Spotlight on Alumni: Alumna Encop Sopia Blazes the Trail for Indonesian Women in Politics

EWC Alumna Encop Sopia at the 2008 EWC International Conference in Bali.

Another East-West Center alumna rises to the top.  Having recently graduated from U.H. Manoa with a Master’s in Political Science and a certificate in Women’s Studies, EWC alumna Encop “Sofi” Sopia set out to break down the barriers holding back women in her society.  This had been her mission and reason for coming to the Center and now in her newly elected position as a member of Indonesia’s Serang District Parliament (as of April 2009), the capital city of Banten Province, she is able to lead by example and help shape policy that will improve the lives of women and all her constituents. 


Fellow IFP (Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program) Scholar from Indonesia, Elis Anis, remarked how Sopia stood out from amongst the rest in Indonesian politics. “Sopia enlightened her potential political supporters about the good use of politics – politics as a medium for facilitating the development of justice in every aspect of our lives,” explained Anis. “While many legislative candidates provided millions of rupiahs to purchase political supporters, Sopia educated her voters with principles of good politics, including the legislative functions of Parliament, clean and good governance, and people’s important contribution in enhancing these principles.”


Sopia’s political paradigm is rooted in her research and studies at the East-West Center and the University of Hawai‘i. “Initially, I thought that politics was just a compilation of highly sophisticated theories,” Sopia stated. “But after I learned more about it, I understood that politics is part of our daily lives; politics is a thought and strategy of how we can achieve the greatest benefit for society.”


Before coming to the Center, Sopia was already a dynamic agent of change in her community.  For several years she worked with NGOs promoting gender equity in Indonesia, including serving as the coordinator of the Women’s Division of the Association of Human Rights in Jakarta. She then went on to establish the Yayasan Banten Girang Foundation in 1999, serving as the chairperson for women’s issues.  She published articles and co-edited and authored books including “The Trafficking of Indonesian Labor” (1999) and “Indonesian Migrant Workers: the Search for Justice (2000).” She also conducted field research and submitted reports to NGOs on “Gender and Grassroots Economic Transformation” and “Gender and Islam in Indonesia,” among others.


“She always asserted the importance of women’s equal representation in the politics of her country and the need for women to achieve social justice,” reflected Kim Small, Sopia’s EWC advisor and the Center’s Ford Foundation Scholarship Program Coordinator. “She’s a definitely a real dynamo!”


“Every person has to become a social agent for themselves and for their society around them,” stated Sopia soon after completing her studies. “I met many people who have the same opinion, the same feeling, the same dream, so I feel I am not alone in this world.”