Aspiring Indonesian MP doesn't let disability hold her back

Yogyakarta woman vows to defend disabled people's rights in a society where the law often seems bent out of shape
Aspiring Indonesian MP doesn't let disability hold her back

Anggiasari Puji Aryati, 38, from Jakarta leads a training session for social activists in Yogyakarta in this 2018 file photo. (Photo supplied)

Anggiasari Puji Aryati was born with a congenital disability that left her with stunted growth but that has not thwarted her ambitions to represent less privileged members of Indonesian society by chasing a seat in parliament.

"I realized I was different from the other children by the time I entered kindergarten," the 38-year-old from Yogyakarta told

She recalls being mocked at school due to her diminutive stature but says her mother, Dwi Priyatie, instilled her with a sense of confidence.

Aryati graduated with a degree in French from Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta in 2002. Five years later she obtained a B.A. in English Literature from the School of Foreign Language in the same city on Java Island.


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Social activism awoken

At college she realized the extent to which people with disabilities faced social discrimination, prompting her to become involved in movements advocating for the rights of marginalized groups.

In 2006 she joined the faith-based Bunga Bakung Ministry in Jakarta, which focuses on arming street children and ex-convicts living in slums with the skills and vocational training to support themselves economically.

She also worked with Caritas Germany, a local branch of the Catholic Church's charity arm, where she worked as a freelance translator promoting the rights of people with disabilities.

Later, Aryati offered her services to Human Inclusion, an organization that focuses on empowering people with physical or mental handicaps.

Her chief role was to facilitate training and workshops focusing on gender, community-based, and institutional approaches in Indonesia and East Timor, with occasional projects related to Thailand and the Philippines. 

Aryati decided to step into politics to fight for the rights of the underprivileged. (Photo by Agan Harahap/


Mountain to climb

There are about 20 million people registered as living with a disability in Indonesia, or 8.5 percent of the population, according to state agency data released in 2015.

Aryati said the government has shown more concern for their plight in recent years, for example by passing the landmark Disability Persons Law in 2016, but even this did not stop protesters from descending on the streets of Jakarta in September 2017 demanding more accessible sidewalks and other measures.

The disability law guarantees their right to live, work, get an education, and have access to public facilities and services including social welfare.

It also mandates their right not to be beaten, neglected or otherwise discriminated against — crimes several privately-run care facilities across Java have been accused of in recent weeks.

Moreover, on the occasion of the International Day for People with Disabilities on Dec. 3, 2018, the Social Affairs Ministry distributed special cards to 7,000 people living with disabilities.

It also handed out over 7,000 pieces of equipment such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, crutches, walking sticks, and prosthetic limbs.

President Joko Widodo also revealed plans to build a special factory to be managed by people with disabilities.

Despite these overtures, Aryati said the law is still falling short in terms of protecting the rights of this vulnerable group, especially when it comes to education and employment.

"When [their] access to education is limited, access to employment is also hampered," she said. "This shows there is still a lot of work to do for those of us who are advocating for their rights.”


Entering the political fray

This strengthened her resolve to contest the presidential and legislative polls in April 17 on the National Democratic Party's ticket in the Special Region of Yogyakarta, a provincial-level autonomous region.

"There has to be someone in parliament fighting for our rights," she said. "Our voices have largely been ignored until now because we don't have anyone directly representing us.”

More than 7.960 candidates will contest 575 seats in the coming election.

Singgih Purnama, one of Aryati's colleagues, lauded her refusal to call it quits as she continuously battles on behalf of the disabled and the discriminated against.

"As a person who has a disability herself, she certainly knows what the priorities of this group of people are,” he said.

Now Aryati is focusing on drumming up support for her campaign from those who would benefit from her being elected the most.

"Even if I don't get elected, I'll still dedicate my life to fighting for our rights,” she said.

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