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Through the Eyes of Researcher: Gender Identity in Bali  

by on Friday, 24 October 2008No Comment | 3,942 views

Here is an excerpt taken from paper written by Helen Creese, entitled “Reading the Bali Post: Women and Representation in Post-Suharto Bali”. This excerpt discuss about Gender Identity in Bali.

Gender Identity in Bali

The ongoing task of reshaping contemporary Balinese identities in terms of innate Balinese cultural traits involves considerable attention to gender issues and to the prominent role played by women in the definition and preservation of Balinese values. Cultural expectations ensure that the burden of the cultural conservatism that has become a defining characteristic of much Balinese identity discourse falls mainly on women. As Maila Stivens has recently suggested is the case in many parts of Asia, women have become a favourite site for the expression of tension and ambivalence about the cost of modernity and development. Calls to a nostalgic and authentic cultural past thus become an expression of anti-Western modernity, in which autonomous modern women represent a direct threat to traditional male and female roles. Gender-centred calls to Balinese identity thus parallel similar forces elsewhere in Asia such as Islamic revivalism and the reinvention of Confucianism.

Balinese tradition [adat] and ascribed gender roles have long been recognised both by outsiders and many Balinese themselves as the leading cause of women’s daily burden and as the means of patriarchal oppression. A number of recent studies have documented the impact of the many institutionalised gender inequalities that Balinese women face. As Lyn Parker has shown in her book on nationhood and citizenship in Bali, Balinese women are still prevented from full participation as equal citizens because of inherently gendered kinship and adat practices. These adat practices disadvantage women in terms of both their personal freedoms and their access to public roles and rights. Balinese women continue to be excluded from participation in adat decision-making (only men sit and speak in the local village-level hamlet [banjar] councils), they do not enjoy equal inheritance rights (only men can inherit sawah [irrigated rice-fields]), and they lose custody of their children in the case of divorce. Women, particularly rural women, have also been shown to have more restricted access to employment opportunities outside the home, to have lower literacy rates as a result of decades of educational disadvantage, and to enjoy fewer benefits from tourism since access to tourist-related industries is also divided along gender lines that favour men.

Balinese women face the daily task of accommodating their many domestic, employment and social responsibilities, while at the same time conforming to the family-based ideological framework that came to define the roles and responsibilities of women during the New Order period. New Order gender ideology demanded that men and women play different roles, roles that were depicted as complementary and equal. Over more than three decades, domestic and family duties and roles were redefined as important national social programs and women came to be depicted primarily as mothers and as wives. In Bali, the gendered ideology of the nation-state found an echo and was bolstered by parallels with Balinese patriarchal cultural and social institutions.

Like their counterparts elsewhere in Indonesia, Balinese women are responsible for the education and physical and moral well-being of their families, but local Balinese culture demands that they also have primary responsibility for the ritual concerns of the family—a role that involves them in an onerous cycle of ritual work which has a greater impact on women than on men. This never-ending burden of ritual work, which is often seen as an extension of women’s domestic work, contributes to the ongoing structural subordination of women in Bali. Women’s access to employment and independent income is directly affected by their ritual obligations, as they are obliged to set aside the domestic and employment spheres of their lives to perform the ritual work and communal tasks required of them. These competing roles, centred around home, paid work and ritual, have been described recently by Ayama Nakatani as a ‘triple burden’ for Balinese women. The unenviable position of Balinese women in juggling their multiple roles is highlighted in a recent cartoon by Balinese cartoonist, Surya Darma (Figure 1). Their reproductive roles epitomised in their inherent suitability as wives and mothers [kodrat] and their engagement as productive members of Indonesian society in the workforce [karier] in the new millennium must be performed beneath the burden of tradition [tradisi].

The intersections between Balinese cultural values and women’s roles and responsibilities have emerged as themes of central importance in the mass media in Bali in the post-Suharto period. The following survey of media sources published in the Bali Post between 1999 and 2003 reveals that media discourse is predominantly couched in terms of definitions of female identity that perpetuate and reinforce the institutional and social restrictions Balinese women have faced for generations. Within this discourse, the realities of the impact on Balinese women of patriarchal social and religious norms are at best glossed over, at worst ignored, in favour of an idealised portrayal of Balinese women as key players in Bali’s future. Within this media discourse, the realities of daily existence for Balinese women, which are so clearly documented in the longer-term anthropological studies already noted, are effectively silenced. Instead, coverage of women’s issues resonates with broader definitions of the importance of traditional Balinese culture for creating and maintaining a harmonious, prosperous and just society, and the crucial roles of women within those wider processes.

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