Sexual violence, workplace discrimination dominate Indonesian IWD rallies


Jakarta – Commemorating International Women’s Day, activists and workers took to the streets across Indonesia on March 8 to demand equality and an end of sexual violence against women. Sexual harassment in the workplace and discriminatory laws were also a major theme at many rallies.

Sexual violence

Actions were also held to build up to IWD. On March 4 activists from the Free Women National Committee (KNPM) held a free speech forum at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in central Jakarta. Action spokesperson and KNPM national coordinator Dian Novita said that the government is neglecting cases of sexual violence and the state is therefore complicit in the rape of women. “President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has neglected the resolution of rape cases; likewise the parliament has allowed sexual harassment against women to occur”, Novita told

IWD demonstration in Yogyakarta – March 8, 2012

According to the KNPM, there were 4845 cases of rape and sexual harassment against women in 1998-2010. More than three quarters were perpetrated by people close to the victim such as fathers, husbands, older brothers, uncles, grandfathers and boyfriends. “This makes us realise that even being with the people who are closest to us does not ensure that women can avoid incidents of sexual violence”, she told Pelita Online.

The KNPM said rape and sexual harassment also take place in public places, the perpetrators including close relatives, public transport drivers, celebrities, government officials and politicians. According Jakarta Metro Jaya regional police, there has been an increase in rapes on city public transport, rising from around 60 cases in 2010 to 68 in 2011.

Novita said this is made worse by discriminatory laws. “In Article 285 of the Criminal Code, rape is defined only as forced sexual intercourse (the penetration of the sexual organs), nothing else, and because of this it creates difficulties in the prosecution of rape cases”, Novita told Tribune News. also reported that on March 6, activists from the Women’s Justice Forum (FKP) – an alliance of around 30 women’s groups including the KNPM – distributed around 500 stickers reading “Stop rape and sexual harassment” on buses and city public transport vehicles in east Jakarta, an area where many cases of sexual violence have occurred on public transport vehicles.

Workplace discrimination

IWD was commemorated in several major cities on March 8. Around 60 women from the West Java Regional Women’s Committee (KPR) marked IWD in the West Java capital of Bandung with a rally at the governor’s office calling for sexual equality and for the government to protect women from sexual violence. “There are still women who are being harassed. We demand safety wherever we may be”, KPR chairperson Nurbetty told The KPR also called for an end to discrimination in the workplace and a 40% quota for women in all public offices.

In Lampung, South Sumatra, workers from the Independent Workers Union (SBM) protested against contract labour and outsourcing in solidarity with 53 workers dismissed by a local company for demanding higher wages. SBM member Ani Herningsih said violence and harassment against women had risen in her workplace. “We face a gender gap in education and remuneration, not to mention normative rights, such as menstrual leave and nursing rooms for breast-feeding mothers, which the company has not provided”, Herningsih told the Jakarta Post.

Increase in violence

The Post reported that student groups in the South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar held several rallies that were joined by members of the Islamic Female Students’ Association (Kohati) and the Anti-Discrimination People’s Movement. The protesters criticised the weak protection offered to women, which had resulted in an increase in harassment, discrimination and violence, both domestically and publicly. Kohati members presented data from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) showing a sharp increase in violence against women.

According to Komnas Perempuan, 119,107 cases of violence against women took place in 2011, up 13% from 2010. The commission documented 4335 cases of sexual harassment in 2011, of which 2937 occurred in public spaces including public transportation vehicles. The commission recorded 1751 sexual harassment cases in public spaces in 2010.

In the North Sumatra capital of Medan, Harian Orbit reported a demonstration by the Women’s Liberation Struggle Front at the North Sumatra regional House of Representatives. Also taking up the theme of violence and sexual harassment, action coordinator Jumeida said that women are treated as second-class citizens, as shown by the state’s failure to provide women with access to decent jobs.

The group also condemned a recent ban by the House of Representatives (DPR) on female staff members wearing “revealing” clothing, saying that it gives the impression that what women wear invites criminal acts. “Women’s [self-]expression should not be restricted”, she said, adding that women’s enemy is the capitalists who attempt to curb women’s rights. Action coordinator Nurlela Lamasitudju told Detik News that the police often take cases of petty crimes to court, but when the victims are women or children, “Strangely the cases are not acted upon”.

State complicit in rape

In Jakarta, activists from the FKP held a rally in front of the State Palace on March 8 with the theme “The state is complicit in the rape of women”, which also took up the issue of sexual violence against women in the workplace.

FKP spokesperson Iswarini said that many women workers are victims of sexual violence at work. “Several said that they had to sleep with superiors if they wanted to be promoted, or there are even some whose underpants are examined to substantiate [if they are telling] the truth when they ask for menstrual leave”, she told Republika Online.

Iswarini explained that many victims are afraid to speak out due to the prejudices of the system and that the real number of sexual harassment cases in the workplace is much higher. “There are many things that cause a [culture] of silence among victims of sexual violence, including the lack of impartiality in the legal system in Indonesia and our social outlook that still considers victims of sexual harassment as immoral or soiled goods”, she said.

Iswarini said that the victims are raped several times: by the perpetrator, society, the victim’s associates, religion, the police, the courts and the media. She said this demonstrates the state’s failure to protect women, highlighting the Criminal Code definition of rape as an immoral act that disturbs social order and security, not as an attack on the integrity of a woman’s body. “Regulations such as this ignore the importance of the mechanisms of protection, recovery and rehabilitation of the victims”, said Iswarini.

Mini-brains, not miniskirts

The FKP also took up the DPR’s miniskirt ban, one of the banners at the protest reading, “It’s not the skirt that’s mini, but your brain that’s mini”. “People still have a patriarchal thinking, believing that if a person wears revealing clothing they want to be raped. This is a patriarchal thinking that has to be exposed”, Iswarini told the state news agency Antara.

Earlier in the week, the DPR’s household affairs committee issued a regulation banning female staff from wearing revealing attire, saying that the measure was taken to prevent immoral conduct. House speaker Marzuki Alie, from President Yudhoyono’s ruling Democrat Party, said the ban would help prevent rape in society at large. “The DPR does not deal with miniskirts, but we know that many rapes and immoral cases occur because women dress inappropriately”, he told the March 6 Jakarta Globe. House deputy speaker Priyo Budi Santoso from the Golkar Party concurred, saying lawmakers’ secretaries and assistants should not “dress like they’re going to the malls”.

Marzuki’s statement echoed those made by Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo late last year in response to a series of violent rapes against female passengers on public transport vehicles. Bowo’s comments attracted a storm of protest from women and rights activist for advising women against wearing “provocative” clothing in public.

“To this day there is a perspective that women’s bodies are an invitation to sexual harassment in our society. One of the concrete examples of this is the statement by Marzuki Alie on miniskirts”, said Iswarini. “It’s not a woman’s body that is at fault when cases of sexual harassment occur. We want to see a future where women can walk the streets in safety even though they are wearing a miniskirt.”

Discriminatory laws reported that scores of women from the Indonesian Women’s Movement – an alliance of local groups – gathered at the Abu Bakar parking area in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta before marching to the central post office calling for an end to sexual violence and opposing the government’s plan to increase fuel prices in April.

Action coordinator Fatum Ade said that every year IWD is commemorated in many countries, including Indonesia, but women remain oppressed and experience injustice. She added that the quality of women’s lives is increasingly constrained by discriminatory government policies. “Women are the ones who are most vulnerable to violence and injustice. Moreover, policies in a number of sectors, particularly the workplace, do not provide any support to women. Many companies do not permit leave for menstruation, pregnancy or giving birth. Sexual harassment in the work environment continues to take place”, said Ade.

“The capitalists take advantage of the situation to get women workers with low wages. They are also vulnerable to dismissal because women are not considered the main breadwinner”, Ade told Suara Merdeka.

According to a survey released by Komnas Perempuan, official discrimination against women is on the rise, particularly in local government. The commission found 207 local government policies that disadvantaged women in 2011, mostly in the name of religion and morality, up from 154 in 2009.

The commission said that some policies were overtly discriminatory, while others constituted indirect discrimination by tending to disadvantage women disproportionately. Fifty-five by-laws criminalised women through provisions ostensibly designed to deal with prostitution, pornography and “immoral” meetings between unmarried persons of the opposite sex. There were also 23 policies that infringed on women’s rights to self-expression by dictating modes of dress.

[For the latest news and information on Indonesia visit the Asia Pacific Solidarity Network website.]

Direct Action – March 16, 2012

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