8-9-2012By Alison Searle
This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights series.Sixteen year old Diaz Kusumawardani, the youngest athlete in Indonesia’s Olympic delegation, represented her country proudly in the 10-meter air rifle in London. Though Diaz did not medal this Olympic her focus was not on the medals, but on improving her consistency as a shooter and representing her country.
The hallmark of this year’s Olympics has proven to be women’s participation. Saudi Arabia sent two women to the games; their inclusion marked the first time that every participating nation sent female athletes. While their debut is historic, they were hardly in medal contention. When Sarah Attar, the Saudi 800-meter sprinter, crossed the finish line, she was nearly 45 seconds behind the leader. Indonesia, on the other hand, is a majority-Muslim country that has devoted resources to its women’s athletic programs. These women are not symbolic participants but real contenders. Indonesia is an example for other Arab countries that are pushing for more access and opportunities for women in sports.
Women have been an important part of Indonesia’s Olympic history. The first Indonesian female athletes participated in the 1956 Melbourne Games. In the 1988 Games in Seoul, Lilies Handayani, Nurfitriyana Seiman-Lantang and Kusuma Wardhani, three female archers, received the silver, winning Indonesia their first ever Olympic medal. The women’s team went on to win gold in 1992 in badminton and received five more medals collectively in badminton and weightlifting in the subsequent two Olympics.
While Indonesia has supported the inclusion of women in athletics, they have faced ardent criticism from the international community for their exclusion of religious minorities and their harsh blasphemy laws. Accusations of blasphemy have been used to justify discrimination and sometimes even violence against religious minorities. Additionally, freedom of assembly and expression has been limited under an umbrella of religious intolerance.
While Arab women should use the Indonesia blueprint to mirror athletic success, Indonesia should take a cue from neighboring Muslim countries to increase their religious tolerance. The London Olympics has championed gender quality. Perhaps when Diaz Kusumawardani participates in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, a fourth Olympic pillar for human rights will be established and we’ll have another step to celebrate.