Combating Violence Against Women
During the 1998 riots in Indonesia women of Chinese descent, a minority group in Indonesia, were raped on a massive scale. “Shortly after the riots a delegation of women’s organizations met with Habibie, who had just succeeded Sukarno as President”, says Kamala Chandrakirana. The discussion lasted two and a half hours instead of the twenty minutes that had been scheduled. “At the end of the meeting President Habibie said: we must find a proactive way of combating violence against women. Komnas Perempuan (National Commission on Violence Against Women) was established shortly after that.”
“We documented cases of rape and other violence against women to give the victims a voice and to be able to take those responsible for this violence to court. In most cases this proved to be very difficult, especially if the perpetrators were military officers. Likewise, it proved to be impossible to open a detailed investigation into the role of the army during the mass rapes of 1998.”
Komnas Perempuan is also active outside the conflict areas. Kamala Chandrakirana: “Violence against women is violence against women, whether this takes place in Aceh or in someone’s home in Jakarta. In 2004 the Act against Domestic violence was passed at the initiative of women’s organizations. Before, the norm used to be that a woman should remain silent if she was beaten or otherwise abused at home. After all, the family honour had to be upheld. Nowadays the norm is: violence against women is always unacceptable. Not only does this apply to physical or sexual violence, but also to bullying, verbal abuse or economic abandonment. We work closely with the national police so that we can effectively tackle violence against women, children and house maids. More and more police hospitals have a special ward for victims of domestic violence, where they can get medical treatment as well as psychological support. In addition to that we work with judges, including those of religious courts. We explain that domestic violence is a crime under the law, and that domestic violence is often the reason why a woman wants a divorce, even though she may not always say so.”
A big challenge in the coming years is the rise of religious fundamentalism, according to Kamala Chandrakirana. “Last year parliament passed the so-called Anti-Pornography Bill. This gives only a very vague definition of pornography. What’s more, the text asserts that ‘the public can participate’ in upholding the bill. This may give a licence to violent religious vigilante groups that terrorize women if they do not behave ‘appropriately’. Some local authorities have already issued ordinances ‘against anyone who gives the impression of being a prostitute.’ After this the police started arresting women returning from night work. These are serious setbacks. I do believe that the general public will start to realize that although the religious fundamentalists invoke religion or a higher moral law, their actions are in fact anti-democratic, intolerant and violent. This is at the heart of our struggle. Women’s rights can only be respected in a society that upholds the values and rights of all citizens, without exception.”
Komnas Perempuan (National Commission on Violence Against Women) was established in 1989 by presidential decree. Its aim is to combat and prevent all forms of violence against women in Indonesia, including (former) conflict areas like Aceh and Papua. Komnas Perempuan is dedicated to promoting better legislation, issues a report on violence against women every year, takes a stance against the rise of religious fundamentalism in government policy making and provides strategic support for crisis centres for women and children who are the victims of violence.