Photo by: Yuli Saputra (BBC Indonesia)
On June 10, 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies hosted a meeting for experts and researchers for a discussion on the research project entitled ‘Reshaping New Urban Living: Indonesian Women and Coronavirus’. This research will explore: (1) how Indonesian women respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, (2) how women’s maneuvering among spaces (public, domestic, and virtual) might shape new urban living during and post-pandemic, (3) how religion influences women and women’s status within the context of pandemic, and (4) how religion shapes women’s religiosity during the pandemic. The researchers for this meeting were gathered from cities across Indonesia (Aceh, Yogyakarta, Malang, Jakarta, Bandung, Manado, Pontianak, and Ruteng), coordinated by Dr. Leo C. Epafras, to glean insights from four experts in order to equip and enrich the researches in their work. The four experts involved in this meeting were: Dr. Wening Udasmoro (Faculty of Cultural Sciences, UGM) who spoke about women’s responses to the pandemic; Dr. Tabita Kartika Christiani (Faculty of Theology, UKDW) who spoke about women and disability in the context of the pandemic; Dr. Siti Syamsiyatun (UIN Sunan Kalijaga) who spoke about women and religion in the context of the pandemic; and Dr. Alimatul Qibtiyah (UIN Sunan Kalijaga and Commissioner of Komnas Perempuan).
Dr. Wening Udasmoro emphasized three important points. First, the gap in the research. Within UGM, there are at least three existing publications related to COVID-19 and its social effects. Thus, this research should make a clear distinction between itself and those research projects and publications. Second, the intersection of the subject and variable which will be researched. Dr. Wening also pointed out that Indonesian women are quite diverse in terms of their religious, educational, and economic backgrounds. Therefore, researchers should be aware of the intersection of the subject of this research with many other variables. Thirdly, Dr. Wening mentioned that as it relates to religion it is also important to see how religion becomes a positive force in increasing solidarity and empathy between women from different religious affiliations or even the issue of using religion as justification in breaking up the health protocols set up by government.
The second speaker, Dr. Tabita Kartika Christiani, spoke on women and disability, expressing her appreciation that the topic would be included in this research. According to Dr. Tabita, persons with disabilities, even before the pandemic, were already vulnerable. Along those lines, women, too, experienced greater vulnerability in advance of the pandemic. Thus, it can be concluded that women with disabilities in pandemic situation have become increasingly vulnerable. Concerning this issue, Dr. Tabita suggests that this research should pay close attention to how women with disabilities struggle in the era of pandemic and how they strive to maintain their livelihoods. For example, related to the problem of work from home, study from home, or worship from home, how do disabled women deal with these changes? That is, how does these changes create additional challenges for the deaf, bland, or similarly impaired individuals? Furthermore, it will also be very interesting to see how religious institutions respond to the struggles of disabled members.
The third set of insights came from Dr. Alimatul Qibtiyah. As a lecturer and commissioner for Komnas Perempuan, Dr. Alimatul suggested that the researchers for this project note the relation of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the consequences drawing from the requirement for people to work from home. For instance, how do these changes influence family dynamics between husbands and wives? Has domestic violence increased as a result of the pandemic restrictions? In terms of domestic work, have the number of hours devoted to household chores increased and how, if at all, are other family members involved in managing household responsibilities? Regarding economic issues, is the pandemic increasing the creativity of women? In cases where female roles are strong, does this cause males to feel insecure resulting in violence toward women? By these kinds of questions, Dr. Alimatul wanted to show that the problems of violence toward women in the unusual condition of COVID-19 pandemic can be quite complex, influenced by many different variables. Dr. Alimatul mentioned that Komnas Perempuan previously conducted online research and surveys of 2285 respondents related to the issue of violence toward women during the pandemic. However, there remain unknown or not yet understood factors related to this issue, such as the connection between women’s education level and their willingness to denounce the violence experienced.
The final speaker was Dr. Siti Syamsiyatun. In her presentation, Dr. Siti Syamsiyatun shared the perspective of Aisyah, a women’s wing organization of Muhammadiyah. Dr. Siti Syamsiyatun explained that the era of COVID-19 provides momentum for Muslims, or Muslim females especially, to reinterpret their piety. For example, during the pandemic, the attention on ecological issues has increased. Moreover, the concern related to the issue of cleanliness as a part of expressing one’s faith has also increased. Furthermore, as it relates to religious rituals within Islam, which usually depend on the role of men, there is potential for change. Before pandemic many males participated in the community rituals in the mosque, but now they are expected to lead prayer at home. Their skill and ability in leading prayer should be improved and this responsibility may be also shared with women. Regarding economic problems, Dr. Siti Syamsiyatun also observed that women’s creativity and solidarity has increased. She mentioned that many women try to develop their skills in baking or in using technology to support their work or their children’s activities. Solidarity and empathy between women and humans, in general, also increased and extends beyond the difference of religious background. Therefore, this can be seen as interfaith solidarity, because to defeat COVID-19 all humans should gather together in solidarity.