Each year around the world, International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. Not only on this day but throughout the month of March, hundreds of events ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women's craft markets, theatrical performances, fashion shows and more take place around the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements of women.
This year's United Nations' theme for IWD is “Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all”. In his message for this year's IWD, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlights that gender equality and women's empowerment are fundamental to the global mission in achieving equal rights and dignity for all.
This is in line with the 1945 United Nations Charter and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizing that all human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms.
He urged to look critically at the achievements of the past 15 years to build on what has worked and correct what has not. He also stressed that to achieve the third Millennium Development Goal that is to achieve gender equality, women's empowerment is indispensable and central to all the rest. Hence, progress in reaching the internationally agreed development goals contributes to the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment.
Although real progress has been made, there is still much more to be achieved. We can see that nowadays more and more girls receive an education, particularly at primary level, and more and more women are now more likely to run businesses or participate in government.
A growing number of countries have legislation that supports sexual and reproductive health and promotes gender equality. Nevertheless, maternal mortality remains unacceptably high, too few women have access to family planning, and violence against women remains a cause for global shame.
In this connection, reflecting on Indonesia's efforts in advancing gender equality and women's empowerment, as the fourth most populous nation and third-largest democracy in the world, Indonesia has shown a remarkable women's movement history, from having Kartini as its first feminist to Megawati Soekarnoputeri as its first woman president.
Moreover, as a United Nations' member country and staying committed to its international obligations and commitments, Indonesia has ratified the major gender-related treaties upholding gender equality principles, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with Law No.7/1984.
In terms of equal rights and equal opportunities, many national laws in Indonesia have been adjusted. These include, among others, the amendment of the 1945 Constitution emphasizing women's rights as human rights, particularly in Article 28, stating that each individual has the right to live, to be free from discriminatory acts and to get protection from discriminatory acts; the 2003 National Education System Law with Article 5 emphasizing that equal educational opportunities should be provided to both males and females; the 2003 General Elections Law with Article 65(1) stating that at least 30 per cent of seats in the legislature should be given to women which was then followed by the 2008 Political Law and 2008 Women's Representation Law.
Since 2000, Indonesia has been conducting a gender mainstreaming process through its Presidential Instruction No.9/2000 as one of the development strategies to undertake gender issues in development policies and programs.
Many gender-responsive programs are conducted by governmental institutions in various sectors such as labor, education, the legal sector, agriculture, industrial development, health services, social welfare, the environment, disaster relief and social conflict support.
Over the years, the socioeconomic status and freedom of expression among Indonesian women have increased remarkably.
At present, women occupy 12.5 percent of ministerial or ministerial-equivalent positions. There are five women in the 40 member Cabinet of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
More and more Indonesian women are entering higher education, earning their own income and having the autonomy to choose where they would like to be enrolled for higher education or employment.
Nonetheless, gender inequality is indeed significantly inherent in its state system and cultural structure. Critical issues that hold back efforts in advancing gender equality and women's empowerment in society relate mostly to typical stereotypes differentiating women and men, cultural and traditional values disrespecting women, and religious beliefs entrenching patriarchy.
It is reported that 21 laws are discriminatory against women and are gender-biased. For example, the 1974 Marriage Act denying women's equal rights with men, and the abortion law that needs to be reformed. Since the implementation of Indonesia's regional autonomy in 2001, lots of regional regulations are still discriminative and believed a setback to the progress and developments of gender equality since their practice impinge upon women's rights.
This year's IWD theme has awakened all of us to how vital equal rights and equal opportunities are in ensuring progress for all human beings.
This is an alert for all countries, particularly Indonesia, to cope with the challenges ahead. By giving more opportunities to women, creating more conducive systems for both women and men, and producing more gender-responsive national and regional policies, Indonesia could create a brighter and more rewarding future with equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all.