In Indonesia’s East Java Jember District, Najma Milla, a young lady in the village of Wringin Sukowono is steadily making waves.
Ms. Milla is an alumna of RAHIMA (one of WELDD’s partners in Indonesia), which is an organization that advocates women’s equality based on modern and democratic ideas, and emphasizes its presence on a grassroots level. Ms. Milla is a breath of fresh air: with her husband Nurul, she is establishing an Islamic public-cum-boarding school (pesantren) not solely based on religion. Her pesantren would be the first school of its kind in the village.
Since they came up with the idea in 2006, they have faced a number of barriers: parents, local religious scholars and the public have strongly opposed the idea, dismissing their concept of education dangerous, arguing that it would destroy the religiosity of the younger generation.
“My family thinks of me as bringing a disease, because of my unusual ideas of establishing formal education,” says Milla. “When I first established a school here, they said: here comes the troublemaker.”
Her school system provides a middle school, and also religious and primary education right in the village. This close proximity to families and their homes mean that parents can no longer use distance as an excuse, and keep their daughters from attending so they can get them married. One of Ms. Milla’s main aims is to reduce the rate of child marriage, which she has indeed been successful in. “I always try to make them capable of refusing their parents. At least to be able to give strong reasons to their parents,” she says.
According to the 1974 Marriage Law, the minimum legal age of marriage for girls is 16 with parental consent. Despite this, “we see so many students not finishing school because of early marriage,” Ms. Milla remarks. “I see lots of students marrying instead of graduating…it makes me sad.” Around her, somber parents bow their heads in recognition.
Her school provides a fundamental structural difference from the rest of the schools in the area: boys and girls learn together in her classrooms. This way, they have ideas of equality ingrained into them; both are provided with the same opportunities, which is something completely new for schools in the area.
Through IWE’s work with RAHIMA through the WELDD programme, and RAHIMA’s transference of this knowledge to others in the area, Najma was exposed to new concepts of pluralism and women’s leadership that is feminist, transformative and sustainable. She then went on to integrate these concepts in the management and teaching methods in her school.
The hope is that she continues to embed these new ways of thinking at this grassroots level, and that the girls she teaches will also go on to embody them in their own lives. This is a starting point for young girls and their parents to realize that they have opportunities available to them that lie outside of the goal of marriage.
This short film documents her and Nurul’s struggles and experiences in their mission to establish and advance their school.