Pious and Critical: Muslim Women Activists in Indonesia

Gender & Society

by Rachel Rinaldo

Rinaldo_image2When I began fieldwork with women activists in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2002, it was not long after 9/11 and the American media was full of stories about the suffering of women in Afghanistan. The narrative of a clash between militant Islam and Western ideas such as feminism and human rights was pervasive. I assumed that religious Muslim women in Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, would see feminism as foreign, Western, and not Islamic. Certainly, I met many who made exactly such arguments. Yet I also encountered devout Muslim women who did not necessarily use the word feminist to describe themselves but who were advocating for equality and rights for women. Indonesia in the 2000s was in the midst of political democratization, and I found that these activists were inspired by a wide range of ideas, including liberal ideologies of human rights as well…

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