In the historiography of decolonizing Indonesia, the dominant focus on political violence and designated 'national heroes' has obscured the role of non-violent women's organizations in forging new ideals of citizenship and belonging. While there are several excellent studies on individual women's organizations in the context of anticolonial activism and beyond, religion as a category of analysis has largely remained in the background. This is striking given the exceptionally diverse nature of the Indonesian religious landscape, and the very prominent role that religion plays today in Indonesian public life.
This project looks at religious and secular women's activism and publications, in order to shed light on the ideas about gender, labour and public roles that took shape in Indonesia between 1920 and the end of the 1950s. At the beginning of this period, the Dutch East Indies colonial state was still in full force. Thirty years later, after a deep economic crisis, the Japanese occupation and the Indonesian War of Independence, the Republic of Indonesia had emerged. What were the new - or, perhaps, not so new - gendered images about the desired public roles for Indonesian men and women that crystallized in these turbulent times, and how did these relate to religion?
The research starts out at a crucial locus of gendered images about 'proper' womanhood that emerged in the late colonial era: girls' schools and publications with a variety of religious backgrounds. In the 1920s, an increasing number of educated Indonesian women entered the labour market, sometimes sparking heated debates among educators and activists both Dutch and Indonesian. I intend to trace these debates up until the later years of the Sukarno presidency. All in all, this project will provide new insights in the interactions between the realms of gender, labour and religion in a crucial period of Indonesian and Southeast Asian history.