Reuters International

Indonesian campaigner Firliana Purwanti poses for a photo in Jakarta, Indonesia September 5, 2016. REUTERS/Beh Lih Yi

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By Beh Lih Yi

JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesian campaigner Firliana Purwanti is on a mission to tell women in her largely conservative nation that insisting on equality in the bedroom can help them achieve equal footing in boardrooms and in politics.

Purwanti's approach is unconventional in the country with the world's largest Muslim population where open discussion of sex is largely frowned upon.

Dubbed the "Orgasm Lady", Purwanti said if women are empowered enough to voice their demands in the bedroom, they are more likely to take the fight for equality outside the home.

By speaking up about sex, she hopes to spark discussion on issues such as virginity tests on women who want to join the Indonesia's military or police force and the ritual of female genital mutilation (FGM).

"Your body, your sexual pleasure is your autonomy. The state has nothing to do with it," said Purwanti, 39, who wrote "The O Project", a 2010 best-selling book documenting the sexual experiences of 16 Indonesian women.

About 5,000 copies of the Indonesian-language book were snapped up by readers soon after the launch and it was translated into English last year.

Indonesia was ranked 92nd out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2015 Gender Gap Index after scoring poorly on economic participation and opportunity with data showing 54 percent of women are in the workforce against 86 percent of men.

While Indonesia's economy has raced ahead over the past decade, critics say old-fashioned social attitudes persist and women are often subject to scrutiny about their behaviour.

As well as virginity tests and FGM remaining prevalent, Indonesia's top court is currently hearing a petition from conservative Islamic activists lobbying to outlaw sex outside marriage.

Purwanti - whose day job as a development worker includes tackling natural disasters - said her campaign is to push back against Indonesia's obsession with virginity.

Her approach has also attracted the attention of men. Over half her Facebook followers are male.

"All this while we have been trying to engage men in women's movement, it's very difficult. But when it comes to sex, they are engaged immediately," laughed Purwanti, who is working on a second book about sex and politics.

Since the 2010 book, she has been invited to share her campaign on different stages, including at the Jakarta version of popular speaker series TED Talks and by a top local cosmetics brand.

Purwanti, who is also active in the Democratic Party - one of Indonesia's largest political parties led by ex-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - said her party colleagues have called her campaign "bold and wonderful".

Recently divorced after a nine-year marriage, she plans to stand as a member of parliament in the next national elections, due in 2019, on a women's rights platform.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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