Indonesia is well known country for its cultural diversity. It is a richness of The Nation. It richness comes from people’s cultures of many tribes of indigenous people and ethnic groups, which inhabitant thousands islands of Indonesia. Those differences had been acknowledge by State slogan Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Diversity in Unity). As number four of populate nation in the world with more than 230 millions people lives in an archipelago of more than 18.000 islands surrounded by seas, bay and many mountains. Its people lives and practicing 5 religions and believers, use more than 250 languages, and have lots and different traditions of different cultures. With women more than half of its population, women assemble Indonesia.
Other than its quantity, women have works silently without any pretentious to shock other power, they preserving culture. Local culture. What I mean of culture in this paper is that manifestation of history of nation/tribe which mirroring in accepting their values, a spectator and values which inline to lives for ideal and spiritual, free from contradiction from time to time.[1] In women life context, I use women as social group Robert K.Merton,”people who have a sense of solidarity by virtue of sharing common values and who have acquired an attendant sense of moral obligation to fulfill role expectation”.[2] In Indonesian women as well men are part of ethnic groups. Its ethnic groups[3] are background for women to preserved and practiced traditional values.
Long before Indonesia Independence Day 1945, the colonial Dutch government acknowledged its pluralism by the colonial legal system that created legal pluralism and operated through racial segregation. Article 75 of the Regerings Reglement 1855 (the de facto Colonial Constitution) divided the population of the Netherlands East Indies into Europeans and Inlanders or non Christians native that include indigenous Indonesians as well as Chinese, Arabs and Indians. This category later was confirmed in article 163 and 131 Indische Staatsregeling of 1925 which defined three racial groups : a. Europeans including the Japanese as honorary Europeans, b. Foreign Orientals : Chinese, Indians and Arabs and Inlanders (natives).[4] Along with modern legal system of colonial, adat (ethnic groups law) existed and operated in territorial basis and kinship in many part of colonial state. And modern term and traditional fact of pluralism continued to exist in after Independence Day, and even adopted one of tradition into State principle.
Indonesia Philosophy is root from the tradition and principle of its native. Its adopted State Ideology, Pancasila: 1. Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa(Believe in God), 2. Kemanusiaan Yang Adil dan Beradab (Humanitarian, Justice and Civilized), 3. Persatuan Indonesia United of Indonesia:Nationalism, Kerakyatan yang Dipimpin Oleh Hikmat Kebijaksaan dalam Permasyawaratan Perwakilan 4. (Democracy of People Representation) and, 5.Keadilan Sosial Bagi Seluruh Rakyat Indonesia (Socialism). And principle of Indonesia pluralism of Bhineka Tunggal Ika is in Indonesia constitution UUD 1945[5], Article 26A. Those values which adopted as highest level in legal system, people of Indonesia has already practiced its valued long since their great-great grandmother. It was gotong royong (communal duties). Gotong royong not only implemented values system it is too, depicted of pluralism. In gotong royong, people in community despite their different background will gather and working together in create something for community. Even Soekarno proposed for alternative choices that Pancasila might compressed to be one philosophy, a Gotong royong, as he speech in 1945 in front of Committee to Investigate Preparations for Indonesia Independence.[6] For radical thought of Indonesia pluralism and political context, Soekarno with DPRGR (Dewan Perwakilan Gotong Royong/ Gotong Royong Parliament) proposed a merging or cooperate between ideologies, a concept of Nasakom (Nasional Agama Komunis) or Nationalism, Religious and Communism.[7] Anyhow, those were merely several examples of valued adoption into state and legal concept in Old Order (1945-1965), there will be some other adoption of gotong royong as regulation or government policy in New Order (1966-1988) as well as in Reformation Era (1999-now).[8] The New Order Governmnet formed of women’s local organization through lowest level of bureaucracy (Village to Provinces and Central Government) in PKK (Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga)/ Family Welfare Guidance which adopted gotong royong as one of ten program for PKK with a Internal Ministry Decree No.28/1984. Though it look like, a very decent and good policy in increasing women participation to their community as very well written in the text of it Decree. It was clearly that the structure of bureaucracy of wife of the bureaucrats will have positions, has point out that it is a centrally and imposed policy to one organization for women in community. Though PKK adopted pluralism (women from different ethnic groups might joined) in its regular activities, with state only support one organization in community it shows that the stated denied other organization legally. For that matter mostly women in community did not organize themselves as organization. They chose to create guyub, through arisan, or pengajian. These are save activities, non politics, not modern organization (no leader, no structure).
Somehow, any regulation or law produced by state in its concept of implementing pluralism which its also shows in Criminal Code or Marriage Law still unfair for women[9]. And if a wife filed for divorce (especially Moslem), is harder than if it is a husband who filed for divorce. Woman mixed marriage to alien still find difficulty to have her rights upon her children or its nationality. Though Indonesia has already signature and ratify CEDAW (Convention on Elimination against all form of Discrimination) and have its Law No. 4 /1984 to ensure its obligation by its state, women still find it hard to fulfill their rights as a marriage woman. Those were few examples in which the legal system and state principle still do not fully recognized that women’s culture and women’s rights as part of regulation and to be forced as well to be protected.
This paper will describe how women too practiced its values, in general term act for solidarity between women gotong royong and tolong menolong (mutual help). These practiced has been and still done by ethnic groups in many areas in Indonesia, and become informal institutions. These institutions have important implications in field of economics as refereeing to a technique of teamwork[10], but in neither case is it possible to distinguish between individual obligation and group interest (guyub). And with this aura of global culture, could women still could preserve this institution, or how do they manage to react on what is coming into their life? And how does the role of the state within this context, is it actively involve to maintain or ignore?

Beyond Differences Women’s Culture and Global Culture

Woman work is daily work, it part of their live as women, as mother, sister and human being. In maintaining culture, their activities are part of daily basis in preserving their family, their environment and their future generation. These were said and unsaid by women, but we could look right through their activities as it were something with meaning, a great meaning of as part Indonesian women identity and as Nation. Throughout women activities we could almost always seen solidarity as part of their action.
Indonesian women have different culture for each tribe, island and class background. And in its differences there are almost always have similarity. Within this paper I would like to describe a bit about the differences and similarity between women from random big island in Indonesia that could be in Sumatera, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Nusatenggara, Papua or Bali. Due to limited funding, and time for research, I will only make example from what I find through literature and my personal observation.
The daily activities of women cultures are shown in differences activities in related wedding processes, labor, mourning commemoration of a deceased person, crops production process, financial owner and decision making within family. The similarities are their value for religious fervor, position in traditional board (Lembaga Adat), solidarity and mutual help/assistance or gotong royong, respect with each other, and sharing method of healing for ill.
Gotong royong is usually shown in marriage ceremony, labor (gave birth), death commemoration, beginning cultivating, harvest, or if neighbor of colleague friend hospitalize and traditional ritual in related to religious or ongoing activities as arisan; a social gathering whose member contribute and like to an aggregate some money. Money is not the aim, but communality in essence is act of sisterhood/brotherhood or silaturahmi (good with each other).
Solidarity and respect are shown in almost activities of women. Most women who have to leave the house for work, she could ask her neighbor to look after her children. Respect each other as women regardless their differences of religious, ideology, work status, or even class as shown in women organization. These women’s cultures are still persisted today, while the world has come to global culture. How women still maintain this culture, with this speedy of invasion of global culture, especially by television? Is it still existed as it was, or changed or modified?
Though as claimed by most of feminists that women’s shared same experiences as oppressed, their differences too, could never be deny. Differences are reality between women in the world, as well in Indonesia. It interconnected with global-local condition of social, politics and cultural practices. Among the differences, social class or economic condition is the most apparent. Somehow in Indonesia, though differences in social economic condition might bring impact to women view, attitude, and characteristic individually or collectively, its difference almost never occurred if related certain condition of cultural and tradition. These cultural and tradition are in related with life, death and celebration of togetherness as society. These cultural practices of tradition and custom refer as local culture.
In the meantime, while certain local culture existed, global culture has too been come in speedy with or without invitation. The global culture referred here with global culture product and global cultural process that might influence women lifestyle, and how its lifestyle has an impact in local culture. Global cultural[11] as product of what has been connected with cultural manufacture (by capitalist) by and through its cultural product (food-beverage-clothes, information-technology-television) especially from Western, in which might construct-deconstruct women local culture. Global cultural process of how its process intermingled with social, politics, economic circumstances in national and local level, and how women adapt to it. How those global cultures re-shape a women’s cultural identity. Women’s cultural identity, though Hannerz did not specific mention on women, I agree framework of cultural process which as ‘form of life “…in that involves everyday practicalities of production and reproduction, activities going on work places, domestic settings, neighborhoods and some variety of other places. And its cultural process is that from doing the same things over and over again, and seeing and hearing other doing the same things over and over again”[12].
And for many cultural studies theory identity concept almost always have related with sense of community or territorial, but due to lack of women focus on that studies, I only come with assumption on what occurred on and on in many part of Indonesia. Agree with John Tomlinson, on identity as treasure, what has been practiced by women as collective treasure of local community.[13] Community of women, though related with territorial, it is shift from place of stay to place of works. Sometimes for Arisan, it is practiced between women’s friends.
Women’s collective identity mostly related with territorial (place of birth, raised, stay/living and family), and in family. Women have their kampung halaman (homeland), where they still have their parents, sister or brothers live in.[14] And when it place has been replace to works place, women could created the replacement as a new women’s activities of tolong menolong. Its replacement might be office, or circle of women’s friends. Women might set up arisan or a basket of donation for solidarity action.
Whether its gender role or not, women who have a colleague friend who has been hospitalized or in labor, women mostly took initiative for acting in charge to gain amount of money to buy a present or donation to their colleague (illness or in labor). I could not point out those women’s action as sisterhood, for sisterhood is political solidarity against sexism.[15] Usually in solidarity action men involve too, especially in case of office colleague. Men and women donated, the donation will manage by woman, its act of charity. And it has been practiced over and over the years until now, in many offices and places in Indonesia.
As for arisan and gotong royong, mutual action has been planned in certain community or women in group. Gotong royong or mutual help mostly show collective activity of creating something, be it’s action to build a mosque, a bridge, or cleansing the environment, or a set of food and beverage for celebration , commemorating deceased person. The later two are exclusively involve women activities.
From time to time gotong royong between women neighbors of community in all over Indonesia (especially in rural village) still persisted, it does not change the value of treasuring equal action for each other goodness. I will elaborate these with samples which I took from my experiences, observation, and literature. And how it actions are part of Indonesia identity.

Women, Culture and Global Culture

Information technology: television, hand phone, and internet come and accepted by many women throughout Indonesia, but it doesn’t eroded that women still practicing its value as Indonesian women, regardless their background of ethnic groups or political ideology. It is the actualization respect of social relation among women. Women, regardless their background of ethnic, somehow could mingle with other women from different ethnic with arisan. Its capital are trust. For women with different ideology practicing gotong royong might transcendent to sisterhood in term of solidarity against sexism in politics.
For the later one, I will brought sample from two women organizations: Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia untuk Keadilan dan Demokrasi (Indonesia Women’s Coalition for justice and democracy) and Kaukus Perempuan Politik Indonesia (Indonesia Women’s Political Caucus). As I mentioned they are still practicing gotong royong, tolong menolong and arisan. Those activities are institutionalized as part of social relation among women with or without involving financial matter. As for arisan, global culture and mobilization of people from place to place has been influence to modify its model of contribution. I will give some example of those actions and how it existed identity in time of global culture.
From time to time Indonesia social-cultural activities have tied relation with religious activities. Those collective actions of gotong royong, tolong menolong and arisan are mostly related with traditional-spiritual and religious activities. Gotong royong are undoubtly accepted as Indonesian people characteristic whether it is practice by male or female. Gotong royong never exclusively practice by male or female. It works together. Occasionally women have major contribution in gotong royong activities as in wedding, or labor (to cook and preparing logistic), while male mostly have major contribution in building public facilities. Those differentiated of labor almost never created distinction between male and female to participate in traditional community activities. It is division merely functional. Somehow in other activities in related to decision making for its community women participation still small. It is due to individual participation to represent each family, where male are headed household.[16]
In eastern Java, Malang, women of Candirenggo, Singosari district have local custom arisan and mutual assistance. Arisan is a monthly or biweekly activity of many women and men. Women activities in pengajian (reading Qur’an) will include arisan. It is a weekly arisan, its members more than 40 women. Information method on when and place to be held in each week, is decided on the day of arisan. In this village too, commemoration on decease person, will held pengajian where members of community will gather and pray together. Beside praying most women in community will prepared food and beverage for mourning family.
In Sumatera, Java, and Nusatenggara, and many areas in Indonesia, when there is a family going have a wedding celebration, a local tradition is that women in neighbor are going to be participated for preparing food and beverages. It is practiced in Aceh, Java and too Jakarta. For women in Bieren, Aceh, it is a deviation if one family did not asked their neighbor to participate in preparing food and beverage for wedding celebration (if they order catering). In Java, ceremony took many step, one step is set up the committee whom should appoint people from the village in charge of different jobs such as: protocol, food and beverage, art performance of the gamelan music group and the dance, setting up the reception hall complete with decoration. The appointment: master of ceremony; some elder distinguish women to do the siraman (holy bathing) ; who should be witnesses for IJAB; who should deliver the welcome speech during reception; who should be responsible for transportation, communication and security matters etc. The committee and appointee mostly work for voluntarily basis. This is the manifestation of the spirit of Gotong Royong.[17]
My family has been held ceremony four times in our house. It was because my parents have daughters, and usually wedding ceremony took place in a bride house, or a bride family is a host. Though I live in Jakarta, I see that my neighbor come and help with preparing celebration. There are young women/men preparing for decoration, and women-mothers preparing for food and beverage. It was all doing voluntarily. Usually after wedding ceremony over, women who came and help the preparation got a present from my family. It was all do the other way around, when my neighbor have wedding ceremony, my mother come and join to help them. My surround neigborhood are mixed ethnic background. Most of the head of the family, the father are civil servant who came to Jakarta migrate from their homeland in outside Jakarta. And in my community, if there is invitation to come to wedding party, women usually come together to wedding event. I often saw, women of native Jakarta (ethnic Betawi) who will come to wedding party are grouping and took a small bus to the wedding.
Now with the economic crisis, women have to face rapid change of local culture, which influenced by global culture. Within this context of global culture is the change through and by media. And television is the media which has been most influenced for women. Though there is not yet research to measure this influence to women, the percentage of women to watch television program is higher than the other gender.
Nowdays gotong royong interpretation is shifted from just activities, to become one component for democracy, a people’s participation.[18] Somehow in this context participation merely for male, because its only put in local politics (local institution), not relation between family in the community. As for women, in many village or kelurahan, with its
In Desa Soka, Kecamatan Baturiti, District Tabanan, Bali, Moslem and Hindu hand in hand in many activities gotong royong in wedding ceremonial, celebration and building holy place and public facilities. Moslem women cook their food in celebration and interactive involved with Hindu-Balinese.
Gotong royong has many different words as in Bangka Belitung is Sepintu Sedulang, for explain activities of harvest, wedding, and deceased commemoration. In Bali, gotong royong are known with name nguopin which are activities in rice field (cultivation and harvest), activities surround home and family (fixed house, yards, garden, well digger) and in ritual ceremony of decease person, wedding ceremony, and girl’s tradition of cutting teeth. Gotong royong between individu usually base on mutual undertanding that each favor will be pay back with work. In Sipirok North Sumatera, District South Tapanuli, there are women gotong royong to cultivate rice field, which belong to other woman. Other than practicing gotong royong for cultivation, women too has created saving contribution which its member of the group will use sometime when in need[19] Banua Sibohou Simaewali, Kec Bawolato, District.Nias, North Sumatera cultivating gotong royong. Its crops as subsistence system, for themselves and sold.
Arisan is now practicing in different place, different mode. It is now practice by women and men as well. Arisan is more popular for women from lower to upper class. With global culture of consumerism, arisan has been modified. Its modification mostly related with economic condition. For upper class women, its contribution not only money, change with dollar or diamond. For lower class women its contribution might be still some money or other goods in which needed for household. In Gunung Rejo village, District Situbondo, East Java, there are arisan for building house. It was where member of arisan by contributing equipment, tools, cement, wood and everything in circulating period.[20]
In context of global culture which brought media, especially television has been doing great deal in heightening consumerism with advertising product. Women share their interest in certain product which advertised. This new culture of television has not change much of local culture. Women in Java, Sumatera, or other places in Indonesia might like Mac Donald, and like Revlon, but it doesn’t affect much of relation between women in community. Even there are popular television comedy series of Bajaj Bajuri (National Station of Trans Tv) is shown that arisan is to part of women community, and motion picture Arisan (show its activity upper class women. This motion picture Arisan, were depiction of real activities of many women in upper class where dollar is a contribution to each member. What I have seen from local activities of arisan from upper to lower class women is not only different of amount contribution, but communication media which are different. In village women get information about place, time of arisan directly from person who will be host of the event, and in urban/city information spreading via handhpone, email, and direct from the person at the event.


Indonesia National Identity is one with National Philosophy. National philosophy which then Pancasila with its five principles is chosen foundation for Indonesia Nation State, now in question and doubt. It was due to global culture and hegemony of capitalism which bring with them liberal individualism. Somehow its individualism is not yet into account as threat. Indonesia Legislative Assembly already amendment it Constitution, and adopted Human Rights as articles. Human Rights within Indonesia context are always related with spirituality and God, as it stated in Constitution and in Human Rights Law No. 39/1999. Long before its Law passed, gotong royong and tolong as collective identity of already well accepted and practiced by Indonesia people. The founder of Indonesia’s state then adopted as one of its principle of state Ideology in Pancasila. Its continuity to adopt its value have shown in many regulations or policy by government. But than again before the government take over to emulate in state policy, there were organization whom took its identity, such as DPRGR (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Gotong Royong) People Representative Assembly Gotong Royong, mass organization MKGR (Musyawarah Keluarga Gotong Royong) later becama party, Kabinet Gotong Royong (Cabinet Gotong Royong, president Megawati2001-2004), and by the time New Order regime has its power to
Individualism is suppressed with spirituality and religious through and by social and cultural activities of community. Because many women engage in daily cultural and social activities in community, unconsciously Indonesia as Nation state is in advantage, identity of Indonesia cultural is preserved.<>>
Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia untuk Keadilan Demokrasi
Jl. Siaga I No.2B RT/RW.003/05 Pejaten Barat, Pasar Minggu Jakarta Selatan 12510Tel./Fax.: 62-21-7985110, 9100076, 791834444.
[1] al Sharqawi, Effat Filsafat Kebudayaan Islam, terj. A.Rofi Usmani Badung Pustaka (1986)
[2] Merton., Robert.K., Social Theory and Social Structure., revised edition.New York: Free Press., 1964.,p.299.
[3] Term of ethnic group/golongan within this paper use Koentjaraningrat and Mely G.Tan, as to make differentiated with ‘grouping’, but more to classify ethnic as social category.
[4] Hooker. M.B., Adat Law in Modern Indonesia., Jakarta: Oxford University Press,1978.,p.71.
[5] Undang-undang Dasar 1945, Second Amandement.
[6] Soekarno., “Lahirnya Pantjasila”., dalam Kepada Bangsaku Karya2 Bung Karno 1926-1930-1933,1941,1945,1947 dan 1957, Jakarta: BP Prapantja.,p.405.
[7] Soekarno proposed its concept in the heighten competition of politics of Indonesia where political parties trying to spread out its power in Government against Army. (J.Elise Rocamora., Nasionalisme Mencari Ideology bangkit dan Runtuhnya PNI 1946-1965.,Jakarta:PT Temprint., 1991., p.384-385)
[8] . In Reformation Era Internal Ministry launch Peraturan Menteri Dalam Negeri Nomor 42 Tahun 2005 tentang Pedoman Penyelenggaraan Bulan Bhakti Gotong Royong Masyarakat Tahun 2006
[9] In Marriage Law. 1974., women still considered to have live in stereotype of domestic, and not provider within the family.
[10] Koentjaranigrat., Some Social-anthropological Observation on Gotong Royong Practices in Two Villages of Central Java., Ithaca.1961
[11] The concept Global culture are varied from many theories, my interpretation of it mostly I adopt from U.Hannerz., Scenarios for peripheral cultures., in Culture, Globalization and the World System, edited by., A.D King., State University New York, 1991.and in context of identity, I like to use my interpretation from Douglas Kellner (The Frankfurt School and British Cultural Studies: The Missed Articulation).
[12] Ibid
[13] Tomlinson, John., “Globalization and Cultural Identity”., TGT2eC23.,2003., p.269
[14] Case study of Tooting, London where Asian lives try to reconceptualization of local culture in global scale, by using individualistic methodology. The concept of locality merely studies where people from different places move and settle in new territorial. M.Albrow.,”Travelling beyond local Culture”., Living in Global City: globalization as local process., edited by.J.Eade, Routledge, 1997.
[15] Hooks, Bell., Feminist Theory from margin to center.,Boston: South End Press., 1984., p.43-65
[16] In many parts of Indonesia, local politics are public place and belong to men, while women place are in home (domestic). Traditionally marriage, deceased, labor and cultivating are non- public activities (but family and neigbor), that is why women could be part of it. This segregation still exist.
[17] http:// May, 10, 2006
[18] Kamardi., makalah Kelembagaan Adat Masyarakat Desa di Lombok Bagian Utara., sebuah tahapan dalam berotonomi., accessed May, 14, 2006
[19] Kompas, Selasa, January, 11, 2005
[20] Kompas, Jumat, 28 October 2005



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