Indonesia · interview · muslim women · women's rights

Diversity of Feminisms

In an effort to engage in a global feminist dialogue we will have ongoing interviews with prominent women’s rights advocates from around the world.

In our second interview I talk to Elli Nur Hayati, the director of Rifka Annisa in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Rifka Annisa is one of largest domestic violence crisis and counselling centres in Yogyakarta. It also conducts advocacy and training for social and economic development.

We conduct our interview in the beautiful Rifka Annisa centre. The centre has rooms interloped with bamboo walkways across shallow pools of water. Green luscious vines adorn the walls and beyond the open court there is a kitchen, an emergency housing room, counselling rooms and information posters and slogans on every wall.

Elli tells me that given the depressing nature of some of the work it is important the centre is a place of beauty and repose. The intersection of the outdoors, the sunlight and nature gives a feeling of warmth and peace.

In her office we talk about her work, feminism, Islam, Indonesia and the realities “on the ground.”

It was fascinating talking to this energetic and ambitious woman who combined social activism with a profound faith, international travel with studying a Phd, and running a centre with a husband and two children.

As always I enquire about the universal issue of our times- how did she manage the work-family balance? What did her husband think? Did he support her?

She smiles, “Of course, When he married me- he knew what kind of woman I was.”

We also talk about “that verse” and the real-life implications of abstract religious and social norms which unchallenged can become justification for abuse.

Most interestingly we talk about the importance of accepting the diverse mosaic that is modern feminism.

At international conferences Elli’s headscarf is greeted with disdain by western feminists and her status as a “muslim feminist” treated as an oxymoron.

However as Elli notes, without solidarity with women working in the grassroots to deal with local problems in the local context with the mutual goal of improving human rights- this kind of bickering over “types of feminism”- whether it’s radical, muslim, marxist or postmodern seems petty.

As the “oppressed muslim woman” cliche is used to justify everything from imperialist invasions, “clash of civilization” thesis’ and racist agendas- creating links between women’s movements in western and “developing countries” particularly muslim-majority states in a spirit of respect and dialogue becomes more crucial than ever.

Interview hosted by Zshare. Click here to download.

2 thoughts on “Diversity of Feminisms

  1. I have always thought that feminism in the 21st century finds its new home in non-western cultures. We in the west have so many freedoms comparatively, it doesn’t really create the conditions needed for such a ‘struggle’. When you embrace pole-dancing as an empowering sexy workout, then you know you have gotte n too comfortable. Speaking of which, I should get back to watching Carrie on SATC.

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