THE EARTH TIMES/FIELD REPORT
AUGUST 15-31, 1994
Q & A: HARYONO SUYONO
‘The most challenging task was….”
By Ashali Varma
Haryono Suyono 56, is Indonesia’s Minister for Population and Family Welfare.
He is widely recognized as the key official entrusted by President Soeharto to stabilize
this Southeast Asian country’s population growth rate. By all accounts, this US
educated sociologist has been quite successful. Excerpts from a recent interview:
How has Indonesia achieved its success in family planning in the
Last 25 years?
Instead of going directly to the couples, we did a lot of institutional development. It
called for decentralizing and creating institutions with a commitment to improving
awareness in family planning from the top leadership, down to the leadership at the
grassroots level. Everyone was involved from the President, the governors, the heads of
villages, so that everything was not dependent on one leader.
We had decrees at every level that laid out the program so there was continuity. That
was the first five years of our commitment. We developed many programs with the
involvement of the people.
As a result, in the second 10 years, fertility decline was 35 percent to 37 percent, so that for the last 20 years, the Total Fertility Rate declined by 47 percent to 55 percent and everybody felt that this was their own achievement, something they had to continue. The community people themselves put symbols everywhere.
In the face of so many different religions and beliefs, how did you manage to convince the people and the religious leaders that family planning was vital to achieve economic development?
We realized soon that we would not succeed if we tried to impose our beliefs on
religious leaders but then we learned that to really move forward was not by imposition
but by really making partners and friends. We co-opted them to help us reach the
people, by trusting them and giving them the responsibility to do it in their way.
What do you think is the single most critical factor that contributed to Indonesia’s success in family planning?
Number one would be political commitment of course, and then continuity
of this commitment into a translation of action. Real action means not just issuing
instructions, but getting things done. (This means) community participation: letting
people be involved, letting people initiate something, really appreciating their
endeavors, and giving them financial support when they need it. This commitment of
action is measurable, so everybody can compare their success with pride. We use this
in a positive manner by appreciating the successes, writing about them in the press,
meeting with the governors and with the President.
There are experts who believe that development and literacy are the two key elements to reduce population growth, but I find that in Indonesia, family planning has been successful even though not all the families were literate when the program was launched.
But we did not deny development. At the same time we developed education, we
developed health infrastructure, we promoted the role of women, we tried very
hard to put women in every possible position. In some communities, we even made women the leaders. In the villages we created so many different kinds of leadership, so when we have meetings there are many leaders who have pride in their work. We ask them to address the community and sometimes you have five or 10 leaders addressing a
meeting. This makes them feel needed and by asking them to address a meeting, you
force them to learn more about family planning and the development concerns of
What was the most challenging task for you when you started the
The most challenging task was to change the people’s mentality that family planning
was not a medical problem. It was thought that family planning was something that
doctors were supposed to attend to and it could only be offered at clinics. To change
attitude was the most difficult. We over can this step by step, by showing the community
that the local leaders, village heads, religious persons could also speak with authority on
family planning. And this became the accepted norm that helped to spread information, awareness and educate villagers. So the program would become a part of the culture and families would educate their children on the benefits of family planning.
To what extent did TV, media and the press contribute to the success
of family planning in Indonesia?
Very much. It gave a different image the people of how important family planning is and what kind of commitment the government has to it. We created event where the governor himself had to come to address the people. And this was quoted in the press which gave it more credibility. And we wanted the people to know how much we were doing and to get it reported by the media. It was difficult at first to put the message of family planning on the radio. People would say how can you talk about condoms on the radio; the radio did not want to broadcast it. It became acceptable however, when the President, in one of his addresses before the public, spoke about it openly back in 1983.
Has the family planning movement in Indonesia done much toward the empowerment of women?
Very much so. In our program we created a number of new leaderships, leaders of clubs, communities and women took on this role. At the same time, as most of the participants are women, we gave them a lot of new information not only pertaining to family planning but other developments. We gave them new schooling in education, health and child care. Education is now compulsory for nine years for everybody, including girls. Because, before people thought it was necessary only to educate the sons, but now girls will compete equally. This means improvement and giving priority to the girls and this will lead to a demand for higher education. At the end of the next 25 –year-plan the women of Indonesia will be as qualified as the men.
What would you personally like to see accomplished at Cairo?
I wish that people would not debate sentences, full stops and phrases and brackets but rather come forward with appreciation for actions. Heads of state, ministers and experts should really think of actions, partnerships, cooperation in the real sense and go back home from Cairo seeing this new light as the real result of the Population Conference in Cairo. Forget the debate, don’t echo the debate but echo maybe the small things of partnerships, cooperation, of appreciation, of something good to improve the well-being of the family and the population. If you cannot light you own candles. Echo the consensus and the partnerships, the cooperation and the positive things.