Indonesia fights violence against women with new law
Jakarta, Apr 29: Earlier this month, Indonesian lawmakers passed a controversial bill targeting sexual violence, a step that has been long-awaited by women's rights activists but was criticized for taking too long.
The bill had been held up mainly by one Islamic conservative party, who claimed it would violate Islamic principles, be prone to misinterpretation and promote "free sex."
Compared to other Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, women in Indonesia have more freedoms in the areas of self-expression and lifestyle choices.
However, women's rights activists say that an increase of Islamic conservatism in Indonesia is challenging these freedoms. This is exacerbated by low enforcement on sexual abuse cases and ignorance of what constitutes sexual harassment and how to protect victims.
Titiek Kartika Hendrastiti, a gender-studies researcher at the University of Bengkulu, told that the long road to passing the bill reflects an Indonesian "dualism" when addressing sexual abuse.
People consider sexual assaults as an offence and wrongdoing, and at the same time as a disgrace, which leads many victims to not come forward.
Hendrastiti said instead of reporting a rape to the police, many people still seek "family ways" to "solve" the problem, including marrying the victim to the perpetrator.
This way, a rapist is considered as "being responsible" for the victim, while "saving" the honor of the victim and their family.
"There are double standards...cultural factors have driven the long delay in passing the bill," said Hendrastiti.
What does the bill change?
The sexual violence bill is meant to provide a legal basis for addressing rape and sexual harassment, including defining rape as the act of forced sex without consent. It also provides more help and support to victims
The law covers nine forms of sexual violence, including non-physical sexual harassment, forced marriage, forced contraception/sterilisation, sexual abuse, and sexual slavery.
It was introduced by the National Commission Against Violence against Women in 2012, yet it took until 2016 for the bill to be debated in Parliament. After a long stretch and several controversies, the bill was finally passed on April 12, 2022.
Mike Verawati Tangka, an activist with the Indonesian Women's Coalition, said she was grateful that the bill was finally passed, although it could have been done in much shorter period.
"It all depended on the government's political will," she said.
Tangka also welcomes the victim trust fund established by the law to compensate victims of sexual abuse and help them to recover.
"So far there have been no reservations regarding victim trust funds. We welcome this and appreciate the government," she told DW.
Indonesia sees increase in sexual violence
During the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, sexual violence cases increased in Indonesia.
Data from the Indonesian the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Protection (PPPA) showed there were about 25,200 cases of sexual violence in Indonesia, up from around 20,500 cases in 2020.
Meanwhile in 2021, several gruesome sex crimes triggered public anger, such as the rape of 13 underage girls by an Islamic boarding-school teacher in West Java Province.
High-profile sex harassment cases were reported in schools and offices. In some of the cases, victims only received help after their cases went viral on social media.
"We are on the verge of sexual assault emergency, therefore the bill needed to be passed soon," said women right's activist Susi Handayani.
Why was the bill delayed?
The Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) had been the only party rejecting the bill. Kurniasih Mufidayati, a leading PKS lawmaker, told DW that the recently passed bill could be prone to misinterpretation.
The wording of "sexual consent" before having sex was seen as problematic, as the party believes the right to sexual consent should only be applied to married people.
They also questioned some points on sexual orientation and forced abortion and forced marriage.
However, Mufidayati said that the PKS strongly opposes all forms of sexual crimes, and said it was "committed" and has helped thousands of victims.
Edited by: Wesley Rahn