The no-nonsense, matter-of-fact qualities that impress most who met Maria Farida Indrati belie the warmth and friendliness underneath. Maria, 60, is not your stereotypical Javanese woman.
Not only is she the country’s first woman to sit on the Constitutional Court, she has also distinguished herself with dissenting opinions on three major verdicts — setting aside a number of seats in the legislature for women, the Anti-Pornography Law and on Monday the Blasphemy Law. To mark Kartini Day, Maria shares her views on how far the country’s women have made it with Jakarta Globe reporter Ulma Haryanto.
On gender equality and women empowerment:
I am still optimistic that Indonesian women can achieve progress, but this is largely dependent on the women themselves. I don’t like it if we, as women, want to progress but we always keep asking for things.
We have to show that we can succeed. The problem in Indonesia is education. Boys are still given preference over girls in getting education.
On the prevailing patriarchal culture:
Turning a rule or regulation upside down is easy, but that’s not so with cultural ideas such as not pursuing higher education because it would make it difficult to get a husband.
We have to bring an understanding to women that they have to have something to hold on to, not just their husband. Women should be empowered through education.
On whether there are enough legal means to protect women:
It is not about being sufficient or not, because the Constitution already offers protection to everyone, so there is no discrimination. But in its application it is something different, such as an employment regulation that does not allow someone to marry or have children.
On whether women need to get special rights?
Special rights can be requested but we should not be constantly nagging for it. For example, special health rights for pregnancy is okay, but don’t overdo it.
On the Marriage Law :
We should be careful on things that involve family, such as inheritance and marriage, because a law has to be applicable nationally. If we look at the Marriage Law, we have to look at religion, morality and custom, and these conditions can be very different in each case.
On her seat at the court:
I have personal conflicts in my job because I used to be a consultant for lawmakers and now I have the power to review the law. Now I am still giving advice, not directly but through my writings. I do not want to have any conflict of interest when a law involving by input has to undergo a judicial review at the Constitutional Court.
On her dissenting opinions:
We agree to disagree. At the Constitutional Court I can dissent or disagree with the others, and they will accept it. Nobody will try to persuade me.
On being the sole woman on the Constitutional Court:
Being a woman does not mean I am treated differently by the other judges. We have a great mix in the team, different cultural backgrounds and different experience and expertise.
On the reason for keeping her teaching job at the law faculty at University of Indonesia:
It’s a way to challenge myself …. If I don’t teach it would be tempting for me not read or not learn anything new.
On how she came to become a Constitutional Court judge:
Eight female rights organizations urged me to become a judge but I rejected their request because I like teaching. But then the president himself asked me. I thought it would be arrogant to deny his request.