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Inheritance patterns are diverse even within single societies. Muslim inheritance favors males over females as do the customs of many traditional societies (an exception being matrilineal ones where rights over land, for example, are passed down between females.) Inheritance disputes may be settled in Muslim or civil courts, or by customary village ways. Though custom generally favors males, actual practice often gives females inheritances. Many societies distinguish between inherited and acquired property: the former is passed on in clan or family lines, the latter goes to children or the spouse of the deceased. In many areas land is communal property of a kin or local group, whereas household goods, personal items, or productive equipment are familial or individual inheritable property. With changing economic conditions, newer ideas about property, and increasing demand for money, rules and practices regarding inheritance are changing, and this can produce conflicts that a poorly organized legal system and weakened customary leaders cannot easily manage.

Though Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, the status of women is considered to be relatively high, though their position and rights vary considerably in different ethnic groups, even Muslim ones. Nearly everywhere gender ideology, both by custom and national reinforcement, views men as community leaders and decision makers (even among matrilineal Minangkabau) whereas women are the backbones of the home and teachers of values to the children.

An elementary school teacher helps a young pupil with an assignment. Many teachers in elementary schools are women, while most teachers at the secondary and university levels are men. SERGIO DORANTES/CORBIS

Women and men share many tasks in village agriculture across the archipelago, though plowing is more often done by men and harvest groups composed only of women are commonly seen. Gardens may be tended by either sex, though men more commonly tend orchards. Men hunt and fish, which may take them away for a long time. If men do long-term work outside the village, women may do all aspects of farming and gardening. Women are found in the urban work force in stores, small industries, and markets, as well as in upscale businesses, but usually in fewer numbers and lower positions than men. Many elementary school teachers are women, but men are more frequently teachers in secondary schools and universities. Men dominate all levels of government, though some women are found in various subordinate positions. The 2001–2004 president's cabinet has thirty-two ministers, only two of whom are women. President Megawati Sukarnoputri is a woman, though her following derives mainly from respect for her father, Sukarno, the leading nationalist and first president, rather than any of her achievements. She was opposed, unsuccessfully, by many Muslim leaders because of her gender.

Increasing urbanization and interregional migration in the 1980s and 1990s, the need felt by rural people to seek money in the city, weak urban infrastructure, and poor employment opportunities for many school graduates, put strains on families and marriages. After 1998, the fall of President Suharto, political instability, economic deterioration, decreasing law and order, and communal and religious violence in some areas added strain to family and kin networks in both urban and rural areas. However, they continue to be vital resources for supporting people in Indonesia.


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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsIndonesia - Marriage And Parenthood, Family And Gender, Inheritance