Unraveling the Invisible: Women in the Vortex of Conflict

Unraveling the Invisible: Women in the Vortex of Conflict

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed above are those of the authors.

Women often become invisible within the vortex of conflict, and there is no inclusion of them in the discussion surrounding violent extremism. The discourse that discusses this invisibility, marginality, or the dismissal of women, despite being a great bearer of conflicts, is a critical component in understanding conflict. Some of the “recommendations” related to the gendered framework include reclaiming agency vis-a-vis empowerment in Indonesia, but that also requires an extensive effort to put the framework into action plans. Therefore, in this article, we wish to explore more the extent of a gendered framework as an intervention and counter-mean for Indonesia. How can this framework be used to dissect the problem and how women are invisible and the violent modalities related to this? 

Looking into Islamic Fundamentalism, Violence, and Conflicts in Indonesia

Various studies in the West tried to understand radicalization and religious fundamentalism through the specific idea of statehood. If we look at the example of the Islamic State, the state is the centrality of the group’s raison d’etre, the sovereignty that envisioned a land and its people (Kaneva and Stanton, 2020). In achieving the creation of an Islamic state and enforcing sharia law, this vision is often understood as how Islamic fundamentalists enact a literal interpretation of the Qur’an (Fealy and White, 2008). 

Looking back to Indonesia, many have synthesized the importance of Islam and Muslim organizations and thinkers in attaining the nation’s independence. The awakening of our anti-colonial spirit was also marked by the emerging work of Muslim scholars and politicians; to organize is to employ various Islamic values that denounce the act of imperialism from our land, to reclaim our agency (Qur’an 13:11, 3:140, 26:227). Islamic values underlined the importance of emancipatory work against oppression and became the foundation of organizing and the spirit of anti-colonial movements in Indonesia. This is, for Indonesian, a language that sets aside differences and one that is political. 

Returning to the idea of religious fundamentalism through the Western lens, with its tendency to compartmentalize religion, is insufficient. How can we ensure ways to prevent and counter religious extremism? While doing so, we may demonize a culture and belief system. Setting aside and interpreting them into ways of intervention and prevention policies against religious extremism is a premature departure point that can be dismissive of what is imagined as Indonesia and the conflicts that are taking place here. Furthermore, it only pushed women further from the narrative and discussion surrounding women. 

Ensuring that Women are Invisible and Making Women Invisible 

While the act of war and the violence it shed upon had been crystalized with masculinity, currently, we observe two trends in Indonesia related to violent extremist groups; women are either being recruited by and employed to conduct the act of violence as a form of support to the husband or women without agency in this matter are subjected to violent extremist ideas. Either way, to posit women in these spaces means to dismiss the structure altogether. 

In her work trying to integrate the ahistorical root of Sharia through the Muslim women communities in Bangladesh; Kabeer (2003) elaborated on the removal of women from taking their part in Islamic epistemologies and teachings, and how the discussion around Sharia and governance are strictly for men and the interpretation of the Quran are limited to what the male teachers ought to teach. This implies there is no alternative nor space for women except to abide by these teachings. This interpolation (de Silva, 2008), without any capacity to question the authenticity of the teaching, is highly ineffable. Women are without authority over their own experience, and there are religious justifications that support this constant undermining. The process of interpolation positioned women in a perpetual condition of mere subordinate role to fulfil their pursuit; “know your place and space.” it might not come in the mainstream idea of physical violence that is strictly coercive but an everyday experience that is continuously enunciated (Behera, 2008). 

Is this the case for the invisible women in Indonesia? As shown in the work of Van Bruinessen (2002), radical groups would try to restrict the active participation of women, not limited to the earlier idea that surrounded their teachings. However, it is their essence and womanhood in practicing Islam that a woman should know where to position themselves. Therefore, when women are being recruited and or taking their parts in conflict as their essence of ‘womanhood’ dictates, it plays its parts in the more extensive interplay of violence and conflict brought upon by religious extremism that managed to secure its structure.    

Looking Beyond the Invisibility: A Gendered Framework 

In Indonesia, we notice through how women are reclaiming these spaces in addition to Islamic communities; that women, more importantly Islamic scholars and figures, are finding ways to change gender attitudes starting at the intellectual and grassroots level by challenging traditional interpretations of Islamic teachings on gender (White & Anshor, 2008). An effort to reclaim their space holistically in the language that includes women within the narrative. On a more substantial stance, this is a way to contest the prevailing structure that allows religious extremism to thrive. 

Nonetheless, a gendered framework proposes a way to ensure this narrative is inclusive. While advocacy can be a sign of changing tides, we must also see whether the efforts could engage the groups that had been living or being part of the violent structure. Practicing sensibility through prevention policies implies that in the former interplay and interaction, we must be able to take part; we are exploring the realm of livelihood of women against a structure that puts them in a place of invisibility. 

While ‘recommendations’ might come off as a solid and certain measure, I would posit this. The gendered framework required us to interrogate our interactions and unlearn certain things happening within our more miniature ecosystem and livelihood. To prevent this in this manner speaks significantly on behalf of this intricate interplay among ourselves, perhaps, in the context of Indonesia among Muslims. Moreover, to counter is to be part of such intricate interplay and understand that there are ways to learn and unlearn aspects that perpetuate violence without meaning to dismiss them entirely. From the earlier passage, we observed how violence and conflict are not necessarily observed as this grandeur casualties. However, it requires us to notice violent tendencies that can occur in our everyday life and experience. 


  • Behera, N.C. (2008) International Relations in South Asia: Search for an alternative paradigm. 1st ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publ.
  • Fealy, G. and White, S. (2008) Expressing Islam: Religious life and politics in Indonesia. 1st ed. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Kabeer, N. (2003) Reversed realities: Gender hierarchies in development thought. London: Verso.
  • Kaneva, N & Stanton, A (2020) An Alternative Vision of Statehood: Islamic State’s Ideological Challenge to the Nation-State, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2020.1780030
  • Silva, M.de (2008) “Stripping Women, Securing the Sovereign ‘National’ Body: The State of Exception in Everyday Life,” in International Relations in South Asia: Search for an alternative paradigm. 1st ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publ., pp. 306–308.
  • White, S. and Anshor, U. (2008) “Islam and Gender in Contemporary Indonesia: Public Discourses on Duties, Rights, and Moralities,” in Expressing islam: Religious life and politics in Indonesia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Analysis, Articles, Content Contributor
Emancipatory Work, Gendered Framework, Marginalization, Women In Indonesia