For the first time in its 100-year history, the world’s largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia has invited women into its top leadership roles.
In the last few weeks, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has over 90 million members worldwide, appointed 11 women onto its board for a five-year term.
Alissa Wahid was one of the women appointed to a senior role in February. The 48-year old is the daughter of Indonesia’s late President Abdurrahman Wahid.
“I’m really happy with this change,” Wahid told Al Jazeera. “Until now NU has been giving more room for women in public spaces [in the organisation], but now for the first time in history, it gives room for women at a higher leadership level.”
Wahid says she hopes that having women on the board will enable NU to improve the wellbeing of female members across the world.
“I hope we can eliminate harmful practices on women,” she said. “Now we have women in NU on leadership level to fight for these issues.”
In the past, women in Nahdlatul Ulama have held critical roles by leading Muslimat, its female branches for women members, and Fatayat, for younger women members.
In 2017, women members initiated the first-ever congress of Indonesian Women’s Ulema, issuing a mandate to challenge all political parties in the country to stand against child marriage.
Wahid, along with the other newly appointed women, including East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa, will now have agency to affect the movement’s various policies.
Muslim leader Badriyah Fayumi believes the inclusion of women on the boards demonstrates the organisation’s spirit of moderate Islam.
“The difference between moderate Islam and the ultra-conservatives is how they treat women,” she told Al Jazeera.
“The ultra-conservative group sees women as objects, as reproductive machines, while the moderate Islam sees women as subjects who can build this civilisation together with men. That’s why it’s important for women to be in the leadership structure with men.”
Badriyah, who provides assistance to the organisation’s Supreme Council, notes that at NU’s last national congress, discussions led by women centred on climate change and the way it disproportionately affects women and children.
“Women in the central board don’t just exist,” she said. “There is a meaning and purpose in their existence.”