Political Leadership of Eight Women Heads of Region: A Tug of War Between Relations and Identity

Research Report
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This book lays out the result of research by Cakra Wikara Indonesia (CWI) on Women’s Leadership in Regional Government which was carried out from November 2019 to November 2020. The research results recorded several important findings. Women head of regions are often required to negotiate their gender identity as a strategy to overcome the obstacles and challenges faced during the periods of nomination, campaign and leadership. There are at least three circumstances that make women have to negotiate their gender identity. First, there is a bias in religious interpretation against women leaders. Second, there is a bias both in media coverage and public opinion regarding the private and public affairs of women heads of region. Third, there is a gender-biased perception against women heads of region who have kinship ties background. They tend to be considered to have no leadership capacity or autonomy in formulating policies; which is something that men with kindship ties background do not experience.

Women heads of region faced various challenges from the contestation process to that of leadership. The biggest challenge came from political parties, which actually have a central role in providing nomination tickets for women heads of region candidates who take the path of political parties’ nomination. However, during the campaign period until the time they were elected, women actually received significant support from women’s groups, campaign teams formed independently, volunteer networks and other grassroots communities.

It is important to note that in the context of Pilkada, potential women are often reluctant to take up a career as a leader not because of their lack of capacity or achievements but because they are reluctant to face stereotyping and stigma that corners women. The stereotype and stigma has a broad spectrum, ranging from spotlights on personal life to their leadership capacity, which includes gender-biased criticism and labels such as ’emotional leaders’. Not to mention the challenges from the mass media that demand women politicians to be willing to spend longer time during interviews, the style that is similar to that of male politicians.

CWI views that candidates with kinship or familial relations to other politicians injure the stage of political recruitment, and nonetheless it is inappropriate to highlight it as a typical problem of female politicians. Kinship ties are more accurately seen as an indication of a poor political recruitment process and the potential for the development of patronage politics because of the strong possibility of a political reward transaction and extension of the old monopolistic power. This research finds that female regional heads who are elected after their husband’s two-term leadership ends, do not automatically continue or preserve their husband’s “legacy” of political power. They can drive transformative policies of their own initiative, which show a different leadership style and policy orientation than those of their husbands’.

In studies of public policies and of leaders in various policy-making institutions using a gender perspective, advocacy for minorities and marginalized groups is important. This kind of advocacy is prioritized in planning and implementing studies for further efforts to strengthen women leadership. Increasing the number of women is important, as is the identification of problems and challenges in women leadership, so that solution and strategies could be formulated to strengthen women’s political leadership in various spheres.

For CWI, the importance of strengthening women’s leadership lies not only in numbers but also in breakthroughs in policy making. Gender responsiveness, or the sensitivity in identifying inequality in gender relations in society, is expected from elected female leaders. Hopefully, female heads of regions do not hesitate to make a difference in decision-making: their leadership not only provide a correction to inequality in numbers, but also sensitivity in making priorities on policy agendas, budgeting and development programs that are more impartial, equal and non-discriminatory for diverse groups of people. In addition, female heads of region can become role models in the community, that women really make a difference when entrusted to be leaders and make decisions that protect those who are discriminated against or marginalized.

CWI would like to thank the female heads of region who were interviewed in this research, Ibu Khofifah Indar Parawansa (Governor of East Java), Ibu Sri Sumarni (District Head of Grobogan, Central Java), Ibu Faida (District Head of Jember, East Java), Ibu Mirna Annisa (District Head of Kendal, Central Java), Ibu Cellica Nurrachadiana (District Head of Karawang, West Java), Ibu Anne Ratna Mustika (District Head of Purwakarta, West Java), and Ibu Dewanti Rumpoko (Mayor of Batu, East Java).

We thank our partners in the research areas who have helped greatly in the data collection process. The entire series of research activities are carried out with the full support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Indonesia. The CWI Research Team is deeply grateful for the support that has been given. The entire content of this research report is fully under our responsibility and solely reflects our thoughts. We are hopeful that readers will find this publication beneficial.