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Acehnese Women



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Jacqueline Aquino Siapno, PhD Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1997 

This dissertation is a historical analysis of the competing constructions and representations of Islamic identity and gender relations in Aceh, a region which has been called the most Islamic province of Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. It examines the problem of how the Indonesian government constructs gender relations in its consolidation of state power. I focus on the competing constructions between the central government's models of 'good Islam' (e.g. ICMI and MUI--religious institutions which can be co-opted) and 'bad Islam' (i.e. DI/TII and Aceh Merdeka) and how this has affected women. 

I argue that the competition for the 'ideal' Islamic identity is played out on social relations (i.e. ethnic, class, urban/rural, and gender relations) and in particular on women. How do women react to the representations produced by the male political and religious elite? I argue that Acehnese women are not occupying the subordinate role that they are told to occupy, but rather are playing out very active, resistant roles. According to Acehnese women, 'Indonesian independence robbed Acehnese women of their power and autonomy'. 

In my analysis, I engage the works of contending feminist camps which provide different interpretations: on the one hand are scholars who present a sympathetic, if not apologist account of women in Islamic societies and argue that Islam is not oppressive of women, and on the other hand Muslim activists in the Third World who write in a radical feminist voice against misogyny in Islam. Despite the fact that several Muslim theologists are grappling with this major issue, on the whole their works are articulated at the level of the 'pure' philosophy of the Qur'an and questioning the legitimacy of the Shari'ah and Hadith by re-opening the gates of interpretation ('ijtihad'). 

My contribution is to look at the debates on 'women in Islam' as it is lived in a place where Islam is the hegemonic culture, and how this hegemony is actively contested, renewed, recreated, defended, and modified. I conclude that it is not Islam or 'Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism' which is the root of conflict and violence in Aceh, but the ultimately violent nature of the New Order regime in Indonesia. 

The Forgotten Cost of Counter-insurgency in Aceh (from "Inside Indonesia" magazine, January-March 1997)
600 'Raped In Aceh Over Past Seven Years' (from The Straits Times, July 29, 1998)
A Tortured Grandmother (from The Sydney Morning Herald, August 29, 1998) 
The Wake Up Call for Acehnese Women (NYU Conference, December 12, 1998)
Muslim Women In Freedom Fight (from The Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1999)
A Widow's Notes (from "Inside Indonesia" magazine, April - June 2000) 
Defending Women’s Rights in Aceh (from Tapol, April 2000)


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Last modified: June 28, 2000