A woman’s place is on the agenda
Although there’s no academic survey to prop up this assertion, here goes: For most Indonesians, the idea of rape in marriage is as alien as denying prayer in a place of worship.
Joko Widodo aka Jokowi is finally realising that human rights are gender-inclusive, Indonesian women’s anger may carry more clout than the menace of the religious right, and that the Me Too movement isn’t just a fleeting foreign fad.
This is the best explanation for the President’s sudden decision this month to say in public: ‘I hope that the Bill on the Crime of Sexual Violence will soon be passed so that it can provide maximum protection for victims of sexual violence in the country’.
He could have spruiked similar wake-ups at any time during the past six years while the proposed law was in hibernation, but he lacked the will to confront hardliners bent on dilution and delay.
The current criminal code recognizes sexual violence as molestation, adultery and rape. Forced sex in marriage is not illegal and till recently considered a matter to whisper, not broadcast.
Five years ago there were 2,979 reports of sexual violence. Just 172 were allegations of marital rape. Activists claim the real number is far higher as only the bravest speak out.
Tengku Zulkarnain, a former deputy Secretary-General of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Council of Islamic Scholars) and hostile to the bill explained his mores of marriage to a TV audience: ‘If desire wants, then it (sex) must happen. The wife can just lie down or sleep, it doesn’t hurt.’
Komnas Perempuan (the National Commission on Violence against Women) Commissioner Mariana Amiruddin reportedly told a Jakarta website: ‘If wives are forced, they cannot refuse. It means that wives are merely seen as sex slaves.’
New laws have been demanded by NGOs since 2012. Their campaign gained force in 2016 after 14 drunks raped and murdered a 13-year-old schoolgirl in Bengkulu on the west coast of Sumatra. (The gang leader Zainal, 23, has been sentenced to death. Others have been jailed for up to 20 years.)
Activists want domestic bashing and intimidation treated as criminal conduct and the government to provide protection and recovery for victims. The original bill defined nine types of sexual violence, but concessions made in debate have cut these to four.
Politicians from the Islamic Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (Prosperous Justice Party) and other conservatives shouted that the reforms have been engineered by pro-Western stirrers promoting a ‘liberal feminist agenda with a permissive attitude towards free sex (meaning a licentious lifestyle) and LGBT’.
They claimed the bill was out of whack with religious and traditional values and would lead to promiscuity and births unsanctioned by wedlock, euphemistically dubbed MBA –married by accident.
Only recently has the media started to highlight cases of brutality against women in a Men First society. An outrageous example of official discrimination occurred in Aceh province this month where a woman was flogged 100 times for adultery – briefly paused because she suffered too much agony. The government officer involved got 15 lashes.
Regional prosecutor Ivan Najjar Alavi reportedly said the court gave different sentences because the woman confessed to having sex in a palm oil plantation while the guy pleaded not guilty.
In 2005 Jakarta made a peace deal with the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement) after 29 years and 15,000 deaths through on-off fighting between separatist guerrillas and the army. To get the cease-fire, Aceh was allowed to use sharia law. This permits whipping for offences like gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol and gay sex.
The public punishments which draw crowds with cameras have long been furiously condemned by international and local human rights organisations. In 2017 Widodo called for an end to the brutality. All protests have been ignored.
The role of women in Indonesia has long been defined by men. The nation’s government-approved heroine is the 19th century aristocratic Javanese Raden Adjeng Kartini who died in 1904 aged 25 after giving birth. Although she condemned polygamy she accepted an arranged marriage to a local leader with three wives.
Kartini advocated for girls’ access to a full education and a ban on child marriage. Both are now the law though not the practice. According to Lies Marcoes of Rumah KitaB, a research institute advocating for the rights of the marginalised, Indonesia has the second-highest rate of child marriage in ASEAN. One in nine girls under 18 quit school to wed. Few relationships survive – another factor in domestic violence.
Kartini’s fame rests on published letters she sent to friends in the Netherlands arguing for equality and critical of Dutch control. First president Soekarno, a notorious womaniser who had nine known relationships, found the mild self-taught feminist a safe symbol for his anti-colonialism, so made her 21 April birthday a national holiday.
In case this encouraged uppity women to travel beyond their station, second president Soeharto created an organisation of public servants’ wives called Dharma Wanita. Till his fall in 1998, this kept women close to the stove, sink and bed and distant from books – unless needed for the compulsory Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga (Family Welfare Training).
Julia Suryakusuma, author of State Ibuism: The Social Construction of Womanhood in the Indonesian New Order said Soeharto’s authoritarian regime defined women first as a husband’s loyal partner. Then she was expected to be the kids’ educator, household manager and generator of extra income while still ‘a functioning member of society’.
The scene’s not entirely bleak: A 2020 World Bank study supported by Australia shows ‘
The Javanese phrase Kanca wingking translates as ‘a friend behind’. It used to mean a woman’s place in the street and home but is now seldom heard.
(People’s Representative Council). For the first time that’s just above 20 per cent.Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat