Here is Jakarta, we’re very lucky to be so connected to a variety of information sources, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has a voice. Enter Magdalene, a socially and politically progressive online magazine that describes itself as “a slanted guide to women and issues.” You’ll find think pieces on a wide variety of topics including LGBT issues, religion, and sexuality. With women’s issues and feminism being widely discussed worldwide, we’re excited Jakarta is joining the conversation. We caught up with Magdalene’s founders Devi Asmarani and Hera Diani to learn more about their work, Magdalene’s most popular stories, and women’s rights in Indonesia.
How would you describe Magdalene to people who have never seen it before?
Devi Asmarani: I would describe it as something refreshing and something you wouldn’t expect coming from Indonesia.
Hera Diani: It’s the middle ground between lightweight women publications and those with highbrow academic stuff/activism. We offer quality and serious content on a variety of women’s issues but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
How did you choose the name “Magdalene”?
DA: It’s a name that we thought sounded intriguing. It has a biblical association – a figure known for her courage and who has also been in the center of a variety of speculations (unsavoury past, lover of Jesus, etc.). We of course want to steer clear of any religious association, but we found that of all the other names that we toyed with, Magdalene was the strongest sounding and most memorable – and in a way the one that really represents who we are.
HD: Misunderstood, exaggerated and wrongly labeled. I think all women have gone through that before :).
Are you surprised by how well the site has been received?
DA: We are very surprised and grateful. We knew there was a dearth of publications or websites that channel the kind voices that we represent, which was why we came up with it, but what we hardly anticipated was that a lot of people would identify with these voices and feel they have stories to tell as well. And they wrote for us. Without realizing it, we became platform for these voices.
HD: It’s exhilarating. It’s like we’re on the right track.
What are some of the most talked about stories or issues on the website?
DA: LGBT issues are always a draw. Our Muslim and gay piece is one of the most read (and received wide support, surprisingly). The most controversial of the LGBT piece (also written by the same contributor), however, was this wonderful piece about how to check if your man is gay, which received praises as well as criticism from among gay guys (it was widely talked about in some Indonesian gay Internet forum). Our political stories like this one on why people should vote also get lots of eyeballs, and, of course, some of our religion-related stories (quite critical) receive both pro-and-contra comments.
HD: Two travel stories are also on the Top 10 of most-read articles ever, and another one on pop-culture phenomenon. I’d say if it’s well-written and relevant, articles receive a lot of responses regardless the topic.
In your opinions, what is the state of women’s rights in Indonesia? What’s going well? What needs more work? What are the biggest issues facing women in Indonesia right now?
DA: We live in a country that is still largely conservative religiously and socially, but the good thing is that we don’t live in a country that is ruled by the religious law, though some parts of Indonesia have adopted their own version of the Syariah, especially Aceh. However, there is a growing trend of conservatism being applied to a lot of aspects of our lives that negatively affect women. The ongoing argument to maintain legal age of marriage for women at 16 is just one example.
There are many, many more. Living an urban life as a middle-class educated women, we may not experience or be exposed to this so much, but the reality shows us that Indonesia has a lot of work to improve in the area of women’s rights. From child marriage; girls receiving less education than boys (in poor families); sexual violence and a weak legal system that lets the abusers/perpetrators off easy; the lack of legal enforcement to support women in divorce cases; to blatant discrimination at work (like employers citing “unmarried and attractive” women as being qualifications for a lot of jobs). We have representation of women in politics, but because of the poor system of recruitment, a lot of the women in politics (not all, of course, there are wonderful and brilliant ones) are either celebrities or daughters in political families, and their work do not make any impact whatsoever on the welfare of women.
The biggest priority, I think, is to make women issues everyday issues, not just during the Kartini Day or Hari Ibu, as is the typical news cycle in the Indonesian media. Because everything is so interrelated, thought leaders, public figures and the media should constantly remind people that women issues are human-rights issues, women issues are social issues, women issues are economic issues. And that’s what Magdalene’s trying to do.
HD: The growing religious conservatism definitely needs a lot of attention. There seems to be a growing movement to return women to domestic realm. Instead of providing women with more facilities and infrastructure to enable them to achieve life-work balance, more and more people think women should be not be leaders and not be in public domain. It’s disheartening.
Do you have a background in media, women’s rights, or social justice?
DA: My background is journalism. I have been a journalist since I graduated from college. In recent years, I’ve also been doing some media and communication consultancy mostly in development and politics. But in journalism, you do get exposed to issues of social justice firsthand.
HD: I’ve been a journalist since I graduated from college too. After working on different beats the first few years, I’ve mostly focused on social affairs. I was also involved in a few short projects on HIV and development issues.
Do you take writing contributions from people for Magdelene? How can people send you their ideas?
DA: Definitely! We receive submissions of writing, photos or videos on anything related to our mission. Just send your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read our About Us section to get a sense of what we like.
HD: It can either be in English or Bahasa Indonesia. We’ll translate if it’s in Bahasa Indonesia. We also like to encourage people to put more comments on the website to create discussion.
What do you have in the pipeline for the near future for the Magdalene?
DA: So many, not sure where to begin. But a gist: we want to improve and expand content, including new columns and more bilingual content, we want to hold some off-line events to develop a community, and we want to roll out our business plan to help, well, finance us. On that note, we are looking for a suitable partner (read: investor) to work with us to build Magdalene into a sustainable media organization. Let us know if you know of one :).