Statement for the International Women's Day March, 8, 1997 Dita Sari, Chairperson of Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggles and leader of the Peoples Democratic Party of Indonesia. Dita was a guest speaker at the 1995 Perth Australia IWD march and rally. [Dita Sari was the first prominent democratic leader to be arrested by the Suharto dictatorship in the wave of repression that began last July, 1996. She was arrested on July 8 while she was leading a peaceful demonstration of 20,000 young women workers demanding wage rises and other improvements. She has been an outspoken defender of women's rights in Indonesia as well as a courageous supporter of freedom in East Timor. She was also active in solidarity with Megawati Sukarnoputri in her campaign against harassment by the Suharto dictatorship. Even though from a different political party than Megawati, Dita spoke frequently at public meetings and demonstrations as an act of solidarity with another victim of repression and a symbol of democratic struggle.)

Dear Sisters,

I write this letter in a narrow and miserable cell in a gaol in Surabaya. Exactly two years ago I was with you at the IWD rally in Perth. Since then, time has flown bye and so many important things have happened in the struggle for freedom in my country. This regime has chosen me as the lone woman among fifteen people on trial for subversion. The Peoples Democratic Party has many women activists, especially from among the workers. We think that one of the measures of the progress of the movement here is the participation of women activists, both quantitatively and qualitively. As a president of a trade union, I personally cannot separate myself from a special solidarity with the women worker activists, even though I am aware too that every activist is tested in the end via their commitment and loyalty and not other criteria.

The regime has struck out at us with full force so that our Party and its mass organisations are covered with bleeding wounds. Everywhere the regime spreads the word that we are the same as the old Indonesian Communist Party; the regime is trying to create mass hysteria and to legitimise its repressive action against us. They needed an appropriate scapegoat and they chose the PRD. This is not a government that stands firm to defend the sovereignty of the people and their economic and political rights.. It is a government built on authoritarian foundations in order to defend special economic interests and capital.

In the midst of this disaster, we survive. We have survived well the early period of big disruption to our organisation. Our women cadre from the students and workers have stepped forward to take leading positions in consolidating our organisation. The terrorised workers have freed themselves from fear. And the peasants swallowed up by the repression have began to rise up again.

And in the prison, the flames still burns bright among the cadre. Belief in the justice of our struggle and our deep love for the mass of workers are the two things which keep me going. Of course, there are moments where I experienced the bitter pain of losing everything, of a sense of failure, of loneliness. There are times that I must struggle with myself and accept that I will lose the productive years of my youth. And I think: can I handle all this?

Yet, the next morning, I always awake with warmed by sweet memories of struggling together with the workers, the people. There are women in the prison here who were workers too, and each time I look at them, I feel their hands reach out to me to make sure I do not fall.

The emergence of Megawati Sukarnoputri, a woman, as a figure supported by tens of millions of people is a sign of the progress and qualitative advance made by the pro-democracy movement and of the movement to end capitalism's use of patriarchy to manipulate us.

Now we wait for the right moment, and prepare our forces, so that we will have an era of democracy where all will have the same rights, where women will have the opportunity to emerge as leaders in all fields.

I truly hope one day to be able to be with you again, as I was two years ago [in Perth], and to discuss with you the economic and political issues effecting women. Your solidarity and international support from countries, where workers are also treated unfairly and women continue to be exploited, is something which strengthens our resolve here in the midst of the great losses and oppression of the Indonesian people.

Sisters, I miss you all. I long to be there among you.

Dita Sari.
Surabaya prison
March, 1997


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