This paper presents a somewhat unorthodox and, to many eyes, counterintuitive story of improving women’s access to family courts in Indonesia. Over a decade, the changes in women’s access to the Religious Courts (the family courts for Muslim citizens in Indonesia) have been dramatic. A million more women have accessed the Religious Courts in Indonesia in the last decade than in the previous. However, this is not only a story about numbers of women and men able to access the services of the Religious Courts but, equally, about collaboration and the coalitions of reform that commenced a decade ago. The important results include greater access to legal identity documents such as marriage and birth certificates and a fledgling scholarship programme so that girls from female-headed households are now encouraged to complete 12 years of education and to contemplate tertiary or vocational studies.
This introduction outlines the chronology of collaboration as well as the key elements contributing to the policy and budget reforms that in turn have lead to improvements in women’s access to the Religious Courts in Indonesia. Part II then takes a closer look at what changed in Indonesia in terms of knowledge, transparency of budget and court data, and the impact of better funded justice and paralegal services for women, the poor and people living in remote areas. Part III moves from the big picture to individual stories and how women and girl’s lives in the far eastern provinces of Indonesia have changed as a result of these new services. The paper then concludes by reflecting on why development programmes that focus on women’s access to Family Courts can have a profound impact in areas such as universal birth registration and educational outcomes for girls and boys.