In Indonesia, Women Take a Stand Against Everyday Graft

In Indonesia, Women Take a Stand Against Everyday Graft
Photo Credit :RT/達志影像

What you need to know

When it comes to fighting corruption, a group of women are challenging their peers to look in the mirror.

For Judhi Kristiantini, Indonesia’s suffocating corruption has taken a personal toll. Convinced that they possess neither the contacts nor the funds to bribe and cajole their way into good schools and jobs afterward, both of her children have left to study, and, in all likelihood, work abroad. They will do this with a mixture of scholarships and the family’s savings. They are bright, talented and willing to take risks. Nevertheless Indonesia is losing them.

“They can’t start their careers,” the 50-year-old says, tears welling up in her eyes.

“My kids are supposed to be here to build Indonesia. But I can’t convince them because it’s clear they are right.”

But Kristiantini is doing something about this loss, which she says is felt not only by her family, but families throughout the country. Two years ago, just after her eldest daughter left to study law in the Netherlands (her son left for New Zealand this month), Kristiantini founded an organization called Saya Perempuan Anti-Korupsi (SPAK) – I am a woman against corruption. Formed under the auspices of the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Justice, SPAK has a simple aim: get people thinking and talking about the graft.

Graft is everywhere here. Speaking from personal experience I can say slipping a traffic cop 100,000 rupiah will make a ticket for an illegal U-Turn vanish. A gift to your daughter’s teacher is just considered commonsense if you want to be sure she gets good marks. One police officer told me free phone credit and other gifts comprised a third of her monthly salary. These tips and handouts are just part and parcel of getting through the day in a society that runs on mutual back scratching. Trouble is, those without the means tend to lose out.

Even so, for many here, corruption is something “other.” It’s what the elite do. News here tends to encourage this notion with a daily feed of some judge or mayor getting nabbed while on the take. The Corruption Eradication Commission, the country’s top graft watchdog, has jailed a governor or a mayor at a rate of one every six weeks since 2010.

SPAK takes a different view, arguing everyone is on the take. With the help of some activist friends in marketing and law Kristiantini devised a series of board games that challenge players to identify unsavory behavior through hypothetical scenarios. Here’s one geared for 10- year- olds: “Arun is using the school’s only computer and he won’t share and there’s no Wifi.” Here’s a scenario geared for grown-ups: “I’ve been working for a travel agency for five years and I’m often asked to provide blank receipts to clients. Finally I got so annoyed I made a sign that said: ‘no blank receipts.’” Players must match the scenario with a category of antisocial behavior. Arun lacked “fairness”. As for the travel agent, she is demonstrating revulsion with “corrupt behavior” – one of the five, including money laundering and bribery, under which the adults have to group their cases.

“People say that the system is corrupt,” says Kristiantini. “But the system is us.”

To facilitate the games and to moderate discussion, SPAK has trained up more than 1000 women. Women are generally thought to have greater moral authority than men and are anyway more social. Indonesian women do the lion’s share of the child rearing, and budgeting and then get together with their neighbors on a regular basis to gossip, snack on sweets and even to pool money for a lucky draw.

“Women are more strategic than men,” one SPAK coordinator told me. “If you get to a woman you get to their family and their friends.”

This sort of reasoning is not new. Activists and aid workers tend to target women everywhere when they need to make a Hail Mary pass to affect massive social change. But it appears to be working. SPAK says its 1000 “agents” have played the games with a million Indonesians over the past two years often getting school kids, housewives even police officers thinking – maybe for the first time -- that when it comes to corruption they can be the aggressor as well as the aggrieved.

“Just getting people to even think about these concepts, that’s change,” Kristiantini says.

And then, maybe, Judhi Kristiantini’s kids can come home.

Editor: Edward White


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