by Abraham Simatupang, Indonesia. First published in Gender and Religious Education.

The more children you have the luckier you will be
My parents are from the Batak ethnic group, a sub-ethnic group in the north Sumatera province. My father is the fourth of thirteen children. My mother has eight siblings, though three of  them died in infancy. To have a big family was not unusual in Sumatra at that time. Lots of children meant a great help for the family. According to the Batak’-tradition or “adat”, the more children you have the luckier you will be.

I am the eldest of four children, and was born in 1960. At that time, the political and economical situation was not stable in Indonesia. My mother told me that stable was curt and expensive. Most of the people could not afford it. However, since my mother worked as a pharmaceutical assistance in the Health Department of Indonesian Air Force, she got rations of baby formula from her office. My father was still a university student when they got married. In the beginning of their marriage my mother was the breadwinner. After he had finished his study, he started his career as a junior lecturer at the University of Indonesia. Hence, both worked to support the family. I learned that my mother took a significant role in nurturing the family and being a good host. We lived in a small house in the capital city of Jakarta. I remember those times when we hosted our extended families and relatives from the village who wished to move to the city. It was not unusual to have many guests and share our house with many people. They helped us with housework, while they were studying or looking for employment.

In my childhood gender role was not clearly differentiated.  My brother and I were given the same tasks as the girls. Dish-washing and house cleaning were not unusual for me. Sometimes I helped pumping the water from our well. My parents often told me to look after my brother and sisters, especially on the way to school. Before I went home from school, I had to assure that my sisters and brother have already gone home. If not, we would go home together by foot or by becak, a tricycle with driver. At that time, as the big brother I learned to take responsibility for my siblings.

We went to Sunday school in a protestant church nearby our house. I was always fascinated of the characters of the Bible’s heroes, like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Deborah, Elijah, Ruth, Esther, Peter and Paul, told by our Sunday school teachers and the way they were called by God, men and women, to accomplish difficult tasks. In the majority of cases they had to make sacrifices. I learned that God calls anybody, regardless of which gender, to be God’s messenger and to be God’s partner for completing God’s plans.
Today women have more chances
Indonesia is an agricultural country. Like other agricultural countries, Indonesia has strong traditions where gender-related role allocation is very strongly differentiated. For example women were responsible for children while men took care of provision of food and shelter.
But, nowadays, since people are more open to influences from the outside, values change and gender-related issues or gender-role in society are no longer easy to define. To some extent, this gives benefits to female members, because they have more opportunities to fulfill their dreams as individuals. They can pursue higher education or career if they want. Many women work to earn money, not only for themselves but also for their families.

We even had a woman as president and a number of women are leaders in provincial or regional government.  A higher quota of women, up to 30% of the members of totally 550 of the national parliament, has recently been discussed extensively.

The fight for gender justice, however, is not fully realized. Certain groups, who have their own principles, try to slow down this process. They still require traditional custom like arranged marriages and imposing curfew for women in certain areas.

The great love is destroyed
My understanding of gender relationships was shaped by the church. At that time church was not always in favor of gender equity. Besides, church gives wrong interpretation on gender issues. It is not completely wrong, however, since the context of the Bible represents more or less patriarchal societies.

We are aware of human relationships which were ruined by sin. Therefore, it is impossible to reestablish a harmonious relation- ship, only with our own efforts, between man and woman. If God had created only man or woman, life wouldn’t probably be easier.

When God created Adam, he realized that Adam needs a companion or partner. So, why God didn’t create a second Adam? Instead of that God created a woman. Moreover, God who made man and woman in “His image” (imago Dei), gave them his love to be one of their vital characteristics. Therefore, from the beginning man and woman were equipped with love. They were destined to walk hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, their love story was not kept undisturbed. The devil in the shape of a snake destroyed cleverly the love they shared. The consequence was fatal. The immortal love which they shared was shattered and re- placed by a mortal and egocentric love.

The first couple, Adam and Eve, was expelled physically from the Garden of Eden and separated from God. The first love which was the basis of their beings was also vanished.  Since then they were always hungry for their own rightfulness. Soon after they had committed their sin, they started to accuse each other for the sin they committed. From then on, everything was only for his or her own benefit. At that time this everlasting “battle of gender” began and is still continuing in the whole human history.

Woman and man can only live in harmony again if they accept the power of the absolute love of Jesus Christ. With the love of Jesus the relationship between them and between men and women and their Creator can be healed.

God’s call
Gender justice has to be worked out by both, women and men of every status, regardless  of which economic, educational, re- ligious, familial, and philosophical background. This is a great challenge to everybody. Indonesia is in a transition period; from an agricultural country to a modern country. It is time to reflect, change, learn and take action for the betterment of our country.

To reach this ideal goal, we have to decide for an appropriate attitude in exposure to our fellow men. The way how I treat the members of my family is a very important first step. Christian values or characters, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control (Gal. 5: 22-23) should be learned, internalized and be practiced at home. As teacher I’ve got the possibility to impact on the students in shaping their ideas about gender or understanding of gender roles, especially when we discuss about HIV&AIDS.

The church should take a pioneering task and raise society’s awareness of gender justice.  I remember, when I was a child, I did not see any woman pastor. Today there are a number of women pastors. However, this is not enough. Church should play a major role in developing a gender sensitive society, which is a very important foundation for a just and civilized society. By the use of church teachings, sermons and actions, people will not only become believers, but even doers.

As long as gender injustice exists, other kinds of injustice will never disappear completely. Poverty, which is rampant in most of the developing countries, to some extent, is caused by gender-unjust politics and regulations, which are generated by the government being not gender-sensitive. Women and men are not equally treated before the law.

One intriguing thing is that many church-goers or lay-members of church believe that church should refrain from secular things. The world is becoming more and more complex and people are desperately looking for the right answer of their daily problems. Therefore, church should always be on marginalized people’s side to give them hope for a new life.

Jesus says in Matthew 25:40 (Today’s English Version): The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me!’

And this is God’s call to you and me, men and women.

Abraham Simatupang was born in 1960 in Indonesia. He is a trained medical doctor in clinical pharmacology and a lecturer in the school of medicine, Universitas Kristen Indonesia (UKI), Jakarta. He has been active in HIV&AIDS-related issues, helped to establish HIV&AIDS unit at the UKI’s Teaching Hospital and to develop a HIV&AIDS learning module for medical students. He contributed to the Task-Force for HIV&AIDS of the Indonesian Council of Churches “Indonesia interfaith organization against AIDS”. He is married to Led Veda Sitepu, lecturer in English Department. They are blessed with three daughters, Rebecca, Vanessa and Isabelle. He lives with his family in Jakarta, Indonesia.