Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The role of Aisyiyah in promoting family planning and reproductive health

Learning from success



JAKARTA—Indonesia has been called the “smiling face of Islam.” Where the religion spread through much of the Middle East through military conquest, Islam in Indonesia (and in much of Southeast Asia) was brought in by Arab traders, proselytizing even as they were establishing commercial routes.

Which is not to say that Islam in Indonesia is “less Islamic.” I remember visiting the office of a judge in a Shariah court in Pakistan with women leaders from Southeast Asia. An Indonesian delegate remonstrated with the judge about his rather harsh interpretation of a point of law, and he asked: “What country do you come from? Are you even Muslim?” “Of course I am Muslim, I come from Indonesia!” she replied. “Oh, Indonesia,” said the judge with a smirk, “you aren’t real Muslims!”

We all left in a huff, and none was more irate than our Indonesian friend. Indonesia, after all, has the world’s largest Islamic population, and while Indonesian Muslims present to the world a gentle, smiling and tolerant face of Islam, they are no less religious, observant or loyal to their faith.

The women of Asyiyah-Muhammadiyah came to our Women’s Edition seminar to talk about the role of this faith-based organization in promoting family planning and reproductive health in Indonesia. Dr. Atikah Zaki, the health and social coordinator of the women’s branch of Muhammadiyah, came into the room dressed in a floor-length skirt, long-sleeved blouse and her head and neck covered in a scarf that reached down to her chest. Her two companions were dressed similarly. They were the very picture of Islamic modesty, as were most of the other women speakers.

And yet Zaki in particular was unabashed in her pride at the work that Asyiyah, the women’s wing of Muhammadiyah, was doing in promoting family planning among their members. While Muhammadiyah was founded as a faith-based organization by a very influential and famous ulama (Islamic religious leader) in 1912 in Yogyakarta, Asyiyah was founded just five years later, and its work of “upholding the status of women and promoting Islamic life” has only been enhanced by its promotion of family planning and reproductive health.
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AS EARLY as 1968, just when the BKKBN, the national family planning coordinating board, was established, a national congress of ulama issued a fatwa (decree) declaring that Muslims could practice certain family planning methods without committing offense.

Today, Asyiyah and Muhammadiyah endorse the following family planning methods: the contraceptive pill, the IUD, and withdrawal (although this last is considered a “traditional” method that is unreliable), while forbidding the promotion of abortion, menstrual regulation and sterilization.

Despite the limitations, Asyiyah effectively promotes family planning through a network of 86 hospitals and hundreds of clinics, while teaching responsible sexual behavior (though I doubt if they use the term) in their network of 87 universities and over 4,000 schools. As part of the association’s commitment to look after the welfare of members, local leaders also conduct regular counseling sessions, mediating disputes between a husband and wife and even addressing such sensitive issues as domestic violence and premarital sex.

“We are just obeying the Prophet Mohammed,” explained Zaki, adding that “there is no difference of opinion on family planning with other Muslim countries.” Yes, but Indonesians promote it with a smile.
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“LESSONS Learned from Success” was how the talk on the history of family planning in Indonesia and background on the BKKBN was titled. The note of braggadocio could perhaps be forgiven, since Indonesia is a “success story” not just on family planning but on how national leadership and grassroots popular support for a program can translate into economic gains and stability.

Although Indonesia’s family planning program was due to the strong backing and leadership of Suharto until his fall from power, said Eddy Hasmi of the BKKBN, through the decades the family planning program has gained “many stakeholders.”

And while in many countries population measures took hold only as a result of economic development and rising personal incomes, in Indonesia, he said, the opposite was true. A strong family planning program and a resulting plunge in family size and number of births enabled the Indonesian government to pursue development more aggressively.

But slowed population growth, said Hasmi, also “eased pressure on public services like education, health and infrastructure and raised standards of living.” Today, Indonesia is reaping the “demographic dividend,” with just 27 percent of the population under 15 (still economically dependent and nonproductive) compared to 43 percent in 1970, he added. The decade 1985-1995 was Indonesia’s “Golden Period,” when per capita income rose by as much as 70 percent, he rhapsodized.
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A COMPLEX array of programs underpin present-day Indonesian family planning policies: joint public and private, and foreign and domestic manufacturing of contraceptive drugs and devices; a public-private partnership for high-quality reproductive health services under the symbol of the “Blue Circle”; strong legislative support for the program; the encouragement of qualified midwives in the private sector; and support from various sectors including religious leaders, educators, local leaders.

Of course, problems remain. What is puzzling is that despite the high family planning prevalence rate, maternal mortality remains high. The government is constrained from providing contraceptive services to unmarried youth. And HIV/AIDS is a growing problem. But we can certainly learn a lot from Indonesia’s lessons “learned from success.”

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1 comment:

  1. Artikel yang optimis. Frasa "the smiling face of Islam" juga menyiratkan optimisme penulis terhadap kondisi Indonesia, dan itu baik. Dengan catatan, frasa ini juga menyimpan asumsi bahwa Islam pada umumnya tidak smiling. Muslim Arab, Afrika, dst, kecuali Indonesia, tidak ada yang smiling, dan ini tentu saja tidak benar. Kita perlu bertanya apakah ini representasi yang benar dari kenyataan ataukah bentukan media (Barat terutama).