Margianta Surahman: The best social construction is that men and women are equal

Margianta Surahman Juhanda Dinata is the founder and Executive Director of Emancipate Indonesia. Emancipate Indonesia focuses on modern slavery issues, particularly forced marriage, forced labor exploitation, and forced sexual exploitation in Indonesia. His passion for promoting the rights and the dignity of the underprivileged has been developed through his life experience, being raised by a strong single mother. He also serves as a member of the Youth Advisory Panel for UNFPA Indonesia and a One Young World Ambassador.

Margianta S.J.D’s interview with Next Women Generation

[Below are some highlights from the interview that are edited for clarity.]

Motivation to end force marriage (modern slavery)

Margianta: I started Emancipate Indonesia because of my personal experience. There was a woman who wanted to be everything in her life. She wanted to make her own decision. She wanted to have a higher education. She wanted to get a good job. She wanted to make her parents happy. But apparently, something happened to her. She was forced to marry someone who was more than 20 years older than her. She was in college. She was dragged into dirt by forcing her to marry someone who she didn’t love. That person is my father, and that woman is my mother. My mom was forced to marry in the 1990s that resulted in my birth as a person. I can say that forced marriage is a form of modern slavery.

I am a living modern slavery footprint. It is a result of patriarchal society and culture which undermines women. Women do not need to make their own decision, to get a higher education, and go to get a good job because you have a man to take care of you. All of these were never my mom’s intention. My mom had a turning point after she gave birth to me. I was raised to know that both my mom and I, we were survivors. What happened to my mom and other women in other cases of forced marriage shouldn’t have happened.

Photo provided by Margianta S.J.D

Being raised by a single mother

Margianta: My mom raised me in a way that she played both gender roles. She was a mother and a father. Traditionally, we see the mother as a nurturer and father as a breadwinner who takes care of the family. She does both roles, and she does them tremendously better than some of the families around me.  I learn what I need to learn in my life from her. I perceive men and women as equal. At a very early age, I was really against the gender stereotype against women. I was growing up not being very close to many men. I can’t relate to them. They think it was fun to harass girls and sometimes they even forced me to do it to fit in and to be their friend. I just can’t do that because I grew up with women, my mother, grandmother, and aunt at that time. Imagining that my mom has had that experience, why would I repeat it? I see the relationship between men and women as an equal partnership. There is no need for men to dominate women or to give permission to women. Women do not need permission; they can do whatever they want. You just need to provide the mic for them to speak for themselves. I understand that at a very young age. I am very grateful to my mom. Mama, thank you!

Experiencing toxic masculinity

Margianta: I haven’t always been an outspoken person like this. I was a shy person in the past. I couldn’t speak for myself. I was still silent. I am always a friend with less famous students who do not belong to the dominant group. I tried to fit in once, though. I lifted the skirts of some girls for a few times. I moved around schools a lot in the past. When I moved to one primary school that I stayed until I graduated, they told me to lift skirts of some girls in my class. They kept telling me to do it. I felt the pressure; then, I did it. I felt so bad about it. When my mom asked me if everything was ok, I just wanted to cry. I did something wrong, and I should not have done it. My mom worked so hard to make sure that I could get an education and everything. And I harassed girls. I really regret that moment and I still remember it. Some of my friends still remember it. When we met, they would ask, ‘Gian! you used to lift up skirts, right?’ I would say, ‘Yes, I did. But I never did it again afterwards, because I felt so bad about it.’

In the ‘cancel culture’ that’s around us now, when people figured out that you had a bad past, or did something wrong in the past, they cancel you. They don’t support you on the path where you can actually change and learn to be a better person. I think this is what we need to address this. Yes, you can change to be a better person. But first, you need to be responsible first for what you did. You need to acknowledge your problem and what you did wrong. Only then afterwards, you can be a better person.

Messages to young men and boys

Margianta: Don’t try to be so hard on yourself all the time. Don’t try to dominate or to appear powerful. Don’t try to hold your emotion. There is a better way for you to be a man, and it’s to be respectful. Not just only to your male friends but also women. In your life, many women have contributed to make you who you are today. They took care of you, supported you, and sacrifice many aspects of their lives just for the sake of you being successful in life. Women are our equal. Women and men are different only different from how their physical, reproductive parts function. But gender is only a social construction of how a man and a woman should act and behave. After all, the best construction we can have is how we all are equal.

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