for women parliamentarians.
  • 6,600 people attended public awareness events organized by the project in 7 provinces.

Women make up over half of Indonesia’s population, yet their participation and influence in politics and the government is minimal.  Women are likewise underrepresented in Indonesia’s parliament: at the national, regional, provincial and district levels.

Women’s numbers might have decreased slightly at the national level (from 18 to 17 per cent) but this small upset has been eclipsed by a 22 per cent increases in women’s numbers within nine provinces targeted for support by UNDP’s ‘Strengthening Women’s Participation and Representation in Indonesia’ (SWARGA) project.

Funded by the Norwegian Embassy and UNDP's core resources, the four-year project (2011-2015) aims to strengthen the skills and knowledge of women in politics, and to increase public representation and participation in political and government institutions. It is jointly implemented with the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection.

Like most countries in South-east Asia, Indonesia is a highly patriarchal country where politics is traditionally viewed as “a man's world.” Even though Indonesia's political system has long opened its doors to women, and there are no rules prohibiting women’s participation in the political process, the percentage of elected women does not reflect the demographics of Indonesia.  Even when elected, female parliamentarians are generally assigned by their political parties to cover women's issues, and rarely make up commissions in charge of defense and security affairs.

Indonesian parliaments can only properly respond to women’s needs when their ranks are filled by women. According to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, “When women are ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ meeting their needs does not get prioritized. Conversely, when there is a critical mass of women decision-makers, the issues which previously went unaddressed can become priorities.”

SWARGA’s public campaign featured well-known faces, including former President B.J. Habibie, who took part in television public service announcements (PSAs) that called on voters to elect women.

Qualified female candidates like Sahanan and Chadarsi also benefited from SWARGA-supported trainings.  Around 500 women parliamentary candidates from nine targeted provinces participated in a three-day training programme that increased women’s presentation skills and knowledge of political issues.

“I wasn’t convinced I would be elected to the provincial Lampung parliament,” confesses Sahanah, “But after I participated in training, I knew I would make it if I implemented my new-found knowledge…I was told that women have equal opportunity to be in the parliament, no matter who you are.”

Chadarsi confirms that training was a needed confidence-booster:The training proved to me that young people, particularly women, can succeed in politics.”

Both women won their respective elections.

SWARGA will continue to support these newly elected women parliamentarians in the years ahead, including further trainings on how to draft and implement effective budgets and the parliamentary lawmaking process. The project will also give trainings on key development issues in Indonesia, such as decentralization, communications, and gender. In April, the project will start a new round of advanced training involving case studies on budgetary issues.   

More Indonesian voters are electing women, and efforts such as SWARGA are needed if the current ground shift is to turn into a sizeable one. 

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