Indonesia: Govt must renew commitment to promote reproductive rights

Indonesia, with its booming population of 240 million, is facing tremendous problems. One of its programs, family planning, is undergoing serious challenges. In the lead-up to the National Family Planning Summit on Sept. 25, The Jakarta Post’s Rita A. Widiadana interviewed Terence H.Hull, professor of Demography at the Australian National University. The professor has been studying and researching Indonesia’s Population and Family Planning Program since 1972. The following are excerpts:

Question: Indonesia was a role model for family planning programs in developing countries for almost 30 years. How would you describe the current state of Indonesian family planning?

Answer: While there are many concerns about the current Family Planning Program, it is important to avoid overdramatizing the comparison.

The successes achieved between 1970 and 2000 were tempered by charges of authoritarian excess leveled by many civil society organizations. Despite the deconstruction of the vertical programs of the National Family Planning Coordinating Board [BKKBN] since 2000, Indonesian women are using modern contraceptives today at higher rates than they did at the end of the New Order. In a sense the lasting achievement of the program has been the promotion and effective adoption of small family norms throughout the country. As a result women have continued to use contraceptives despite the failure of government institutions to provide the full range of services they need.

What do you think are the main causes of this situation?

There are three likely causes of the service shortcomings we see in the Family Planning Program. First is the failure of government policy settings to take account of women’s rights to contraceptive services. Too often governments at all levels undermine efforts to promote quality sex education and accessible contraceptive services for the unmarried. Second is the failure of government coordination to guarantee the availability of trained staff, quality information, and affordable contraceptives for all women and men across the archipelago.

Third is the rejection of reproductive rights and services by patriarchal conservative social groups.

Of course these are intertwined, so it is not easy to choose just one for correction, but experience in other countries shows that if government departments are truly committed to women’s reproductive rights, then they will make the financial commitment to services.

Is decentralization ruining a previously strong and integrated Family Planning Program?

The great promise of decentralization over a decade ago was the ability of people to exercise democratic control over their political leaders. It was said that this would prevent the authoritarian excesses of the New Order from returning.

The hope was that young couples would be able to press their local leaders for improved health and family planning services. Instead we read of money politics, premanism and corruption at all levels of government. I am not disheartened though. There are many instances of good governance among the over 500 district governments.

With the current Family Planning Program in which women and girls, especially those living in remote places have no access to family planning services including contraceptives, what will be the most critical consequences for Indonesia as a country?

Indonesia is a huge country, with a huge population. Failure to provide family planning, health and education services to people in the more remote islands means they are condemned to persistent poverty.

What makes family planning such a critical service is the impact of unwanted pregnancy on the whole life course of a young woman. Control over her own fertility is the key to ensuring her opportunities to study, to work and to fulfill her ambitions.

The fate of one woman burdened by an unwanted pregnancy, when multiplied by the hundreds of millions of women across the population, produces the nation’s fate. This is the reason why all citizens need to lobby for better services. Success in family planning will mean better education for individuals and lower population growth rates for the nation. This is what is known as a virtuous circle.

How urgent is the Family Planning Program to the government and the people of Indonesia?

In recent years the age at marriage has declined, and as a result the level of fertility has risen. It is vital for government to renew the commitment to promote and support reproductive health and rights.

That means a need for public declarations of support for the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their income, residence or marital status. That is the first step. But in addition to the talk, there is a need for the over 500 district governments to devote the money needed to ensure services are available to all people.