Home » Politically equal but still underrepresented: Women and local democratic politics in Indonesia

Politically equal but still underrepresented: Women and local democratic politics in Indonesia

Vol. 12, No. 1 (2016), 61-92


This research challenges the relevance of a change towards liberal democracy for gender equality. In particular, it connects the political logic of the survival and failure of incumbents in the direct election for local leaders (pilkada) with the acceptance of gender related considerations in local policies and women preferences in voting. By carrying out comparative assessments concerning the pilkada in four rural and urban districts in East Java, the study reveals that local democracy does not provide incentives which encourage the incumbents who run in re-election bids to promote better gendered policies during their terms in office due to women’s ignorance in voting. Female voters were less critical in reviewing the incumbents’ performance. Women were too busy receiving tangible policy outputs; they paid inadequate attention to the importance of strategic gender interests. Consequently, incumbents who perform better in reducing gender disparity often lose their posts. Worse, during local democratic contests, women were marginalised by the practices of male-dominated informal politics amongst the incumbents, informal actors and partisan bureaucrats. Also, the pilkada is not an easy race for women’s candidacy, as the regulations do not affirm women and political parties hinge on pragmatic considerations that favour male candidates as having a better chance of winning in election. Moreover, this study challenges the arguments of decentralisation policy that have led to the negligence of local government concerning a gender-mainstreaming agenda. In fact, the decentralisation regulatory regime overwhelmingly controlled by the national government has restricted local governments from better addressing gender strategic needs. The national authority strictly determines local expenditure items, which do not incorporate gender mainstreaming approaches in local budgeting.

Author’s bio

Wawan Sobari is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Brawijaya University in Malang, Indonesia. He was the awardee of International Fellowship Program of Ford Foundation in 2005 to pursue his MA in the Netherlands. Wawan gained his PhD in Politics and Public Policy from Flinders University, Australia in 2015 with a study entitled “Patronage Driven Democracy: Narratives of Survival and Failure of District Heads in the Emerging Democratic Indonesia (A Case Study in Four Rural and Urban Districts in East Java, Indonesia).” Also, Wawan is a senior researcher at the Jawa Pos Institute of Pro-Otonomi (JPIP). JPIP is an independent and non-profit organisation centring its activities on research and advocacy to promote progressive decentralisation in Indonesia. In addition to local politics and decentralisation, his research interests include governance, policy analysis and democracy. Wawan has been a consultant to United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Bank, The Asia Foundation and German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit [GIZ]).


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