Women moving up the ranks in Indonesia’s military

Women moving up the ranks in Indonesia’s military

Tom Abke

Women are making strides in the Indonesian National Armed Forces with support from President Joko Widodo.

Widodo referred to women serving in the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) as “role models for our progress” and “the country’s expression of love for the people.” He made his remarks during a ceremony in April 2018 marking Kartini Day, which commemorates Raden Ajeng Kartini, a 19th-century female pioneer in the effort to educate girls and to advance women’s rights.

“This issue of women in the Armed Forces is becoming an area of focus for the Jokowi administration,” Gen. Dr. Moeldoko, Widodo’s chief of staff and a former TNI commander, told FORUM. “Just four years ago, women were admitted for the first time as cadets to the military academy. Now, women are entering new areas of service, so soon it is possible that we will have female combat pilots, which will be a mark of pride for us.”

The initial group of female cadets entered the elite Indonesian Military Academy in 2013. Thirty-eight graduated in 2017: 10 from the Navy, 12 from the Air Force and 16 from the Army. This accounted for almost 9 percent of all academy graduates, according to Fitri Bintang Timur, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta. (Pictured: Women serving in the Indonesian military attend a roll call to mark Kartini Day in Jakarta.)

Academy graduates, including women, are eligible for such command positions as regional military commander. Positions that require combat experience, such as chief of staff, remain out of reach, however, because women are prohibited from engaging in combat, Timur said. The combat restriction may soon be lifted, however, said TNI spokesman Brig. Gen. Fadhilah. “The staff and commando academy,” he said, “until now was not open for women, but this year we opened for women with the same requirements as for men. This means they are subject to the same health requirements and pass the same tests as men. The only differences are modifications to the physical ability test, as women and men have different physical capacities.”

Most Indonesian military women are employed by the Women Army Corps (Kowad), Women Navy Corps (Kowal) and Women Air Force Corps (Wara), all founded between 1961 and 1963. Each has its own center of education and officer corps. In its history, the Indonesian military has had 12 Army brigadier generals, 11 Navy admirals and 11 Air Force marshals who were women, according to Indonesia’s Defense Ministry. About 30,000 of the country’s 450,000 military personnel are women.

Jakarta’s openness to expanding the role of women in the military follows a trend in the Indo-Pacific. While most countries in the region have some restrictions on women in combat, the general direction is toward increasing recruitment, participation and diversity of service for women.

“TNI supports what the president says about opening more opportunities to women in the military,” Fadhilah said. “We actually don’t want to differentiate women from men, but one must understand that culture plays an important role here. Earlier, we never had women driving large trucks, but now we have a few women driving tanks in our military and even one or two flying helicopters.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.