Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 30, November 2012

'Natural' Sex Difference?
Negotiating the Meanings of Sex, Gender and Kodrat
through Gender Equality Discourse in Aceh, Indonesia[1]

Marjaana Jauhola

  1. Gender mainstreaming was formally endorsed by the United Nations (UN) member states at the Fourth United Nation's World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 as a policy strategy to promote gender equality and the advancement of women. The presidential instruction on gender mainstreaming was adopted in Indonesia in 2000, defining it as:

      a strategy to integrate gender concerns in all steps of national development processes i.e. planning, budgeting, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of national policies and programs.[2]

  2. Gender mainstreaming is one of three institutional mechanisms identified in the outcome document of the 1985 Beijing World Conference on Women, as a concrete measure to ensure the 'advancement of women'. The other two measures are the establishment and strengthening of national machinery and other governmental bodies to promote gender equality, and the generation of gender-disaggregated statistics for policy purposes.[3]
  3. The UN has advocated the establishment of state institutions to promote the status of women since 1962. At the First World Conference on Women in 1975, the so-called 'national machineries' were identified as 'effective transitional measures for accelerating the achievement of equal opportunities for women and their full integration into national life.'[4] In Indonesia, the Ministry for the Role of Women and the Program to Improve Women's Role (Program Peningkatan Peranan Wanita, P2W) was established in 1978. From 1996, the Team to Improve Women's Role (Tim Pengelola Peningkatan Peranan Wanita, TP-P2W) was established at the provincial level, including in Aceh. In 1995, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) provided support to the Ministry for Women's Empowerment to evaluate the Women in Development strategy. In 1999, following instructions from the Ministry for the Interior, provinces were mandated to establish offices to support gender mainstreaming. But this occurred at the same time as the decentralisation of government planning and budgeting from the central government to the provincial and district governments. Furthermore, it coincided with the collapse of the thirty-year authoritarian rule of President Suharto and the major political reforms that created a new political space for political Islam, radical Islamist movements and an increasingly religion-based discourse of societal norms and legal frameworks.[5]
  4. The establishment of the provincial Bureaux for Women's Empowerment in 2000 coincided with the passing of the Presidential instruction on gender mainstreaming.[6] Significantly, the introduction of the gender mainstreaming policy approach in Aceh took place at the same time the province was exclusively granted special autonomy and with it the right to implement shari'ah law; that is the incorporation of Islamic Law principles into provincial legislative frameworks and public policy. Although gender mainstreaming has been part of the provincial government's structures in Aceh since 2000, the focus on gender equality has intensified in the post-tsunami context as many of the international organisations have advocated gender mainstreaming in their reconstruction efforts. This has led to expressions of 'gender allergy' and accusations that 'gender' is a western product, inherently anti-Islam, and thus, anti-Acehnese.[7] In Aceh the provincial government's Islamic discourse on gender explicitly opposes what is perceived as the 'Western free for all action'[8]; the concept of gender is accepted 'as long as it does not mean that men start wearing lipstick and high heels.'[9] The 'naturalness' of the sex/gender divide or binary relationship of the sexes in government has gained new currency in Aceh as a consequence of the dominant religious discourse.
  5. There is a rich body of feminist literature on the shifting discourses of the Indonesian state on gender and sexualities, with a particular focus on Suharto's New Order(1966–1998)[10] and more recent work locating the shifts in relation to the reformasi period post-1998, and the emergence of politicised Islam.[11] Furthermore, there is a growing literature examining the connections between gender and sexuality, Indonesian nationalism and Muslim identity.[12] Analysis of the reformasi period illustrates the rise of Islamic voices that were banned and controlled during the New Order period which have created new tensions. Gender politics have become a controversial component in the battle for political power.[13] Central to the discourses on gender and sexuality has been the concept of kodrat, or natural destiny, which has been used by the government to highlight women's roles as carers and educators of the new generation of Indonesian citizens.[14] Although kodrat is a social construction, it is built on various local ideals, yet often portrayed as universal and pre-discursive.[15]
  6. Conditions in Aceh and especially the impact of the shari'ahisation on Acehnese women, has been addressed as a significant change associated with decentralisation and the emergent role of Islam in Indonesian politics.[16] This article illustrates how concepts of sex, gender and kodrat are being constantly negotiated through gender advocacy and gender mainstreaming discourse in Aceh.
  7. The first part of the article illustrates how gender and gender-equality discourses of the provincial gender machinery, prominent women's activists and Islamic feminist scholars in Aceh construct a naturalised division between the concepts of sex and gender, a binary opposition between two sexes, to argue for equality between men and women.[17] A detailed elaboration is done on the interpretations of the Quranic verse regarding the creation of humanity.[18] Drawing from waria (male-to-female transgender) activism during the celebration of International Women's Day in 2007 in Banda Aceh and accounts of gender- and sexuality-based violence in Aceh, the second part of the article illustrates how these constructs are subverted and challenged, offering spaces for negotiating what constitutes kodrat, understood as manifesting 'God's creation' or 'destiny'. The analysis of the normative constructs of gender-equality discourse in this article draws on fieldwork conducted in Aceh between 2006 and 2009, which included interviews with gender advocates of the provincial government, international organisations and local civil society groups, a review of gender policy documents and publications, and informal discussions with the small but vibrant activist group, self-identified as a lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersexed (LBGTI) advocacy group in Banda Aceh and participation in their events in 2009.
  8. Drawing on Judith Butler's (2004) notions of normativity and subversion, this article elaborates on simultaneous processes of normalisation and subversion that co-exist within the articulations of gender policies within the Acehnese context. Thus, the article reveals the constant negotiation of normative boundaries of gender advocacy and locally emerging forms of subversive politics of desires and gender articulation. Thus, this article contributes to the body of literature that treats Islam as an actively produced discursive practice.[19] Focusing specifically on the constant negotiation of meanings of the concepts of sex, gender and kodrat, this article is in conversation with the literature on performativity, gender and religion.[20]

    Sex/gender divide and naturalised sex difference

          The only difference that men and women have is kodrat
          —Banner on International Women's Day in Banda Aceh, 2007.

  9. The starting point for the analysis of normative boundaries and the subversive potential of gender advocacy in Aceh in this article is Judith Butler's critique of 'sex/gender feminism'[21]; feminism whose politics presume the sex/gender binary and naturalised sex difference. Butler's main aim has been to denaturalise the 'hetero-reality' of feminism and to challenge the 'political necessity to speak as and for women [emphasis in original].'[22]
  10. The distinction between sex (male/female), a matter of biology, and gender (masculine/feminine), a set of culturally and socially defined characteristics, has been central to a significant body of gender theory and Anglophone feminism since the late 1960s, and Gender and Development discourse since the 1970s.[23] The distinction was intended to counter the determinist claim that one's biological sex determines one's social and cultural characteristics and roles. When adopting the concept of gender, feminists primarily argued that there was no natural basis for defining the roles of women and men.[24] A common notion of gender is based on the idea of a social construction of the binary opposition of two sexes. Gender relations are differentiated and two types of persons are created: man and woman, which are posited as exclusionary categories. Based on this construct, 'one can be only one gender, never the other or both.'[25]
  11. In the Indonesian context, the sex/gender binary has been an integral part of the secular and Muslim/Islamic feminist discourse since the 1980s. One of the most influential references has been Mansour Fakih's book Gender Analysis and Social Transformation (Analisis Gender & Transformasi Sosial), published in 1996. Fakih argues that:

      gender refers to differences that are neither biological nor God's destiny. Biological difference, namely sex difference, is God's destiny and therefore permanently different.[26]

    Fakih references his definition of gender to Ann Oakley's book Sex, Gender and Society: Towards a New Society, published in 1972. A closer look reveals, however, that Fakih's definition is a simplified version of Oakley's original and the part that 'got lost in translation' in Fakih's text provides a subversive reading of the dominant heteronormative sex/gender definition. Oakley's original version reads:

      'sex' is a biological term; 'gender' a psychological and cultural one. Common sense suggests that they are merely two ways of looking at the same division and that someone who belongs to, say, the female sex will automatically belong to the corresponding (feminine) gender. In reality this is not so. To be a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, is as much a function of dress, gesture, occupation, social network and personality, as it is of possessing a particular set of genitals [emphasis added].[27]

  12. Oakley highlights the possibility of looking at the sex/gender divide and of performing one's gender differently. Yet significantly, this is omitted from Fakih's text. This omission exemplifies Butler's point, that categories are 'never merely descriptive, but always normative, and as such, exclusionary.'[28] One of Butler's primary aims has been to counter the exclusionary gender norms in feminism that, in her opinion, have homophobic consequences.[29] For Butler, the category 'woman' achieves its stability and coherence only in the context of the heterosexual matrix: 'for bodies to cohere and make sense there must be a stable sex expressed through a stable gender (masculine expresses male, feminine expresses female) that is oppositional and hierarchical through the compulsory practice of heterosexuality.'[30]
  13. Thus, the starting point for Butler's critique of feminism is that the sex/gender distinction has been defined within feminist theory as an oppositional pair: male and female sex, with corresponding masculine and feminine gender identities. Hence, gender is generally understood as a social construct, whereas sex appears as natural and antecedent to the social. In order to exist, culturally and socially constructed gender requires an element that is considered natural and unchangeable. As a result, sex is seen as existing prior to gender, to be pre-discursive. For Butler, this logic significantly obscures the point that 'nature' and the concept of 'sex' have a history.[31] It is through a long period of repetition and knowledge production that the construct appears as a natural configuration of bodies; the division into two sexes that exist in a binary relation to one another. When feminism moves beyond the binary of man/woman and recognises socially constructed understandings of sex, Butler maintains that it will ultimately also entail questioning the concept of 'woman' as a natural focus of feminism. Freeing the concept of 'gender' from the binary of man/woman also means that: 'man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one [emphasis added].'[32]
  14. When gender is released ontologically, that is when the concept of gender no longer rests on the binary of man/woman, it becomes impossible to discriminate between right and wrong genders, sexes or directions of sexual desire, as there is no longer a model against which to judge any of 'their myriad expressions'. Once gender is not dependent on sex, it becomes an 'act', a daily performance that constitutes identity. 'No one can be said to have a gender anymore; it is not a possession, nor it is something that one simply is.'[33] Although Butler makes a positive statement of the 'release of gender ontologically', she is not convinced that tolerance for multiplicity of genders, or inclusive liberal politics for that matter, 'undoes' the power relations and marginalisation of non-normative gender practice, but rather, performativity makes the power relations visible. Thus, Butler's analytical focus is on the processes of normalisation, the violence of norms and the subversive potential that lies in the reiteration of norms.
  15. Butler suggests that it is cracks and ruptures in the norms that form a basis for emerging agency and the potential for feminism and feminist politics. Thus, instead of relying on feminist politics based on the idea of a known subject, stable identity and the ideas of representation and inclusiveness, politics is understood as 'a challenge and resistance to dominant and debilitating norms of gender and sexuality.'[34] By focusing on kinship structures and heteronormative practices, to give one example, Butler analyses political, legal and social practices that have no space for transgendered people, and people whose sexual practices remain outside normative heterosexuality.[35] Cracks in the seemingly consistent system of normativity create new possibilities for expressions of liveable life, possibilities that challenge normative violence, heteronormative structures and assumptions of kinship.[36]
  16. Indonesian scholar Etin Anwar, in her research on systems of gender norms and construction of self (nafs in Arabic) in Islam, uses Butler's analysis to make her argument.[37] The ontological self (the self that is given by God through creation of the human being) provides the basic foundation for the commonality of all humans insofar as they share a common origin and a similar human form. However, the way the material or embodied self is sited, and the knowledge it produces, Anwar argues, is normatively bound to the geo-political locality of the Muslim world.[38] Understandings of masculinity and femininity and the making of the material/embodied self are shaped by religious knowledge, power and cultural practices. These are articulated in religious narratives and opinions (fatwa), social institutions, legal systems and norms that foster the construct of the material self.[39]
  17. In Anwar's reading of Islam through Butler, the Islamic concept of 'self' (nafs) is multifaceted and constructed within the framework of Islamic teachings. 'Self' to Anwar appears as a constituent of self-becoming that is constructed with a certain social, religious, philosophical and cultural worldview. Thus, the self is not static. It is influenced by constant exposure to what is religiously ethical and psychologically acceptable in one's immediate environment and society.[40] Anwar makes an interesting use of Butler's concept of performativity of self, and draws from Islamic teachings producing an idea of self as constructed by locally defined norms and expectations, interpretations of the Qur'an and the hadith. This opens up the possibility of analysing the normative boundaries of the hermeneutics through which Islamic norms are legitimised.[41] For example, Samar Habib provides what she calls 'queer-friendly Islamic hermeneutics' through a detailed reading of the works of fiqh scholars who have provided counter narratives to the strictly prohibitive interpretations of homosexuality and transgenderism.[42]
  18. Butler argues that the critical feminist scholar has a double task: first, to show how knowledge and power constitute the way of ordering the world; and second, to follow 'the breaking points', moments of discontinuity and sites where workings of power fail and subversion emerges.[43] In fact, the move from 'gender is' to 'performativity of gender' is fundamental to the ability to address existing normative boundaries of feminist thinking and practice, feminist theory and feminist politics

      to trace the moments where the binary system of gender is disputed and challenged, where the coherence of the categories are put into question, and where the very social life of gender turns out to be malleable and transformable.[44]

  19. This hermeneutic reading of Islamic texts on gender are at variance from the normative readings of Islam and gender difference in Aceh. The rest of the article elaborates on the varying meanings that are given to the concepts of sex, gender and kodrat in the Acehnese context, which have a greater resemblance to Fakih's misreading of feminist literature. Gender (or jender) is a neologism in Indonesia, introduced as a consequence of global discourse, through the United Nations (UN) system, multilateral agencies as well as through academic and activist circles.

    What is gender?[45]

      Gender is a term that refers to social construction and values within a society about men's and women's roles. Gender does not mean sex, but gender implies that there are two sexes: men and women.[46]

  20. Gender refers to differences in roles, function and responsibilities between men and women. These differences are a result of a social construction and changes over time. Sex refers to sex difference between men and women, which is a biological, God-given destiny, and cannot be changed: menstruation, becoming pregnant, giving birth and breastfeeding.[47]
  21. In this section I locate the discourse of gender and gender equality which is articulated through the use of Islamic feminist discourse to make the concepts and ideas understandable and intelligible in the Acehnese context. One of the consequences of the formalisation of shari'ah law has been that public policies—gender policies included—construct Acehnese subjects according to codified interpretations of what constitutes a 'proper Muslim'. Religious discourse becomes a dominant medium through which concepts such as gender are being represented. I will focus on the following aspects: the use of the sex/gender binary together with the concept of kodrat (God's destiny/creation); definitions of women's kodrat; and use of the narrative of the creation of humanity to reiterate both the binary divide of the sexes and heteronormativity.
  22. The two definitions above illustrate a common way of defining gender; to draw a distinction between gender and the concept of sex. Sex is described as the biological differences between men and women and is thought to be universal, unchangeable, something that we are born with.[48] The dominant notion of bodies in gender policy documents draws from the biological explanations of the differentiated sexes and reiterates a position that these bodies are different and separate, oppositional and exclusionary. This notion of the binary division of sexes and genders, is reinforced with visual images (Figures 1 and 2).

    Figures 1 and 2. The logo used by the Ministry for Women's Empowerment (left), and the logo for the Bureau for Women's Empowerment in Aceh (right).[49]

  23. Whereas the Ministry uses a blue logo that differentiates female from male by breast, hip and long hair, the Bureau for Women's Empowerment in Aceh has adopted a green version in which the sex difference is reiterated through Muslim dress.
  24. A review of the various gender policy documents reveals that the narrative of introducing the sex/gender binary is often supported with visual symbols of male and female from biology, human figures recognisable due to a gendered dress code, physical appearance and so on. At times the binary is constructed with reference to 'natural' duality and the interdependence of things, such as that humans have two legs,[50] or that the Garuda eagle has two (gendered) wings and so on.[51] Gender documents commonly depict 'natural sex difference' through a representation of the division between primary and additional physical characteristics (see Table 1).

    Table 1. Sex difference, Biro Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Apa Itu Gender?, p. 1.

      Man Woman
    Primary physical characteristics Penis
    Vagina (lubang senggama)[52]
    Ovum (Sel telur)
    Additional physical characteristics Moustache and beard
    Broad chest
    Soft skin
    Wide pelvis

  25. The binary stability of two distinctive sexes and their primary physical characters (sex differences) is established by emphasising the naturalness of reproductive roles:

      Sex refers to sex differences between females and males which are biological, kodrat, blessings by God which cannot be changed, namely: menstruation; pregnancy; giving birth; and breast feeding.[53]

    Anatomical sex differences and the reproductive role are naturalised using the term kodrat; that is the intrinsic nature of woman and man established by 'God's will' and the 'creation of God'.[54] Most of the gender policy documents articulate the existence of kodrat only in relation to the female body and none challenge this normalised understanding of reproduction. Although kodrat is a social construction, it is built on various local ideals, yet often portrayed as universal and pre-discursive.[55]
  26. Having constructed the naturalness of duality of humans, the heterosexual partnership is further normalised using the interpretation of the first verse of al-Nisā, also known as the 'creation of humanity'.[56] This verse is one of the most quoted verses used by feminist scholars attempting to reinterpret misogynist readings of the Qur'an. The primary argumentation is that this feminist re-reading of the verse illustrates how equality between men and women is one of the basic principles of the Qur'an.[57]
  27. The first verse of al-Nisā narrates as:

      à yā ayyu-hā al-nās ittaqū rabba-kum al-ladhī khalaqa-kum min nafs wāhida wa khalaqa min-hā zawja-hā wa baththa min-humā rijā kathīr wa nisā’, wa ittaqū Allāh al-ladhī tasā’alūn bi-hī wa al-arhām.Innā Allāh kāna ‘alay-kum raqība.

    Commonly used Indonesian translation:

      Hai manusia, bertaqwalah kepada tuhanmu yang telah menciptakan kamu dari diri (nafs) yang satu, dan darina Allah menciptakan isterinya (zaujaha) dan dari kedua-duanya Allah mengembang biakkan laki-laki dan perempuan [emphasis added].[58]

  28. Two different English translations:

      O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) he created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)], and from the both He created many men and women; and fear Allah through Whom you demand (your mutual rights), and (do not cut the relations of) the wombs (kinship). Surely, Allah is Ever an All-Watcher over you [emphasis added].[59]

      Reverence, Your (Rabb), Who created you from a single nafs ('Person'), created, of like nature, [its] zawaj [mate] and from them twain, scattered (like seeds) Countless men and women; —Reverence God, through Whom Ye demand your mutual (rights) [emphasis added].[60]

  29. I elaborate above on three different reinterpretations articulated in the Acehnese context. First, by providing a historical analysis of the Hadith, it is argued that the interpretation that Hawa was created from the rib of Adam, originates from the biblical tradition (Genesis 2:18–24) and Isra'iliyyat stories rather than from pure Islamic reasoning.[61] Second, several scholars offer alternative interpretations of the verse arguing that Hawa was in fact made from the same material as Adam.[62]
  30. Third, in order to counter the notions of inequality between men and women, Nurjannah Ismail provides an analysis of the verse Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1 and of the concepts of nafs wahidah and zaujah, commonly interpreted as Adam (man) and Hawa (woman).[63] Using feminist interpretations provided by Riffat Hassan and Amina Wadud, Ismail argues that the important question is not about who was created first, but rather whether Hawa was created from the same soil as Adam, or whether was she created from part of Adam's body. Ismail argues that the concept of nafs wahidan does not refer to Adam, because the term is neutral in gender and singular, and thus, does not automatically refer to a man or woman, but rather to a single soul. Similarly the word zauj is neutral in gender and is used in the Qur'an to refer to mate, partner or group.[64] Ismail concludes that Adam and Hawa were created from the same substance, and thus there were no differences between the two of them.[65]
  31. Raihan Putry Muhammad, a lecturer at Ar-Raniry University in Banda Aceh and the former head of the Bureau for Women's Empowerment and Child Protection in Aceh, uses the same verse arguing that both women and men have human rights since both are from the same origin and both are God's creations. Muhammad aligns herself with Amina Wadud's interpretation and argues that women and men have equal tasks and responsibilities and in the end will both receive a just reward from God. However, the argument that men and women are from the same soul is used to further argue that each is needed to compliment the shortages or inadequacies of the other.[66] According to this idea, Hawa/Eve was not an addition to Adam's creation, but an integral part of it: the two could not be separated from each other. Using Sheikh Abdurrauf's interpretation of the verses Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1, Q.S. al-Baqara [2]:30 and Q.S. az-Zuriyat [51]:56, Muhammad (2005) concludes that 'men and women have the same status within the existence of humanity,' and further that this is confirmed in a Hadith originating from Ahmad, Abu Daud and Tarmizi: 'Indeed, women are men's “sisters with womb".'[67]
  32. Remarkably, according to this view, the reproductive parts of the female body (womb) remain at the core of human relations. Similarly gender policy documents of the Indonesian central and Acehnese provincial government construct the idea of men and women as a complementary relationship and partnership. For example,

      Indeed Allah created creatures in this world always in pairs, there is day and there is night, there is sun and there is moon, there is earth and there is heaven, there are men and there are women. All these are signs of the greatness of Allah.[68]

      In its essence, humanity was created to become women and men. The two were created as different [from one another].[69]

      Shari'a Islam positions relations between women and men within the domestic sphere as a husband and a wife, which forms the basic principle of equality.[70]

  33. The idea of equilibrium, or balance, is constructed using concepts of partnership (kemitraan) and harmony in relations between men and women.[71] With a closer look, the government's policy documents emphasise that this approach does not create conflicts of interest between men and women, 'because the two have to work together in partnership and harmony within the norms of family, society, nation and the state.'[72] Gender equality is seen in the context of the ideals of Indonesian citizenship and the naturalness of sex differentiation between men and women, thus valorising heteronormativity.
  34. The government's gender policy documents show continuity from the New Order in that they continuously emphasise social harmony, partnership and the combination of both. For instance, harmonious partnership is a dominant feature of gender policy documents and national development policies in general. Such norms also have resonance in state discourse on national unity and the Indonesian and Acehnese character.[73] Social practices in the Indonesian Archipelago put emphasis on unity and social harmony. Disturbance to the seemingly harmonious situation can be caused by 'knowledge of facts that might rupture the tenuous and unstable religious or social consensus.'[74] As long as people are not confronted with certain behaviours or ways of life, those who make those choices are not condemned. It is common practice to value silence about sexualities and to hide the negative side of heteronormative relations which mask violence and discrimination.[75] Such silence can potentially provide a positive openness for subverting the norms regarding private space but it also isolates and potentially discriminates.
  35. The government discourse impacts on gender advocacy using Islamic feminist interpretations to argue for equality between men and women. Providing evidence that Adam and Hawa were created equals in the eyes of the God, reiterates the idea of 'equal partnership between men and women' and the 'naturalness of two sexes'. Although it is designed to argue for equality between men and women, this reading of the Qur'anic verse also naturalises heteronormativity. The next section will illustrate how local gender activism by waria (male-to-female transgender) at the celebration of the International Women's Day in 2007 in Banda Aceh and the reinterpretation of the verse Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1 subvert the heteronormative uses of the concept of gender. The analysis focuses on the celebration of International Women's Day in Banda Aceh in 2007 through which the concept of kodrat was subverted and the shari'ah law-inspired normative violence was made visible.

    Subversive gender advocacy in Aceh
  36. Until 1965, International Women's day (IWD) was widely celebrated in Indonesia on 8 March, at which time the incoming Suharto's regime banned it, due to its assumed ideological association with communism. In the post-Suharto period, Indonesian women activists have used the IWD to support Acehnese women's peace activism during the armed conflict in Aceh.[76] In Aceh, the activism around the IWD emerged in the aftermath of the tsunami and the peace process negotiated in 2005. In 2007, the Banda Aceh-based Gender Working Group prepared a gender analysis of the reconstruction and rehabilitation process for IWD, pointing out the missed opportunities of past efforts. They recommended a clear focus on women's concerns, such as ending violence against women and raising concerns about the discriminatory implementation of shari'ah law.[77] After a 'long march' across town, the evaluation report was presented to the governor on IWD. Banners held by the participants included: 'End the violence against women' (Figure 3) and 'only kodrat differentiates men and women from each other'.[78] These banners were indicative of the politics of mainstream women's empowerment and gender advocacy activism in Aceh, highlighting the continuing violence against women and hard-line interpretations of the gender roles of men and women using literal interpretations of the Qur'an.

    Figure 3. The IWD 2007 demonstration with a banner 'Celebrating International Women's Day: End Violence Against Women'. Gender Working Group. Photographer: Qahar Muzakar, Bungöng: Perempuan Menggugat!, no. 2, year 1 (March 2007): 4.

  37. What is remarkable about the event, however, is, that for the first time, waria (male-to-female transgender), joined the Gender Working Group demonstration with a banner 'Waria are humans too'[79], requesting authorities to stop the use of violence against transgendered people.[80] The first reading of the statement 'waria are humans too' could rather easily be read as an attempt to demand that the governor include and hear them in the overall post-tsunami reconstruction context as waria.[81] This demand could also be seen as a continuation of a longer process of campaigning for recognition of waria as citizens of Indonesia/Aceh. In 1997, the Association of Waria (Himpunan Waria Musyawarah Keluarga Gotong Royong) asked the Social Department of the Republic Indonesia to acknowledge them as an identity group and to recognise their existence as a kodrat.[82] The central Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI) in Jakarta issued a fatwa (opinion), referencing al- Bukhārī[83] and stating that men who behave and dress intentionally as women are forbidden (haram) and banned by the religion. The MUI requested that those who deviate should revert to their original kodrat, with the help of psychologists and demanded that the waria organisation be dissolved.
  38. The waria's statement can also be seen to have subversive elements, in the specific context of Aceh. First, it can be seen as an attempt to subvert the meaning of the 'human' and to support this claim. In the next section I review the new interpretations of the verse Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1 by Indonesian Islamic feminist scholars, who subvert the meanings of what is 'God given', or kodrat. Here I argue, the banner 'waria are humans too' could also be read as a subversive act in relation to feminism and gender advocacy; subversion of the heterosexual matrix of gender advocacy and women's activism, focusing on the regulatory norms and mechanisms that have clear consequences for a queer body. Thus, the statement can also be read as resistance to normativity and exclusion, making the legacy of trauma and violence visible yet,[84] without falling into the trap of global LBGTI identity politics and western coding of sexual practices and affective relations.[85]

    Subverting the kodrat and binary gender norms
  39. I now wish to demonstrate how recent Indonesian feminist scholarship has produced new readings of the verse Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1. Those readings have implications for what is considered as 'God given', or kodrat.[86] Using a closer reading of the analysis of Gunawan Adnan and the recent queer-friendly reading by Indonesian Islamic feminist scholar Siti Musdah Mulia, I illustrate how the verse can take the Islamic feminist interpretation beyond the heteronormative binary of the sexes.
  40. Gunawan Adnan provides a hermeneutic analysis of the concept of gender equality by analysing the work of the two interpreters/commentators (mufassir), Sheikh Muhammad Mutawali al-Sha‘rāwī (1911–1998) and Sheikh Hasbi as-Siddiqi (1905–1975). He examines their interpretations of the surah an-Nisā and compares them with four Islamic feminist thinkers Amina Wadud, Asghar Ali Engineer, Riffat Hassan and Sharur. Adnan provides an extensive account of the pre-Islamic Arab culture and identifies the epistemological and methodological backgrounds of the different interpretative frameworks. As for the verse Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1, Adnan argues that, Adam and Eve/Hawa are not specifically mentioned in this verse at all. Thus, to read the verse as narrating the creation of Adam and Hawa comes from the reading of other verses such as Q.S. Al-Baqara [2]:30, or Q.S. al-'Imran[3]:59, and from a Hadith which explicitly states that Hawa (woman) was created from the rib of Adam.[87]
  41. Riffat Hassan's article 'Equal Before Allah?' provides further evidence. Hassan argues that nowhere in that verse is it stated that Adam was the first human being, or that Adam was a male, as the term 'Adam' although being a masculine noun, is not the same as a masculine 'sex'. Furthermore, zauj is not necessarily a woman, as the term is a masculine noun, and has a feminine version zaujatun. Also, zauj, according to Hassan, should not be translated as a 'wife', 'husband' or 'spouse' but as a 'mate'. In fact, Hassan argues, zauj is used not only to refer to humans but all creations, including animals, plants and fruits.[88] Remarkably, this wider conceptualisation opens up the possibility of questioning the 'naturalised' binaries between human/nature, human/non-human and the overall anthropocentrism of feminism, the idea that feminism is focused on humans.[89]
  42. Instead of using the verse to reiterate the creation of sex differentiation and binary sexes (Adam and Hawa), in Hassan's re-reading of the verse is used to refer to all God's creations, opening the way for the questioning of the sexual duality of human creations, and emphasising the partnership between all creations. This potentiality is taken up by Indonesian feminist scholar, Siti Musdah Mulia, which she later repeated in the informal discussions with the small, but vibrant LBGTI activist group in Aceh, where she argued that the the Indonesian translation of the verse reproduces heteronormative terminology; using the words Adam and Hawa and sometimes equating them with 'husband' and 'wife'.[90] Taking on board Hassan's suggestion to use the word 'mate' instead, Mulia argued that one could read the verse on relationships to go beyond the heterosexual partnership of a wife and a husband.
  43. This is in line with the argument made by a feminist Sufi scholar Sa'ddiya Shaikh who has maintained that although rights-based critique of Islamic traditions are needed, Islamic feminism requires a 'comprehensive structural critique that interrogates foundational premises and the nature of dominant fiqh [jurisprudence] structures, such as notions of 'human being' and 'gender difference'.'[91] Although Sufism has a long history in Aceh, in the contemporary context of formalisation of shari'ah Islam, no Islamic feminist accounts in Aceh specifically refer to Sufism as having potential for alternative feminist interpretations of Islam as text and law.[92] Acehnese folklore includes narratives about human beings with supernatural powers, transforming themselves into other bodily forms (both human and non-human), having multiple and flexible identities, having the power of invisibility and invulnerability. Many of those creatures are females who have chosen ascetic life outside the bonds of familial relations and worldly power; that is outside of the heteronormative household setting.[93]
  44. In conclusion, sex difference is both intentionally reiterated and subverted in the narratives of the creation of humanity. Butler has argued that attempts to destroy the dominant narrative in order to give 'rise to [a] more humane and radical set of gender practices' does not work, as it would only 'reiterate a culture of divide that makes no analysis possible.'[94] For Butler, another way forward is to engage with the narrative (the verse), and see what alternative readings are possible. She concludes:

      let a thousand conflicts of interpretation bloom … not because pluralism alone will ease our minds but because the proliferation of possible interpretations may well lead to the subversion of an authority that grounds itself in what may not be questioned. In such a world, questions, loud and clear, remain intrinsic goods.[95]

  45. Thus, a closer reading of Riffat Hassan's argument allows an alternative account, going beyond the normative boundary set out in the gender documents that draw from the same verse. The statement 'waria are humans too' actively challenges the feminist practices of reading bodies through the heteronormative matrix: binary and naturalness of two sexes and two genders.[96] Although visible throughout the Indonesian Archipelago including Aceh, waria remain invisible and excluded within the gender mainstreaming framework and most public policies. It is significant that none of the organisations working on gender issues in post-tsunami Aceh have included waria as a category in their gender analysis, official documents or advocacy. As noted by Sa'ddiya Shaikh, 'recovering marginalised histories is invaluable for those living religious communities who want to create new, expansive visions and future possibilities for their own humanity within their traditions.'[97]

    Making the experiences of violence visible
  46. Another way to interpret the statement, 'waria are humans too', is to focus on the experiences of violence (understood both as physical and psychological) that are particularly related to the formalisation of shari'ah law in Aceh since 1999. In 2006, Aceh- and Jakarta-based media, as well as international media, covered cases of violence in relation to the implementation of shari'ah law in Aceh. These acts of violence (both physical and psychological) specifically targetted women and waria. Women were harassed if they did not conform to the newly-regulated Muslim dress code (wearing a jilbab [tight veil]) and avoiding tight jeans or trousers; or if they were suspected of having intimate relationships outside marriage. Women activists complained that the shari'ah police were specifically targeting women: women were stopped when walking alone in the evenings, or if they were not wearing jilbab or not adhering to the separation of sexes at public events. In February 2006, three women activists at the peace education workshop organised by the United Nations Development PRogram (UNDP) were seized in Banda Aceh for not wearing jilbab.[98]
  47. Since the formalisation of shari'ah law and active advocacy has been made of its full implementation by some student organisations, religious groups and political parties, there has been an increase in public intimidation and direct violence towards waria and the male to female transgender community generally, who have been verbally and physically harassed and had their ID cards confiscated. It was reported that local vigilante groups carried out similar moral policing in the name of the implementation of shari'ah law.
  48. Waria have historically had a relatively public role in the Acehnese society. For instance, two popular Acehnese dances, usually performed in weddings, biola Aceh (Acehnese violin) and seudati, perform cross dressing/male femininity. In contemporary Aceh, cross-dressing or crossing the sexed and gendered binary is publicly condemned based on the reading of the Qur'an according to which there should be clearly demarcated boundaries between the two sexes. As a consequence, the two dance forms have gone through significant changes or have been banned. Margaret Kartomi relates these changes directly to the formalisation of shari'ah law and the interpretations by Wahhabi and other orthodox ulama according to whom the wearing of female clothes is forbidden for men.[99] Michael Peletz, in his analysis of religious regulatory processes in Malaysia, has called it the 'cleansing of locally defined masculinities, femininities and sexualities.'[100]
  49. Further, the Ulama Council in Aceh (Majelis Permusyawaratan Ulama, MPU) ruled in 2008 that all transgendered people and transvestites (bencong) have to have a complete set of female genitalia through a surgical operation in order to complete their status as 'proper women' and that waria should comply with Muslim dress regulations for women.[101] Further, the head of the Achenese Ulama Council (Majelis Permusyawaratan Ulama, MPU), H. Muslem, interpreted the Qur'an as saying that there are three 'types' of gender transformations that are recognised: one who changes from male to female; one who changes from female to male; and those who are neutral (musaqqal). Waria, according to this perspective, are part of humanity, but their gender has to be confirmed, since 'whoever is not woman or man is sick and has to be treated/cured.'[102] The head of the MUP mentioned waria in conjunction with gays and lesbians stipulating that if waria, gays and lesbians violate shari'ah law, they will be prosecuted, as will anybody else who violates the law.
  50. Furthermore, the Social Affairs Department in Aceh (Dinas Sosial) in 2001 recognised the waria as one of the groups that requires 'reintegration', or a return to 'normal society': the Acehnese regulation number 23/2001 mandates one section of the Social Department to 'serve, construct and develop former convicts, child convicts, tramps, beggars, prostitutes, waria and scavengers.'[103] Furthermore, the formalisation of shari'ah law has had a specific gendered impact on the waria and their livelihoods. Local regulation 11/2002, known as the Qanun 11, prohibits mixed-sex salons and massage parlours in Aceh. Beauty salons have been one of the major sources of livelihood for waria, and largely the only occupation where they are accepted.[104]
  51. These pronouncements point to the wider threat to waria, of forced surgical operations and reparative therapies, a common form of homophobia in different parts of the world, including in Indonesia. This can be seen as a conscious attempt to return the 'deviant forms' of sex and gender back to the dominant binary understanding. As long as gender policies reiterate the construction of a binary of sexes using the anatomical distinction, this normative violence remains invisible.[105]
  52. In January 2007, two suspected gays were beaten up and sexually abused by both the residents of a local community and the local Banda Aceh police. During this incident, the two victims were subjected to forced oral sex, which was videoed by the police.[106] The Acehnese victim 'went into hiding' and did not want to press charges against the police but the non-Acehnese victim fled to Jakarta and raised the issue of violence conducted in the name of punishing abnormal sexualities and genders, taking the case through the Acehnese court system. In court, the judge lectured the victim, pronouncing that the police had 'done the right thing in their treatment of him, thereby preventing another tsunami hitting Aceh.'[107] The three police officers were sentenced for a 'minor offence' and fines equivalent to that given for a failure to wear a motorbike helmet on the road (Rp.1,000 each, equivalent to €0,06). The allegation of torture made by the victim was not upheld. Open discussion about this case on the Gender Working Group, a Banda Aceh-based gender advocacy network, e-mail list has lead to further intimidation of the victim perpetrated by a list member using a pseudonym. The debate caused division among the active members of the list and was reflected in the interviews I did. Some list members condemned the 'LBGTI issues' as haram (forbidden), did not want to be involved in the discussions and requested that the moderator remove the topic from the list. Others condemned the issues in public, but remained supportive of the case in private, and yet others have openly supported the victim, for example, by attending the court session in November 2008.
  53. A further development in Aceh was the passage of the Islamic Criminal Legal Code (Qanun Jinayah) by the provincial parliament in September 2009. This proposed law criminalises all sex outside of marriage alongside consensual same-sex acts. Married adulterers can be punished by stoning to death and consensual sexual conduct (non-married adultery, same-sex relations) is punishable with 100 lashes, a fine of 1.000 grams of gold, or 100 months of prison.[108] Both supporters and opponents of the bill demonstrated in front of the provincial parliament house at the time the bill was debated. Some anti-bill demonstrators said they were shouted at by pro-bill demonstrators for being 'kafirs'.[109] The governor refused to sign the bill, and the bill has since been subject to redrafting for several years, but the provincial parliament did not include the draft bill into its list of priorities for the year 2012.
  54. Recognising discrimination faced by waria as part of 'gender-based violence analysis' would transform what 'gender analysis', or gender advocacy, could consist of in Aceh. During the IWD demonstration in 2007, a representative of the Waria Beauty Salon Association attempted to raise awareness of the arrests and intimidation by shari'ah police (Wilayatul Hisbah, also known as WH) in waria-run salons. Furthermore, Violet Grey, another Banda Aceh-based LGBTI advocacy group that was established in 2008 has actively participated in both the HIV/AIDS day in December 2008 and in the IWD celebration in 2009 in order to continue raising the issue of violence and the corresponding economic and social impacts that general discrimination has on them.
  55. These examples are relevant to the discussion on subversion of dominant gender advocacy discourse because they illustrate that the implementation of shari'ah law has led to direct intimidation/violence of those who transgress the normative boundaries of sex and gender and the heterosexual matrix. These encounters with the norm raise an important question about the boundaries of 'gender advocacy', namely: whose experience of violence is taken into account? For many gender mainstreaming advocates, violence is either framed as 'violence against women', or as 'domestic violence' within the heteronormative framework, where the man is the perpetrator and woman is the victim.[110] A closer examination of the formulations of the legal frameworks, however, suggests that in order to 'sustain liveable life', attention must shift towards a wider critique of the consequences of normative violence that results from the implementation of shari'ah law. This is not to dismiss the important advocacy that already exists on the question of gender-based violence. However, the banner 'waria are humans too' and the narratives on normative and physical violence not only challenge notions of what is considered to be worth advocating, but it also challenges feminism with fundamental questions: why is some violence ignored and other violence selected as the focus of gender advocacy campaigns? Asking this question pushes feminist activism and theory to interrogate its normative boundaries and to consider alternatives for ethical feminist engagement.
  56. In the Acehnese context, it is significant that female-to-male transgendered, bisexual and lesbian relationships are kept out of the public eye. The invisibility was remarkable throughout my fieldwork in Aceh between 2006 and 2009. Closer attention to remarks made in interviews, discussions and meetings, revealed that the invisibility did not mean 'one does not exist'. In fact, invisibility/inaudibility could be regarded as a form of subversion that creates political space through withdrawal from the public sphere.[111] As pointed out by some interviewees, women's organising had provided private and safe spaces for the discussions of same-sex relations and female sexuality without turning it into an openly declared identity politics of female sexuality.[112] These spaces were highly protected from the outside gaze, including from researchers like myself, yet their existence was expressed in various interviews and encounters with subtle expressions and gestures.

  57. This article has had two aims: first, to illustrate how gender equality discourse in Aceh uses kodrat and Islamic feminist discourse to construct naturalised division between sex and gender, and a binary between two sexes; and second, how these constructs are subverted by denaturalising the dominant understandings of kodrat, reinterpreting the narrative of the creation of humanity, making shari'ah-inspired violence visible, and challenging the priority given to gender in feminist analysis.
  58. Drawing on Butler's notions of normativity and subversion, this article has focused on the constant negotiation of normative boundaries of gender policies. The effect of the formalisation of shari'ah Islam in Aceh is that those who possess the authority to provide Islamic interpretations (jurisprudence) of what constitutes 'nurture' and 'nature' or natural focus for feminist analysis, have gained new space in formulating normative boundaries for what 'gender politics' can consist of.
  59. This poses an ethical question to those supporting gender mainstreaming initiatives. What are its social consequences for those who fall outside the normative definitions of 'gender', when it is articulated through religious norms and an assumption of stable concepts. Therefore, instead of celebrating the increased acknowledgement of gender-mainstreaming policy as a win for feminism, this article suggests that a closer look at the subversive acts of gender advocacy, offers insights into the locally emerging re-conceptualisation of feminist and gender politics in the margins.


    [1] The author wishes to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors of the special issue for their valuable comments. The article's previous version was presented at the 4th Christina Conference on Gender Studies – Gender, Nature and Culture, 20–22 May 2010, University of Helsinki, Finland.

    [2] Ministry of Women's Empowerment, Technical Guideline for Implementation of Presidential Instruction Number 9 Year 2000 on Gender Mainstreaming in National Development, No. B-89/Men.PP/Dep.II/IX/2002, 2 September 2002, p. 61. A presidential instruction is an important tool within the Indonesian legal system for concretising the approved national laws and ratifying international conventions.

    [3] United Nations, Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action with the Beijing +5 Political Declaration and Outcome Document, New York: Department of Public Information United Nations: United Nations (n.d.), pp. 115–21.

    [4] United Nations, World Conference of the International Women's Year: Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace, United Nations, E/CONF.66/34, 2 July 1975, p. 14, paragraph 34, online:, accessed March 2010.

    [5] Kathryn Robinson, Gender, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia, London: Routledge, 2009; Sally White and Maria Ulfah Anshor, 'Islam and gender in contemporary Indonesia: public discourses on duties, rights and morality,' in Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia, ed. Greg Fealy and Sally White, Singapore: Institute of Spoutheast Asian Studies (ISEAS), 2008, pp. 137–58.

    [6] In 2008 Biro Pemberdayaan Perempuan (BPP) was renamed Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Board, Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak (BPPPA/B3PA).

    [7] Efendi Hasan, 'Ada apa dengan gender? (What's with the gender?),' in Timang: Aceh, Perempuan, Kesetaraan (Just: Aceh, Women, Equality), ed. Fajran Zain and Saiful Mahdi, Banda Aceh: Aceh Institute Press, 2008, pp. 3–14.

    [8] Raihan Putry Ali Muhammad, Gender dalam Perspektif Islam? (Gender From the Perspective of Islam), Banda Aceh: Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak, Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, 2008 [2001], p. ii; Raihan Putry Ali Muhammad, Relasi Gender Dalam Masyarakat Aceh (Perspektif Islam) (Gender Relations within the Acehnese Society (Islamic Perspective)), Banda Aceh: Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak, Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, 2008, p. 1.

    [9] Interview with Consultant/Activist/Director of a local NGO, Banda Aceh, 28 October 2008.

    [10] See Susan Blackburn, Women and the State in Modern Indonesia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004; Saskia E. Wieringa, Sexual Politics in Indonesia, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002; Kathryn Robinson, 'Indonesian national identity and the citizen mother,' in Communal/Plural, vol. 3 (1995): 65–81.

    [11] Robinson, Gender, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia; White and Anshor, 'Islam and gender in contemporary Indonesia.'

    [12] See Tom Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia, Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005; Tom Boellstorff, A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007; Evelyn Blackwood, Falling into the Lesbi World: Desire and Difference in Indonesia, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2010.

    [13] Robinson, Gender, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia, p. 165.

    [14] Blackburn, Women and the State in Modern Indonesia, pp. 25–26.

    [15] Saskia E. Wieringa, 'The birth of the New Order State in Indonesia. Sexual politics and nationalism,' Journal of Women's History, vol. 15, no. 1 (2003): 70–91, p. 72; Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, 'Gender and pluralism in Indonesia,' in The Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, ed. Robert W. Hefner, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, pp. 253–67. For a discussion on how kodrat and fitrah (natural or original charasteristics) are discussed in mainstream books justifying biological essentialism and gender division, based on perceived natural differences between the two sexes, see Sally White, 'Gender and the family,' in Voices of Islam in Southeast Asia: A Contemporary Sourcebook, ed. Greg Fealy and Virginia Hooker, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006, pp. 273–352.

    [16] See Edriana Noerdin, 'Women in the decentralized Aceh,' in Decentralization as a Narrative of Opportunity for Women in Indonesia, ed. Edriana Noerdin and Sita Aripurnami, Jakarta: Women's Research Institute, 2007, pp. 173–217.

    [17] Throughout this article the term 'Islamic feminist/feminism' is used to describe women's activism grounded in the Islamic tradition. See Pieternella van Doorn-Harder, Women Shaping Islam: Reading the Qur'an in Indonesia, Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 2006, pp. 7–8. It is important to recognise that 'Muslim feminist/feminism' is used by other scholars. See Farid Muttaqin, 'Progressive Muslim feminists in Indonesia from pioneering to the next agenda,' MA thesis, Center for International Studies, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 2008. Other scholars refuse to be named as feminists. See Ama Barlas, 'Engaging Islamic feminism: provincialization feminism as a master narrative,' in Islamic Feminism: Current Perspectives, ed. Anitta Kynsilehto, Tampere Peace Research Institute Occasional Paper No. 96, Tampere: Juvenes Print, 2008.

    [18] Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1.

    [19] Michael Feener and Mark Cammack. 'Introduction: Islamic law in Indonesia: formations of a modern tradition?' In Islamic Law in Contemporary Indonesia: Ideas and Institutions, ed. Michael Feener and Mark Cammack., Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 1–26; K.H. Husein Muhammad, Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir, Lies Marcoes Natsir and Marzuki Wahid, Dawrah Fiqh Concerning Women: Manual for a Course on Islam and Gender, Cirebon: Fahmina Institute, 2007.

    [20] See Saba Mahmood, Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject, Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005; Etin Anwar, Gender and Self in Islam, Oxon: Routledge, 2006; Ellen T. Armour and Susan M. St. Ville, 'Introduction,' in Bodily Citations: Religion and Judith Butler, ed. Ellen T. Armour and Susan M. St. Ville, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006, pp. xiii–xxi.

    [21] On the feminist theory of sexual difference, see Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2004, p. 207.

    [22] Judith Butler, 'Contingent foundations: feminism and the question of "postmodernism",' in Feminists Theorize the Political, ed. Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 3–21, p. 15.

    [23] Gender and Development (GAD) discourse refers to approaches adopted in development aid policy and programmes that focus on the socially constructed differences between men and women. GAD is said to have emerged as a critique towards the Women in Development (WID) approach, focussing on the integration of women into development processes. WID had emerged into development policies and programs after a strong lobbying by liberal feminist activists in the global North. For details see Hazel Reeves and Sally Baden, 'Gender and development: concepts and definitions,' in Institute of Development Studies: University of Essex, Bridge Development – Gender Report no. 55, 2000.

    [24] Joan Eveline and Carol Bacchi, 'What are we mainstreaming when we mainstream gender?' International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (2005): 496–512; Judith Squires, Gender in Political Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999, pp. 54–55.

    [25] Jane Flax, 'Postmodernism and gender relations in feminist theory,' in Feminisms, ed. Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 170–78, p. 175.

    [26] Mansour Fakih, Analisis Gender & Transformasi Sosial (Gender Anakysus and Social Transformation), Yogyakarta: Pustaka Pelajar, 1996, p. 71. Translations from Indonesian to English by the author of the article if not otherwise mentioned.

    [27] Ann Oakley, Sex, Gender and Society: Towards a New Society, London: Temple Smith, 1972, p. 158.

    [28] Judith Butler, 'Contingent foundations: feminism and the question of "postmodernism",' in Feminists Theorize the Political, ed. Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 3–21.

    [29] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1999 [1990], p. viii.

    [30] Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 208, note 6.

    [31] Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex, London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 4–5.

    [32] Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 9.

    [33] Judith Butler, 'Gendering the body: Beauvoir's philosophical contribution,' in Women, Knowledge and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, ed. Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall, London: Routledge, 1992 [1989], pp. 253–62.

    [34] Samuel A. Chambers, 'A queer politics of the democratic miscount,' borderlands e-journal, vol. 8, no. 2 (2009): 1–23, p. 2.

    [35] Samuel A. Chambers and Terrell Carver, Judith Butler and Political Theory: Troubling Politics, Oxon: Routledge, 2008, p. 134.

    [36] Chambers and Carver, Judith Butler and Political Theory, pp. 129, 134.

    [37] Etin Anwar, Gender and Self in Islam, Oxon: Routledge, 2006.

    [38] Anwar, Gender and Self in Islam, p. 3.

    [39] Anwar, Gender and Self in Islam, p. 94.

    [40] Anwar, Gender and Self in Islam, pp. 118–20.

    [41] Meena Sharify-Funk, Encountering the Transnational: Women, Islam and the Politics of Interpretation, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2008, p. 23.

    [42] Samar Habib, Female Homosexuality in the Middle East: Histories and Representations, Oxon: Routledge, 2007; Samar Habib, 'Queer-friendly Islamic hermeneutics,' ISIM Review, vol. 21 (Spring 2008): 32–33.

    [43] Butler, Undoing Gender, p. 215.

    [44] Butler, Undoing Gender, p. 216.

    [45] This title draws on the title of the publication of the Bureau for Women's Empowerment, What is Gender? which aimed at introducing the concept for the Acehnese provincial government.

    [46] Kelompok Kerja Gender, Gender & Konflik Pasca Bencana (Gender and conflict in the post-earthquake context), brochure, no date.

    [47] Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak, Gender — Apa Itu Gender? (Gender — What is Gender?), Banda Aceh: Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak, Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, 2008.

    [48] Agency for the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Aceh and Nias, 'Policy and strategy paper: promoting gender equality in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process of Aceh and Nias,' Bureau of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction for Aceh and Nias, September 2006, unpublished document.

    [49] Ministry of Women's Empowerment, Technical Guideline; Biro Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Apa gender, itu gender: kesetaraan dan keadilan (What is gender? This is gender: equality and justice), Biro Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Sekretariat Daerah Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, no date. For detailed analysis of this logo in relation to constructs of 'modernity', 'moderate Muslim' identity and the 'heteronormative harmonious home' see Marjaana Jauhola, 'Building back better?–Negotiating normative boundaries of gender mainstreaming and post-tsunami reconstruction in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, Indonesia,' Review of International Studies, vol. 36, no. 1 (2010): 29–50; and Jauhola, A. Bergman and J. Juntunen, 'This is gender,' on YouTube, online:, accessed 2 October 2012.

    [50] Interview with Researcher/Activist, Lhokseumawe, 24 October 2008.

    [51] See Jauhola, 'Building back better?' for analysis of the use of the Garuda bird, Indonesia's national symbol, whose wings have been constructed as gendered and heteronormative in the context of national development and progress.

    [52] Lubang refers literally to a 'hole' and could also thus mean 'womb' but the function of the organ is made specific by combining it with the word 'senggama' which translates into 'sexual intercourse or coitus', normalising the womb's natural function as being for sexual intercourse,, E-kamus (Electronic English-Indonesian-English dictionary), online:, accessed March 2010.

    [53] Kementerian Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Apa itu Gender (What is Gender), brochure, no date; Biro Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Gender–Apa Itu Gender?

    [54] Biro Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Gender– pa Itu Gender?; Sylvia Tiwon, 'Models and maniacs: articulating the female in Indonesia,' in Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, ed. Laurie J. Sears, London: Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 47–70, p. 48.

    [55] Wieringa, The Birth of the New Order State, p. 72; Dzuhayatin, Gender and Pluralism in Indonesia, pp. 256–60. For a discussion on how kodrat and fitrah (natural or original charasteristics) are discussed in mainstream books justifying biological essentialism and gender division based on the natural difference of two sexes, see White, Gender and the Family.

    [56] Q.S. al-Nisā [4]:1.

    [57] Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir, Hadith and Gender Justice: Understanding the Prophetic Traditions, Cirebon: Fahmina Institute, 2007, p. 22.

    [58] Teugku H. Gazali Mohd. Syam, Peran Ulama Dalam Mewujudkan Kesetaraan dan Keadilan Gender (KKG) Yang Berspektif Islam Menuju Keluarga Sakinah Mawaddah Warahmah (The Role of Ulamas in Improving Gender Equality and Equity with the Islamic Perspective Aiming Towards Prosperous Family That Has Love and Compassion), Suara An-Nisa Agustus 2007, p. 7.

    [59] Gunawan Adnan, Women and the Glorious Qur'an: An Analytical Study of Women-Related Verses of Sura An-Nisa, Göttingen: Universitätsdrucke Göttingen, 2004, p. 9.

    [60] Asma Barlas, Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002, p. 133.

    [61] Lily Zakiyah Munir, Islam, Gender and Formal Shari'a in Indonesia, Law Emory, no date, online,, accessed March 2010.

    [62] Nurjannah Ismail, 'Keadilan Gender Dalam Syari'at Islam' (Gender Justice within Syari'at Islam), in Dinamika dan Problematika Penerapan Syariat Islam (Dynamics and Problems with Implementation of Shari'a Islam), ed. H. Syamsul Rijal, Banda Aceh: Dinas Syariat Islam Provinsi Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, 2007, pp. 24–49; Nurjannah Ismail, 'Keadilan Islam dalam Syariat Islam' (Islamic Justice within the Shari'a Islam), in Perspektif Pemikiran Ulama Perempuan Aceh (Perspectives of Acehnese Female Ulamas), Banda Aceh: Mitra Sejati Perempuan Indonesia (MiSPI), 2008: 61–94, p. 72; Mustabsyirah M. Husein, 'Asas Egaliter dalam Pemahaman Teks-teks Suci Tentang Issue Gender' (Equalitarian Foundation with the Understanding of the Holy Texts on the Issue Gender), in Perspektif Pemikiran Ulama Perempuan Aceh (Perspectives of Acehnese Female Ulamas), Banda Aceh: Mitra Sejati Perempuan Indonesia (MiSPI), 2008: 37–60, pp. 40–45; Mahdi Danial and Usamma'h, Pelaksanaan Syari'at Islam dan Kekerasaan di Aceh, online,, accessed November 2009, p. 8; Adnan, Women and the Glorious Qur'an, p. 76.

    [63] Ismail, 'Keadilan Gender.'

    [64] Ismail, 'Keadilan Gender,' p. 69.

    [65] Ismail, 'Keadilan Gender,' p. 30; see also Adnan, Women and the Glorious Qur'an, pp. 157–58.

    [66] Raihan Putry Ali Muhammad, Peningkatan Kualitas Sumber Daya Perempuan Suatu Upaya Mewujudkan Kesetaraan dan Keadilan Gender (Improving the Women's Resources through Realising Gender Equality and Equity), Suara An-Nisa 2005 (Agustus), p. 27; see also Adnan, Women and the Glorious Qur'an, p. 159.

    [67] The word kandungan refers to pregnancy, uterus, gestation and womb. In the Indonesian translation of the verse Q.S. an-Nisā [4]:1 the word kandungan is replaced with the word silaturahmi, which refers to fellowship, friendship and fraternity. The root word rahim means womb.

    [68] Kementerian Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Apa itu gender.

    [69] Badan Koordinasi Keluarga Berencana Nasional, Kementerian Negara Pemberdayaan Perempuan and United Nations Population Fund, Bahan Pembelajaran Pengarusutamaan Gender (Material for learning Gender Mainstreaming), Jakarta, 2005, p. 3.

    [70] Muhammad, Relasi Gender, p. 3.

    [71] Partnership, or mutual respect, in the gender policy documents is reserved for describing the relationship between husband and wife, as the storyline illustrates. A closer look reveals that the word partnership (kemitraan) seems to be a very specific interpretation of a Qur'anic concept ta'arafu (Q.S. al -Hujurat [49]:13). See H. Badruzzaman Ismail, 'Gender dalam budaya masyarakat Aceh' (Gender Within the Acehnese Culture), Suara An-Nisa Agustus, 2006, pp. 18–19; Muhammad, Gender dalam Perspektif Islam, p. 4. Ta'arafu often translates into English as 'you may know each other' or 'mutual knowing of one another'. In wider Islamic discussions on pluralism and equality, the same concept is used to emphasise unity and understanding amongst people, reciprocity, or even the 'ethical principle of right to just treatment and responsibility to be just to others.' See Amina Wadud, 'Islam beyond patriarchy through gender inclusive Qur'anic analysis,' in Wanted: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, ed. Zainah Anwar, Kuala Lumpur: Sisters in Islam, 2009, pp. 95–112, p. 102. Kemitraan pria dan wanita (partnership of man and women/husband and wife) was a key term of state gender policy in the late New Order period.

    [72] Badan Koordinasi Keluarga Berencana Nasional et al., Bahan Pembelajaran Pengarusutamaan Gender, p. 26.

    [73] Kementerian Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Apa itu gender; Badan Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Perlindungan Anak, Gender – Apa itu Gender?, Biro Pemberdayaan Perempuan, Apa itu gender; also Saskia E. Wieringa, Globalisation, Love, Intimacy and Silence in a Working Class Butch/Fem Community in Jakarta, Amsterdam: Amsterdam School for Social Science Research, ASSR Working Paper 2005/08, p. 23.

    [74] Wieringa, Globalisation, Love, Intimacy and Silence, p. 23.

    [75] See also Jacqueline Aquino Siapno, 'Living through terror: everyday resilience in East Timor and Aceh,' Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, vol. 15, no. 1 (2009): 43–64.

    [76] Carla Bianpoen, 'Aceh's women show the road to peace: reflection on International Women's Day,' Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 1, no. 2 (2000): 363–66.

    [77] Gender Working Group (Kelombok Kerja Gender), 'Evaluasi situasi perempuan tahun 2006 di Aceh' (Evaluation of the Situation of Women in 2006 in Aceh), 8 March 2007, unpublished report.

    [78] Rakyat Aceh, 'Perempuan dan Waria Tuntut Keadilan' (Women and Waria Demand Justice), 9 March 2007.

    [79] The same slogan has been used on other occasions in Aceh as well as wider Indonesian contexts such as when the ILGA Asia conference was banned in Surabaya in March 2010; Waria beauty contests were condemned by the Acehnese Council of Ulamas in March 2010, and the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) stormed into a human rights training session of waria in Jakarta in April 2010.

    [80] AK News, 'Perempuan Aceh Minta Keadilan (Acehnese Women Ask for Justice),' in, 8 March 2007, online:, accessed 27 April 2008.

    [81] LBGT=Lesbian Bi Gay Trans; Chambers, A Queer Politics, p. 2.

    [82] Majelis Ulama Indonesia, 'Fatwa MUI 1 November 1997.' In Surabaya, a major city in East Java, there is a separate category for waria on ID-cards.

    [83] Sahīh al-Bukhārī, one of the six canonical hadith collections in Islam, is a widely cited and respected commentator on the Qur'an in the Indonesian context, and his interpretations are used in Islamic boarding schools. See Muttaqin, Progressive Muslim Feminists.

    [84] Chambers, A Queer Politics; Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures, Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

    [85] See critique in Joseph A. Massad, Desiring Arabs, London: The University of Chicago Press, 2007; Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan, 'Global identities: theorizing transnational studies of sexuality,' in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 7, no. 4 (2001): 663–79; William J. Spurlin, 'Resisting heteronormativity/resisting recolonialisation: affective bonds between indigenous women in Southern Africa and the difference(s) of postcolonial feminist history,' Feminist Review, vol. 95, no. 1 (2010): 10–26; Blackwood, Falling into the Lesbi World.

    [86] For further details on queer-sensitive tafsir, see Habib, Female Homosexuality; Habib, Queer-Friendly Islamic Hermeneutics.

    [87] Adnan, Women and the Glorious Qur'an, p. 154.

    [88] Riffat Hassan, 'Equal before Allah? Woman-man equality in the Islamic tradition,' online:, accessed February 2009, reproduced from Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Jan–May 1987, vol. XVII, no. 2, paragraph 24.

    [89] Butler, Undoing Gender; Noreen Giffney and Myra J. Hird (eds), Queering the Non/Human, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008; Jeffrey J. Cohen and Todd R. Ramlow, 'Pink vectors of Deleuze: queer theory and inhumanism,' Rhizomes, vol. 11, no. 12 (Fall 2005/Spring 2006), online:, accessed January 2010.

    [90] Siti Musdah Mulia, 'Islam Ramah Terhadap Lesbian (Islam Friendly Towards Lesbian),' in Pelangi Perempuan (kumpulan puisi dan cerpen lesbian muda Indonesia) (Rainbow Women Compilation of Poems and Short Stories of Young Indonesian Lesbians), ed. Cok Sawitri, Jakarta: Institut Pelangi Perempuan, 2008, pp. 13–17; Siti Musdah Mulia, 'Presentation at the seminar "Seksualitas yang ditabukan"' (The Tabooed Sexuality), 11 November 2008, Jakarta, printout.

    [91] Sa'diyya Shaikh, 'In search of al-Insan: Sufism, Islamic Law and gender,' Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 77, no. 4 (2009): 781–822.

    [92] Leila Ahmed, 'Early Islam and the position of women: the problem of interpretation,' in Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries, ed. Nikki R. Keddie and Beth Baron, London: Yale University Press, 1991, pp. 58–73, pp. 65–66; Sehat Ihsan Shadiqin, Tasawuf Aceh (Acehnese Sufism), Banda Aceh: Bandar Publishing, 2009; Shaikh, 'In search of al-Insan.'

    [93] Jacqueline Aquino Siapno, Gender, Islam, Nationalism and the State in Aceh: The Paradox of Power, Co-optation and Resistance, London: Routledge Curzon, 2002, pp. 83–85, 89.

    [94] Judith Butler, 'Afterword,' in Bodily Citations: Religion and Judith Butler, ed. Ellen T. Armour and Susan M. St. Ville, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006, pp. 276–91, pp. 288–89.

    [95] Butler, 'Afterword.'

    [96] In fact, during the celebration of IWD in 2006, one of the banners read 'Women are also part of humanity,' Nanggröe Rakyat Sejahtera, Edition 10, Year II, December 2006, p. 11.

    [97] Shaikh, 'In search of al-Insan,' p. 785.

    [98] International Crisis Group, 'Islamic law and criminal justice in Aceh', Jakarta/Brussels: International Crisis Group, Asia Report No. 117, 31 July 2006, p. 9; see also more recent documentation in Human Rights Watch, Policing Morality: Abuses in the Application of Sharia in Aceh, Indonesia, December 2010.

    [99] Margaret Kartomi, Aceh-Jakarta and Aceh Fieldnotes, February–March 2003, online:, accessed in March 2010; Margaret Kartomi, 'Some implications of local concepts of space in the dance, music and visual arts of Aceh,' Yearbook for Traditional Music, vol. 36 (2004): 1–49; Margaret Kartomi, 'On metaphor and analogy in the concepts and classification of musical instruments in Aceh,' Yearbook for Traditional Music, 2005, pp. 25–57.

    [100] Michael G. Peletz, Gender Pluralism: Southeast Asia since Early Modern Times, Oxon: Routledge, 2009, p. 11.

    [101] In this particular case, it is the article of Harian Aceh that paraphrases the MPU commentary using the wording 'waria atau bencong'. I have never heard waria themselves using the words bencong or benci in Aceh. 'Transgender' and 'transvestite' seem to be names used to describe waria for an English-speaking audience, such as aid organisations. See Harian Aceh, MPU Aceh: Status Waria Harus Jelas, MPU Aceh: The Status of Waria Has to Be Clear, 24 March 2008.

    [102] Harian Aceh, MPU Aceh.

    [103] Gubernur Daerah Istimewah Aceh, Peraturan Daerah Propinsi Daerah Istimewah Aceh nomor 23 tahun 2001 tentang susunan organisasi dan tata kerja Dinas Sosial Propinsi Daerah Istimewa Aceh (Regional Regulation number 23 year 2001 on the Structure of Organisation and Mandate of the Department of Social Affairs of the Province), Banda Aceh: Pemerintah Daerah Istimewa Aceh.

    [104] Serambi Indonesia 'Ratusan Pedagang di Keudah tak Tersedia Kios Baru' (Hundreds of Traders in Keudah Have Not Been Allocated a New Kiosk), 24 March 2007.

    [105] Komnas Perempuan, 'Dari Suara Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, dan Transgender (LGBT) — Jalan Lain Memahami Hak Minoritas' (From the Voice of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LBGT) — On the Way to Understanding Minority Rights), 2008a, online:, accessed March 2010; Komnas Perempuan, 'Pemetaan Kekerasan Terhadap Perempuan, Pengalaman Kelompok LGBT: Laporan: Komnas Perempuan, 18 November 2008 (10 Dec 2008)' (Mapping the Violence Against Women, Experiences of LBGT: Report 18 November 2008), 2008b, printout.

    [106] Amnesty International, 'Indonesia (Aceh): Torture of gay men by the Banda Raya police,' Amnesty International, 20 June 2007, ASA 21/004/2007.

    [107] Bruce Emond, 'Hartoyo: coming out for his rights,' the Jakarta Post, 27 March 2009.

    [108] The bill refers to the Arabic concepts liwath and musahaqah in condemning consensual same-sex 'sexual relationships' without defining 'consent' or 'sexual relationship'. At the national level, the law on pornography, passed in December 2008 (law 44/2008) by the Indonesian parliament defines necrophilia, bestiality, oral sex, anal sex, and 'lesbian and gay sex' as 'deviant sexual intercourse'. The law has been strongly opposed by several civil society organisations, including the LBGTI activists and is going through a judicial review.

    [109] Kafir translates into 'infidel, pagan, disbeliever' but was also used to describe the 'colonisers', i.e. the foreign (non-Muslim) soldiers fighting against the Acehnese during the Aceh war in the nineteenth century. See Edward Aspinall, 'Violence and identity formation in Aceh under Indonesian rule,' in Verandah of Violence: The Background of the Aceh Problem, ed. Anthony Reid, Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2006, pp. 149–76, p. 151.

    [110] Local women's organisations have, as part of their gender equality agenda, raised important questions about the violence that has emerged from the implementation of shari'ah law by the shari'ah police. They have argued for gender equality, pointing out that the shari'ah law implementation has been focused on women, not men, and on morality, not on wider issues such as corruption, human rights violations and economic exploitation. Their advocacy has focused on violation of the integrity of women's bodies by shari'ah police, who have arrested women for not wearing jilbab or for wearing clothes that are deemed too tight. See Chamin, Mardiyah, 'Morality police back with a vengeance in Aceh,' the Jakarta Post, 16 April 2006; Ma. Theresa R. Milallos, 'Muslim veil as politics: political autonomy, women and Syariah Islam in Aceh,' Contemporary Islam vol. 1, no. 3 (2007): 289–301.

    [111] Judith Butler, 'A conversation with Simon Critchley, Judith Butler and Jacques Rancière,' An event hosted by Verso, 23 October 2009, New School for Social Research, New York. Recording accessed from in January 2010.

    [112] Interview with Programme Officer of an Indonesian LBTI Organisation, Jakarta, 2 October 2007.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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