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Ending Violence against Women
Wednesday, 03 May, 2017 | 16:30 WIB
Ending Violence against Women

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A legal aid agency has trained locals to work as paralegals in East Nusa Tenggara, to assist with cases of violence against women and children. More and more women are reporting domestic and sexual violence in the region. 

LODIA Magdalena believes it is her calling to help those in need in her hometown of West Amarasi in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). Although she is a volunteer at the Integrated Healthcare Services Post (Posyandu) and also the local church, she believes it is her work as a paralegal that has made the most impact. Lodia assists women and children in domestic violence as well as sexual harassment cases. 

"I’ve met women who have nowhere to go or don’t know what to do [when she has experienced violence]," said the 36-year-old woman.

In 2015, she signed up to be a paralegal under the tutelage of LBH APIK (the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice and Legal Aid Institute) in NTT. Within a year, she obtained three training programs on assistance for women and on laws and regulations concerning violence against women.

Before working as a paralegal for two years, Lodia had assisted with 13 cases, mostly concerning domestic abuse. She explained a recent case involving a woman whose husband had left her for over a year. When he returned, the couple got into an argument and the husband hit her. "When something like this happens, the first thing I must decipher is the chronology of the whole incident," she said.

Most often, Lodia’s work is limited to assisting the victims, because cases are usually solved through mediation and agreement between both parties. She usually comes in to help settle disputes and ensure that the perpetrators sign an agreement promising never to hit their wives again. 

"But in severe cases, for example when the wife suffers from severe injuries, I counsel victims on whether or not they require legal aid," she said.

Lodia also raises awareness on domestic violence after Sunday mass. She admitted it’s not easy being a paralegal in Amarasi because of the sub-district’s large area, covering seven villages and one administrative village, and only nine paralegals to assist victims of violence. 

On rare occasions when victims must file a police report or go to the LBH APIK office in Kupang, one of the three male paralegals, including Moses Medah, who owns a motorcycle, would offer to drive the victim to wherever at any hour of the day.

Moses, who goes by the nickname Mus, has been a paralegal since 2013. This local church secretary immediately signed up when LBH APIK began recruiting paralegals in his area. Mus grew up with eight sisters and one brother. His background, he said, allows him to understand the women’s perspective. "I would also feel it if any of my sisters get hurt. I can empathize with what women have to go through," said Mus. 

Becoming a paralegal further expanded his view on gender relations. Mus admitted that although he had always wanted to help, he was not well-versed on gender issues. Obtaining training on gender equality made him realize how often people misinterpret gender roles in society. 

"[The misperception] have people think men are more superior than women, when in fact, we are all equal," he added.

Working as a paralegal has not always been easy on Mus. Some of his male colleagues would come out with disparaging comments because he was seen as taking the women’s side. This, however, has not deterred him from aiding victims. 

Despite challenges, Lodia is grateful because paralegals have gained the trust of the residents of West Amarasi. "Women are more willing to report cases of abuse to us, because we are not as intimidating as when they report to government officials or the police," she said. 

LBH APIK is a non-profit legal aid agency formed by the Women’s Association for Justice in 1995. Its NTT branch was established in 2011. "In NTT, no legal aid agency existed purely handling cases for women and child victims of violence," said LBH APIK NTT director, Ansi Damaris Rihi Dara.

The first year they began operating in the province, the agency was swamped. Women, especially, had been eagerly waiting for a place to go for help. Because of NTT’s patriarchal culture, women and children are often subjected to violence or sexual harassment. Rumah Perempuan Kupang (the Kupang Women’s House), a non-profit organization that focuses on gender issues, recorded 327 cases of domestic violence against women in 2016.

Ansi explained that most of the LBH APIK cases were domestic violence, with rape and sexual violence cases coming in second. Around 90 percent of victims are women and girls, while the remaining 10 percent are boys. (*)

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