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Gerwani (from Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, Indonesian Women's Movement) was an organization of communist women active in Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s. The organization was founded in 1950, and had over 650,000 members in 1957.
The organization was closely affiliated with Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), but was an independent organization concerned with a variety of socialist and feminist issues, including marriage law reform, labor rights, and Indonesian nationalism. After an alleged coup d'etat of September 30, 1965, Gerwani was banned and many of its members killed, and under President Suharto the organization became a commonly cited example of immorality and disorder in the pre-1965 era.
Gerwis, Gerwani's predecessor, was founded in June 1950 by the union of six existing women's organizations based in island of Java; other organizations from around the archipelago joined the group over the next few years. It established offices around the country, and was headquartered in Semarang, then known as the "Red City" for its many leftist organizations.
During most of its life, the organization saw internal tension between its feminist wing and its communist wing, which favored closer association with the PKI, although there was seldom a clear divide between these groups.
Early campaigns focused on reforming Indonesia's legal system to make women and men equal under the law. Much emphasis was placed on marriage laws, which gave precedence to local customs that in many places restricted women's ability to inherit property or to resist involuntary polygamous marriages. On a local scale, Gerwani also provided individual support to women who had been abused or abandoned by their husbands. While much of the early membership was drawn from the middle classes, the organization worked hard, with eventual success, to reach out to the working class and peasantry.
By the early 1960s, Gerwani had gained a role in national politics. Its links to the PKI became tighter, and the feminist aspects of its activism were diminished. The organization also became a strong supporter of President Sukarno, who they respected for his nationalism and his socialist policies, despite some internal disagreement over the President's polygamous marriages, which were abhorrent to the group. The organization had a peak of about 1.5 million members in 1965.
After six generals were killed in an abortive coup attempted on the night of 30 September 1965 (see 30 September Movement) the organisation was banned along with most other left-leaning groups. The Army alleged that Gerwani members had helped to kill the generals, and had danced naked, castrated the men, and engaged in other similar depravity. Most contemporary historians agree these allegations were false. Thousands of Gerwani members were raped or killed as a part of the bloody anti-Communist purge that followed and led to the downfall of Sukarno.
- Blackburn, Susan (2004). Women and the State in Modern Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-84225-5
- Wieringa, Saskia. (2002) Sexual politics in Indonesia. The Hague: Institute of Social Studies. ISBN 0-333-98718-7.