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An Indonesian Woman Of Courage

Siti Musdah Mulia was one of ten women from around the world honored by the U.S. State Department for exceptional courage and leadership in promoting women’s rights and advancement.

In 1997, Ms. Mulia became the first woman to obtain a doctorate in the field of Islamic political thought from the State Islamic University of Syarif Hidayatullan in Jakarta. Two years later, she was appointed research professor by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the first woman to hold that position. Today Ms. Mulia is the chairwoman of Muslimat Nahdlatul Ullama, which, with more than forty million members, is the largest Islamic social organization in Indonesia.

In 2004, Ms. Mulia and a team of eleven experts completed a project aimed at revising Indonesia’s Islamic legal code. Among the revisions recommended are a ban on polygamy and forced marriages, raising the legal age of marriage for girls from sixteen to nineteen, and granting wives equal rights with husbands. She says these recommendations would help prevent violence against women and child abuse. The recommendations ignited violent protests which prompted Indonesia’s minister of religious affairs to cancel the project. But Ms. Mulia has not been deterred from speaking out. “Many women are not aware of their rights,” she says.

In its latest human rights report, the U.S. State Department says that in Indonesia, “State policy and the law state that women have the same rights, obligations, and opportunities as men.” As in previous years, some political parties advocated amending the constitution to adopt Shari'a on a nationwide basis, but most parliamentarians and the country's largest Muslim social organization remained opposed to the proposal. There were no attempts by the national parliament or local legislatures to amend the constitution to adopt Shari'a laws. However, some local governments have issued Shari'a based laws, including laws requiring that women wear headscarves in public.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Sita Musdah Mulia and others “are voices for freedom who continue the work of brave women reformers.” The U.S., she says, stand with them:

“It is not possible to think about democracy without thinking about the empowerment of women.”

Secretary of State Rice says that all who work for democratic rights and equality and against oppression and prejudice “will always have a friend in the United States of America.”