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Indonesian Women in Mixed Marriages Fight for Equality – Jakarta Globe

June 1, 2013

Society/Living, Women

Dual-nationality families are being hurt by local laws, Group says. 

By Sylviana Hamdani

Srikandi, a group of women dedicated to helping Indonesian women untangle legal issues that will help their spouses gain permanent residency in Indonesia,  continue the fight to win legal equity for women married to non-Indonesians by working towards a change in discriminatory regulations against such “mixed marriages”.  TOLA.

From left: Srikandi members Ninda Burnett, Ayu Aloisi, Ani Winn, Sylvi Butt, Xania Maya, Itha Saleem, Yuyun Furry. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

From left: Srikandi members Ninda Burnett, Ayu Aloisi, Ani Winn, Sylvi Butt, Xania Maya, Itha Saleem, Yuyun Furry. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

For many Indonesian women, marrying an expatriate is alluring. Foreign men are usually considered to be good looking, well educated and in high-paying jobs.

But mixed marriages aren’t easy. Indonesian women who wed expatriate men are subject to a host of legal disadvantages that effectively renders them second-class citizens.

“There are a lot of problems in mixed marriages,” said Dewi Hardy, one of the founders of Srikandi, an organization dedicated to helping Indonesian women struggling with the legal difficulties of marrying foreign men.

“They’re mainly caused by cultural and educational gaps, as well as legal issues.”

Dewi, Kartini Litsberger, Rahayu Morris and some of their friends established Srikandi in Jakarta in 2000, after meeting at a parent activity program at an international elementary school. All were married to foreigners, and decided to start an organization of similar Indonesian women.

“The organization echoes the struggle of Srikandi herself, who fights for justice and welfare for many,” Dewi said.

In Javanese wayang mythology, Srikandi is the wife of the handsome warrior Arjuna, and also a warrior feared and respected by men and women alike.

The Srikandi organization became a platform for all Indonesian women married to foreigners to meet and help one another out, fighting to change discriminatory regulations on mixed marriages.

Srikandi now has more than 350 members.

“We realize we’ve become foreigners in our own country, just because [our husbands] are foreigners,” Dewi said.

It is largely due to the group’s tireless efforts that many unfair parts of the law have been rectified.

A very disadvantageous regulation used to be the 1958’s Law No. 62 on Indonesian citizenship. Under it, children born into mixed marriages took the citizenship of their fathers, depriving them of a legal Indonesian identity.

“In many cases, the husband left the country and took the children with him,” Dewi said. “There was little the wife could do since legally the children were not Indonesian citizens.”

That law has since been revoked. These days, children of mixed marriages have dual citizenship until the age of 18, at which point they are given a three-year period in which to deliberate what country to belong to and which citizenship to sacrifice. (Indonesia does not allow dual citizenship for adults.)

Another law Srikandi objected to disqualified Indonesian women from sponsoring their husbands to live in Indonesia permanently.

Expatriate husbands were expected to acquire a tourist or business visa to be able to stay in the country with their wives, which had to be renewed periodically and often at great expense.

But a 2007 Ministry of Justice and Human Rights regulation states that an Indonesian woman who has been married to a foreigner for more than two years may sponsor her husband to obtain a Kitap (permanent residency permit) to live in the country.

Indonesian men married to expatriate women have a stronger legal standing. A local man can sponsor his wife to live in the country, and their children automatically get Indonesian citizenship.

Although things have improved for Indonesian women married to expatriate men, their fight for equality is far from over.

Srikandi founder Itha Saleem and Irene Murphy. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

Srikandi founder Itha Saleem and Irene Murphy. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

“We want to have the exact same rights and legal standing as other Indonesian women in the country,” Dewi said.

Recently, a new governing body was chosen to lead the organization. Members of Srikandi elect their governing body every two years, ensuring new voices are heard.

An inauguration ceremony was held at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub in Plaza Senayan Arcadia, South Jakarta, earlier this month. About 100 members and their families attended.

The new governing body is led by advertising specialist Itha Saleem.

“It’s both an honor and huge responsibility for me to serve as chairwoman of Srikandi,” the 47-year-old said.

“Srikandi is not a playful organization. We have a strong vision and mission we want to achieve in this organization.

“Our next goal is to promote the new regulation of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights that entitles foreigners married to Indonesian women for more than two years to get Kitap.

“The regulation is in effect now. Yet very few people know about this.”

To promote the regulation, Itha said Srikandi would hold an open seminar on the subject in Kemang Village, South Jakarta, on May 29. Kemang is a suburb popular with expatriate families and close to many of Jakarta’s international schools.

Directorate generals of the immigration and labor agencies have been invited as the main speakers, while another seminar on a similar topic will also be held in Jakarta in September, as Srikandi members attempt to enfranchise their Indonesian sisters.

In December, the organization plans to hold a charity ball for all its members and their families. Proceeds from the ticket sales will be donated to not-for-profit groups working with underprivileged families around the country.

Itha will also try to push legislators to rectify the dual citizenship status for children born into mixed marriages.

“I want them to have dual citizenship for life,” she said. “After all, they’re partly Indonesian in flesh and blood.”

According to Itha, dual citizenship for children of mixed marriages would protect them in case conflict broke out between their two home countries.

“With dual citizenship status, these children will still be free to visit and stay in both countries in case of war,” she added.

Itha is married to a British entrepreneur and has three children, all now studying in the United Kingdom.

To rejuvenate the organization, it has adopted a new logo portraying Srikandi in human form, with a quiver of arrows on her back.

“It means Srikandi is ready to come to the aid of any Indonesian women facing problems in their mixed marriages,” Itha said.

“We have a team of lawyers and good contacts with embassies in Jakarta to help any woman in this situation.”

In the new logo, Srikandi stands within a fuchsia circle.

“That means all women in this organization will stand hand-in-hand to help all Indonesian women in mixed marriages,” Itha said.

Within the logo’s circle is a world map signifying the international backgrounds of the women’s husbands.

During the inauguration ceremony, Itha also introduced the new slogan of the organization: “Together, we’re stronger.”

After the inauguration ceremony, Ninda Burnett, the organization’s new public relations officer, donated several English books to the Save Street Child charity in Jakarta.
“We hope that the books will help the street children learn English,” Ninda said.

The event culminated with a fashion parade by Tre, a ready-to-wear label conceived by Indonesian fashion designer and Srikandi member Xania Maya Christina.

Members of the Srikandi organization and some of their daughters got into the spirit of the evening by modeling outfits in the fashion show, which showcased traditional Indonesian textiles.

“We’re married to expatriates, but we’re still Indonesians,” Itha said.

“We love Indonesian art and culture and will continue to feature them in all of our next events.”

FRIDAY, MAY 31, 2013. 2:42.05 a.m. [GMT]

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