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Equal Access to Education for Young Mothers

“It’s very unfair if I’m the only who got blamed. No one blames him. Even, there’s no gossip about him. Labels are always given to us, the girls. But no labels for the boys…”

The quote above is taken from a report published by Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), an independent national institution that promotes women’s rights in Indonesia. The Commission was established by Presidential Decree to response civilians’, particularly women’s demand for state to take responsibility in handling cases of violence against women. The quote above itself reflects girls’ situation in Indonesia—they are blamed for any logical consequences of sexual intercourse, whether it is intended as it is, or due to sexual violence.

Recently, at the national level, we were shocked by insensitive statement of our Minister of Education and Culture, M. Nuh, in response to a case of sexual violence that afflicted a life of a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her facebook friend. He said to the media, “Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s consensual, yet later they claim they were raped”. For his insensitive comment, a protest was held on October 17, 2012 in front of his office in Jakarta, but shameful he didn’t show up at all, even he didn’t give any responses to our petition, that insisted him to apologize to the girl and her family, as well to revoke his comment.

In addition, representatives from Indonesia’s National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Perlindungan Anak) on their press conference on October 16, 2012 in response to the case said that the minister’s comment is absolutely against the Government of Indonesia’s commitment, which attempts to make Indonesia friendly for children. Komnas Perlindungan Anak also expressed disappointment because the girl was expelled by her school in the name of maintaining good reputation. As quoted from The Jakarta Globe, her mother actually persuaded her to go back to school, and when she finally did, she was humiliated by the school. Now, the girl is back to school after mediation was attempted by Komnas Perlindungan Anak. Detail about this case, could be found on: Education Minister Told To Quit After Insensitive Remark

That case reflects how girls are always disadvantaged due to the bias that society believes. Years ago, when I was still undergraduate student, a local NGO named SA-KPPD held a workshop about handling violence against girls. They invited counselors from several schools to be trained how to manage violence against girls at school. I myself was invited to be an observant. When there was a sharing session, I remember there were only 2-3 participants of 20s, who amazed me because of their efforts. At the break, I had a chance to talk to one of them, which later inspired me a lot.

It is the story of a counselor who made a change. She told me story of her pregnant-student, who was in her final year and had to face she would be dropped out before her graduation. When this girl came to see her, cried in desperation, the counselor promised to herself that she would fight for the girl. She then headed to principal room and raised a question: “If we can keep the boys who make the girls pregnant, why don’t we do the same thing for the girls? What’s the different?” The principal finally understood that pregnancy should not limit any girl-students to pursue their dream. At last, the girl had a chance to finish her senior-high school. She did her final exam at home because at that time she was in her old pregnancy. I could sense at that time, how proud the counselor whom I forget the name, when she told me the story.

If every school has this understanding toward young-mothers, then every young-mothers will have a chance to make their life better. However, parents’ fear of disgrace is another obstacle that need to be overcome. On the workshop, I also heard a story about a pregnant-girl who had to drop out of school because her parents felt humiliated of her pregnancy. The school, represented by the counselor I met, tried to persuade her parents that they would do anything to ensure that their daughter would be treated well at school—no bullying from her schoolmates, exam at home when she could not make it at school, discussed with authority when they could not accept her, or else that they should do; but the parents insisted that their daughter should be better to give up her school. Even when the principal came to see them to discuss the opportunity for their daughter to come to back to school, the parents did not change their mind. The counselor in her upset voice said, “Her friends are okay with that. They miss her”. The counselor then heard that the girl married her boyfriend who made her pregnant because of her parents’ pressure. They allowed the boyfriend to keep continuing his study but they didn’t allow their own daughter to do the same thing.

A pregnant-girl, a girl who is raped, is always considered to be naughty girl, embarrasses her school, her parents, even her community. Meanwhile, there is no sex education at school, at home, and abortion is illegal! However, it is easy to be found though secrecy, which means this practice of abortion—could be traditional or modern, has no guarantee of safety procedure. Hence, to give birth is the option that can be acceptable normally, but with the risk that a girl might have to give up her school. Really tough option, yet unfair, when the boy who makes her pregnant might have the opportunity she also deserves.

Most Indonesian schools will drop them out of school and most Indonesian parents will hide them somewhere out there, where nobody knows them. However, friendship among these young-aged-people usually is very strong, typical of teenagers’ life everywhere. Peer groups might be potential target to work with. We need to hear from these young voices—their thought, feel, experiences, ideas, as well we need to raise their awareness about this inequality.

Gender equality, gender justice, are not common topic for Indonesian young people. School, parents, as well state never give them a chance to learn about equality and justice—no curriculum for this topic. Parents, school, and state only demand them to graduate with best grades, so no other thing should be learned because there are so many subjects they have to learn at school and so many activities they have to join. On the other side, old generation keeps complaining about awful behaviors of young generation, but never asks reflectively what makes young people do awful things. How can those young people be sensitive if they never learn about it? Most parents would ask their children not to get involved when they know their children’s schoolmates or friends got raped or pregnant. Those parents are usually afraid that it would affect their children—they want their children free from this 'unmoral behavior'. Fear of disgrace has made parents and schools block their children and student to think critically and take action sensitively.

We cannot add any curriculum for gender equality and justice, since it is a complicated procedure. However, we can encourage any students—girls and boys, to raise their voice, to speak their mind, and give them a chance to take part in global movement of equality and justice. It is possible for them to write on the newspaper, since there are national newspapers which give space for young people. Or, they can share their mind on a book since there are several independent publishers which would be glad to support them with very low cost to print their stories. In addition, there is available networking that can be used, to spread the stories.

So, let them speak out their mind! Give them a chance to solve the problems. Let them stand for justice. All we need just give them appropriate guidance.

I remember a story of my friend. When he was still in senior-high school, the students succeeded to have school replaced the principal they didn’t like. So, I guess we can do the same thing for this issue. Our young people have the power to create new life. The life that treats girls and boys equally.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »


Aurore's picture

Worldwide pb

Hi Irmia!
Thanks very much for this article. It is always very striking to see that all girls worldwide encounter the same pb if they are pregnant during their studies. Here in Europe people still tend to judge the mothers, not the fathers, and girls encounter many more pbs going on with their studies.

There is another pb that because we value so much the role of mothers, some girls (especially in families where there is not a lot of money) tend to become mothers earlier because it's the only valuable future they can see for themselves. And then they get blamed because they have a baby withotu working and ask for public aid....

I have a question though: could you develop on why is it complicated to add a curriculum for gender equality at school? what would be the alternatives?

Thanks again for this article!


irmia's picture

Advocacy in Fun Way

In Indonesia, there is no system for public aid (officially) from the government. The 'public aid' they receive is usually from relatives. particularly from her own parents. However, it is considered to be burden for the parents. On the other side, it's very hard to get good job if they only have junior-high degree certificate. They will be underpaid, or else potentially become victim of trafficking.

Further, why it is complicated to add or integrate one subject/topic in our curriculum, well honestly, talking about Indonesian curriculum always give us headache. There has been so many insignificant changes through times. Our students are burdened with so many subjects (around 15-16 subjects). If they want to pass national exam, there are about 5 compulsory (if I'm not mistaken) subjects that need minimum grades. If they fail to reach minimum grade in one of the 5 subjects, they will not pass the national exam, which means they can't continue to higher degree. Thus, parents' fear of this failure make them have to put their children in extra class, which means the students' time to study is much more longer. As you know, failure is so shameful :). So, it's hard for them to think about other things :) They spend their times to study.

On the other side, Indonesian bureaucracy is known to be complicated. Changes mean extra budget, and budget is potentially to be corrupted. Indonesia is a country with high number of corruption, though there is anti-corruption body.

Practically, the best way to reach young people are through networking. There is youth networking in Indonesia (I forget the name). Advocacy through this networking is the most effective way as they have members in every provinces. As well they have channels in national newspaper, which enable them to write since there is available space for them. In addition, independent publishers are now famous within young people in Indonesia. Many young writers get their attention. These independent publishers offer interesting low-cost in publishing so fundraising is easy to do. Further, there are several I-NGOs which are interested in youth issue, and they are surely potential agent when talking about budget, and many potential local NGOs when talking about empowering them, raise their awareness.

I almost forget, there is also national TV station and cinema network that give opportunity for young people to screen their short film, and film is strong means for advocacy. When it's mixed with fun, it's much more stronger.

Talking about youth, then everything must be packaged in fun way, to get their attention :)


Aurore's picture


Thanks for all these precisions. I understand the difficulty of adding another subject - it may actually risk negative reactions from students if they're already overwhelmed with work.

Then I hope youth networks and local NGOs would be efficient. In France, there are partnerships between public schools and some associations who come in the schools talk about sexual health and protection, over lunch time or just one hour in the year for example. Maybe that could work? Then, it's not directly in the official curriculum but it's a way to allow all students to attend.

Anyway, I hope sexual education will develop and made available to many!
Good luck with that,

irmia's picture

You're most welcomed

Unfortunately, our lunch time is not like in Europe and America. It's very short lunch time, only about 15 minutes. However, I think there is international youth networking, which I believe very useful to share ideas about what is happening in other part of the world. Social media is another strong means for advocacy; as well it is way to show the positive side of internet.

Besides that, if we know how to approach schools, actually we can ask them to set time for socializing the topic. I remember when I was in undergraduate, my professor asked me and my friends to socialize about sexual health and reproduction. She was invited by a Christian school (that gave me a bit surprised) to give lecture about the topic. But, my professor said to us that we shouldn't do that way. It would be so boring for our young fellows. So, she asked us to think about something fun (games, film), and we did it. We got all their attention. Thanks for reminding about that :)



our role is to fight that! especially gender inequality! parents should not feel ashamed for their kids, because they were supposed to educate a kid on these issues! since the parents tend to have less and less time to spend with their kids, then NGOs have to step in and may be provide some classes on Saturdays! there should be a way out!

irmia's picture

Thanks for your support

Yes, sure :)
We'll always find a way out!


viochan's picture

Thanks for a great post

Dear Mia,
Thank you so much for this post. I spoke about a similar subject in a previous post and though appalled that these issues continue to haunt girls in every part of the world, I'm glad to know that we are all in this fight together. Please continue to speak out against violence and rape against girls.

Stay strong!!


irmia's picture

Thank you

Hi Violeta:

The teacher's association will love your comment :)
I am not a teacher, but I know good committed teachers and those kind of teachers are the fighters. They are in the front-line, and they inspire me a lot! They never give up.


wanja's picture

A big shame indeed!


It is indeed a big shame that such a leader can speak with such insensitivity about a very delicate matter.
I am however encouraged that women like you have the courage to speak against an injustice no matter who the perpetrators are.
Keep talking until something changes. I stand with you and support you!


irmia's picture

Thank you

Yes, it's so shameful!
And many thanks for your support :)


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