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As the Inside Indonesia article here describes it, “…women’s agency…is often missing in conventional discussions of Indonesian Islam. Islamic revival and Islamic piety are often depicted as being the domain of men, with little attention given to what women are doing. Nevertheless…women are often more devout than men and the emergence of their religious leadership is one of the most interesting developments in Indonesia today.”

Collectively there are many women in Indonesia working both within Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Islam (NU) and beyond to make their political and social environment less sexist, more compatible with feminist ideals, more accommodating of feminist interpretations of Indonesian Islam and building a bridge between Islam and women’s rights. Some of this effort has a noticeably sharp edge, as the conclusion of the article here illustrates.

Nevertheless, the shifting role and opportunities offered to Indonesia’s Muslim women is not without friction and risk. As pointed out here in 2013, “…religious extremism is on the rise and threatens to reverse gains made by the women’s movement since the 1980s.” More recently, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict has produced an article titled Mothers to Bombers: The Evolution of Indonesian Women Extremists (located here) that highlights “…(Indonesian) women eager to be recognised as fighters in their own right.” 

In the words of an analyst from the authoring agency sourced here, “While leaders of most violent jihadi organisations continue to see the ideal role of women as ‘lionesses’ staying home and producing ‘cubs’…it is clear that some Indonesian women are eager to emulate the lethal practices of their sisters in other parts of the world.”

Lest anyone believe that “other parts of the world” are far away and Indonesia itself is not at risk, it was just months ago that two of these women, Dian Yulia Novi and Arida Putri Maharani, anticpated a leading role in a rice-cooker suicide bombing at Jakarta’s Istana Merdeka Presidential Palace.

Indonesia’s moderate Muslim activists may have no less work ahead of them than when they started.