Yogi Paramitha, APMA 2020, Indonesia

Indonesia has a high rate of violence against women. In this patriarchal society, women are seen as the second-class citizen in which their rights are very often being overlooked. According to the National Commission on the Elimination of Violence against Women (the National Women Commission/KOMNAS Perempuan) report, the number of cases of violence against women saw a staggering 792 % increase from 2008 to 2019. But this trend is the tip of the iceberg.  Indonesian women are still afraid to report their experience due to fear of victim blaming.

This article aims at discussing the urgency of enacting a legislation concerning the elimination of sexual violence in Indonesia. This legislation is an attempt to comply with Article 2 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which stipulates that states parties should undertake necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, including sexual violence. Human rights arguments for protecting women in Indonesia are confronted by conservative religious interpretations. Caving in to this pressure, the Indonesian government is not really committed to adopt legislative measures in eliminating sexual violence.

Debates surrounding the bill against sexual violence

Having ratified CEDAW and enacted Law No. 7/1984, Indonesia has an obligation to eliminate violence against women. To comply with this obligation, a bill concerning the elimination of sexual violence in Indonesia was drafted in 2012 by the National Women Commission collaboratively with civil society organizations. This was in responding the high number of sexual violence cases in Indonesia. As reported by the National Women Commission between 2011 to 2019, there was including 46.698 cases involving sexual violence against women. From that number, 23.021 cases happened in public sphere such as rape (9.039 cases), sexual harassment (2.861 cases), and cybercrimes with sexual nuance (91 cases).

However, the law-making process of this bill has been polemical. In 2016, the government together with People’s House of Representative (DPR) agreed to put the bill as one of priority bills in the National Legislative Program (Prolegnas). The Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, at that time also stated his support to the bill to be enacted as a legislation. During the process in People’s House of Representative, the bill went to the commission VIII focusing on social and religious issues. Under this commission the original bill has been reduced significantly from 125 articles to include only 50 articles.

The polemic against the bill emerged in 2018 when Iqbal Romzi, a member of the Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), an Islamic conservative party, strongly opposed the bill. This was because the bill included marital rape as a form of sexual violence. He argued during the meeting on 23 January 2018 that according to his religious belief, a wife must be a servant to her husband; hence, for him, there is no such thing as ‘marital rape’.

Another stance of opposition against the bill has been mentioned by Marwan Dasopang, a member of the Nation Awakening Party (PKB), a moderate Islamic party, as reported by CNN Indonesia on 02 July 2020, who states that “the bill is influenced by liberal values, especially on the issues of LGBT, so for him the bill contradicts to religious and cultural values of the Indonesian society.”

Once the polemics appeared in the public, Indonesia’s general public has been divided into two camps, between the pros and the cons toward the bill. Finally, in July 2020, the bill was suddenly removed from the list of priority bills in the Prolegnas with a reason that this bill is too difficult to be discussed. Taking this together, it seems that the government remains reluctant to confront the fact that sexual violence against women an acute problem in society. This reluctance shows in the inability of the government to stand up for protection of women’s rights when challenged with conservative interpretations of religious values by Islamic political parties opposing the bill. Hence, it remains to be seen how the bill will move forward in the future.

*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.

Photo from Asia Pacific Report

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