University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Lailatul Fitriyah

A pillar of the construction of the state in Indonesia is the ideology of Ibuism (“mother” in Indonesian), a form of socio-biological engineering that reflects and reinforces gendered differences in governmental policies and is, presently, justified by religious teachings. At the core of this ideology is a view of women as appendages and companions to their husbands. Women are the procreators of the nation, mothers and educators of children, housekeepers, and members of Indonesian society, in that order. These views are reinforced by male-oriented notions of the family and conservative religious teachings.

During the Suharto era, this ideology was enforced by the state in service to the goal of “national development.” Women were mobilized as wives of workers and civil servants, not as members of the government or the workforce. They were expected to take their “rightful place” in sustaining the family and producing healthy and productive children. This was a form of gendered subjugation that was justified through nationalist discourses and state policies. It was a time where normative femininity was expressed in the state’s advocacy of birth control and the goal of having two children per family, but women lacked agency in the economic and political realms and remained powerless. At that time, the policy successfully constrained the presence of women within the domestic realm.

In the post-Suharto era and more recent years, the ideology of State Ibuism has been expressed increasingly through an Islamic lens that reinforces a separate-but-equal principle of gender relations. This continued subordination of women is expressed through language that emphasizes a well-maintained family and that makes reference to the traditional Islamic concept of sakina, which means peace and tranquility, but is understood as a Muslim family in which the husband has multiple wives and children.

This combination of a state-backed misogynist paradigm and its Islamic counterpart is made plausible by several factors that are currently at work within Indonesian Muslim communities.

First, there is the commodification of Islamic piety, a capitalistic process that renders aspects of religiosity into ready-to-consume products to be sold in markets (e.g., hijab, halal-certified home appliances, and other trends of Islamic lifestyle). These products offer an illusion of easy religiosity. To be a “good Muslim,” one simply needs to consume an “Islamic” product without any deeper consideration for ethical behaviors.

Secondly, populist Islamic “authorities” utilize the media and Internet platforms to propagate lifestyle-oriented ways of being Muslim. They sell products and seek contributions for programs that reinforce gendered forms of family and social life. These programs focus on the construction of group identity rather than on personal dignity or autonomy. They teach a juridical form of Islam and ignore or downplay ethical principles related to helping others, serving the poor, and respecting other religions.

Islamist civil society groups have become more active in pressing the state to adopt moral codes as state policy. They have had success in convincing public authorities to adopt an anti-pornography law and morality clauses against adultery in national laws. On the other hand, political actors at the provincial level exploit the rallying cry of the Islamist groups to accumulate popular support by implementing local versions of “Sharia” laws and the establishment of local morality police.

Some Muslim women have supported these efforts and have been part of the Islamist civil society push for patriarchal policies. They have warned against the “danger of liberalism” in laws for the elimination of sexual violence, and they have offered instead proposals for strengthening family resilience.

These developments make the boundaries between private and public realms in Indonesian society increasingly ambivalent. The State Ibuism policies that originated in the Suharto era have not vanished, but rather have evolved into new forms with the rise of Islamist groups in Indonesia. In its recent manifestation, State Ibuism does not constrain women in the private realm, but rather brings their voices into the public sphere in support of patriarchal policies and religious teachings. This has created new challenges for Indonesian politics, and creates uncertainties for how we understand traditional terms such as “civil society” and “public space.”

One thing is certain, however: whether it is religiously-motived or state-based, Ibuism has oppressive repercussions that are etched upon women’s bodies and in the lives of minority identity communities.

Lailatul Fitriyah is a doctoral student with the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and previously graduated from the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies Master’s Program.