Women's Commission Chair: This is a Matter of Law, Not Religion

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    ANTARA/Wahyu Putro A

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Azriana Rambe Manalu, 50, cannot get her mind around why the Draft Law for the Elimination of Sexual Violence, that got so much play recently, was turned down. The chair of the National Commission on Violence against Women, more well-known as the Women’s Commission for short, is of the opinion the people who turned it down had no basis. “They said the Bill was piggybacking on the LGBT (pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) agenda, that it was pro-adultery, and pro-free sex. Which Bill were they reading?” she queried in a special interview with Tempo at the Women’s Commission’s office in Menteng, Central Jakarta, several weeks ago.

    The Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) Faction at the House of Representatives (DPR) refuted the Bill with the reasoning, among others, it had potential to be in opposition of Pancasila and religious belief. They felt that inputs from the PKS concerning several changes in definitions and on the matter of sexual violence had not been accommodated, while the remaining definitions were too liberal in perspective. At the end of January, refutations also emerged stating the Bill was pro-adultery. An online petition had support from more than 140,000 visitors to the website.

    Azriana said the naysayers had missed the very substance of the Bill, an effort to fill in a gaping legal hole to address all manner of sexual violence. There are nine types of sexual violence: harassment, exploitation, coercive contraception, coercive abortion, rape, forced marriage, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, and sexual torture. “The Bill will end the impunity of perpetrators,” she said.

    Azriana, an activist for women’s rights who hails from Aceh, said, the Law for the Elimination of Sexual Violence could also provide legal protection to victims, who to date continue to hover on “grey” territory, such as was the experience of Agni—not her real name—a student who suffered sexual harassment at the hands of a colleague at the Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. To Tempo reporters Sapto Yunus, Reza Maulana, and Angelina Anjar, Azriana also discussed the case of online prostitution that had nabbed daytime TV starlet Vanessa Angel. “She has also put in a grievance to the Women’s Commission,” said Azriana.

    What were the reasons for the Women’s Commission proposing a Draft for the Law on the Elimination of Sexual Violence?

    The Bill began with a study titled 10 Years of Annual Reports by the National Commission on Violence against Women in 2011, which portrayed figures, trends, and patterns of violence against women in Indonesia. According to the study, in a single day, on average 35 women suffer sexual violence and abuse. This means, every two hours some three women suffer sexual violence.

    What is the definition of sexual violence?

    Any act which demeans, insults, attacks the physique, sexuality, and/or reproductive functions of a person and is done with coercion as a result of imbalanced power relations and/or gender relations and/ or other causes. The act results or can result in physical, psychological, sexual, economic, social, cultural, and/or political damage and losses. We use the definition of the International Declaration for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women and the instruments for International Human Rights because Indonesia to date possesses no other references.

    What are the parameters?

    Violence is not only physical, insofar as it targets sexuality, and not merely the organs, but also the identity of the woman. Thus wolf-whistles and catcalling are also considered harassment. Even the question, “How come you’re still unmarried?” and the words “old virgin” are also sexual harassment. Because the stereotyping and labeling of aging unmarried women in our society is very bad. Body shaming too is a form of sexual harassment.

    What acts constitute sexual violence?

     Based on our studies on cases that occurred in Indonesia since 2001, there are 15 types of sexual violence. But only nine have needs of a legal approach to resolve them, and these are harassment, exploitation, contraceptive coercion, coercive abortion, rape, forced marriage, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, and sexual torture. These are listed based on gradation from low to high. The rest can be eliminated through education.

    The governance of abortion has become an issue...

    We used the term coercive abortion because the parties doing the coercion are who we are targeting. All this while, using the Criminal Code (KUHP), only the woman and the person enacting the abortion are the parties punishable. The male partner of the woman in question, who ordered the abortion, usually because of pregnancy out of wedlock, has never been threatened with the law. To us, this is a gap needing legal protection. We must bear in mind that abortion has potential to end up with profuse bleeding, and death.

    The refuters say, “This means, if it is noncoercive, then abortion is allowed.” Your response?

    No. Abortion is a criminal act. It is in the Criminal Code. Except for victims of rape, who with the recommendation from a cleric is allowed abortion up to 40 days of the pregnancy. This argument is also used in forced prostitution. They interpreted it by saying, “If it’s not forced, this means prostitution is allowed”. I’m confused by such logic. Prostitution is a criminal violation. The Bill for the Elimination of Sexual Violence is a specific law, it aims to complete general rulings, not overlay them.

    Are there instances of sexual violence that does not have to be governed by the law?

    The enforcement of clothing, such as currently occurring in schools in several provinces. According to international human rights instruments, this constitutes sexual violence because the right over our own bodies is part of our sexuality. Meanwhile, our constitution states, freedom of expression is the right of every citizen. Attire is the individual expression of a person. The Women’s Commission is critical of enforced clothing, but we do not have to put this stance in the Bill.

    The excuse is, clothing enforcement in schools is only a suggestion, it is not an imperative…

    And what is that for? If the parents make that suggestion, then there’s nothing to it. That would be part and parcel of the education of the family’s set of values. But, if the state through its policies does the same, then we have a problem.

    Other examples?

    Female genital mutilation, which is commonly known here as sunat for girl children. We refrain from calling it “sunat” because it does not always end up with actual wounding. Sometimes it is enacted symbolically, for instance by slashing a turmeric root plant. What we think should be argued is when wounding is carried out. Meaning, there’s no problem if the sunat ritual on girl children does not hurt them? We still need to consider it problematic. The ritual is a symbol for subjugating the girl and violates her right to her own body. Much like ear piercing. To become a woman according to the created standards of society, a girl’s body is targeted from since she was newly-born. Only, in a patriarchal society, we may not discuss it in too much detail. These matters are difficult subjects for a society used to making the female mere objects.

    How did the Women’s Commission create the definitions for each type of sexual violence?

    The definitions were constructed by accommodating the results of consultations. We were in consultation with many parties since 2014. They were academics, legal experts, citizens organizations, right down to vulnerable groups who had suffered sexual violence. Thus, the definitions were not constructed entirely using human rights instruments. We adopted all these wide ranging inputs.

    Were religious organizations involved?

    Yes. But I can’t remember all the organizations and when exactly they gave us their consultation.

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine