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Indonesia: Commission Finds Many Laws that Discriminate Against Women

(Sept. 19, 2012) On September 14, 2012, the Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women noted that more regulations that discriminate against women are being adopted throughout the country than are being repealed. The Commission is an independent, national institution with the mission of protecting women’s rights; it was established by Presidential Decree on October 15, 1998. (Profile, Komnas Perempuan website (last visited Sept. 18, 2012).)

According to Commission member Andy Yentriyani, “[r]emoving discriminatory policies against women is a slow process. Let’s say we’re currently trying to repeal one bylaw. While we’re doing that, several other new anti-women bylaws spring up. So it’s really an uphill battle.” (An Uphill Battle to End Discrimination, THE JAKARTA POST (Sept. 17, 2012).)

As of August of this year, the Commission noted 282 bylaws in various jurisdictions across Indonesia that it deemed discriminatory, compared with 154 such instruments in 2009. Among those laws, the Commission’s statement indicated, there are 96 that impose criminal sanctions on women through regulations on prostitution and pornography, 60 that contain dress codes and religious standards, and 38 that place restrictions on women’s mobility. (Id.) Although such bylaws can be found in 28 Indonesian provinces, the six provinces in which they are largely concentrated are East Java, South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, West Java, West Nusa Tenggara, and West Sumatra. (Id.)

In addition, the Commission has particularly focused its attention on the special administrative region of Aceh, in which sharia law is practiced; it is located at the western end of Sumatra. The Commission has identified 15 local policies in Aceh that discriminate against women and are enforced with violent and coercive methods, including punching, public parades to shame people, forced marriages, bathing people in sewage water, and destruction of property. (Id.)

Although the leaders of the area cite regional autonomy in defense of theses methods, the Commission argues that “[s]haria law is no reason to ignore the 1945 Constitution. Aceh cannot use these reasons to override these basic pillars of Indonesia.” It also notes that women are protected under a number of constitutional provisions, including article 27, which states ” [a]ll citizens shall be equal before the law … .” (Id.; The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia (last updated 2002), Embassy of Indonesia website.) According to Saur Tumiur Situmorang of the Commission, “[w]omen in society are seen as symbols of purity and viewed as objects to control. … When women are accused of violating these discriminatory laws, they have to suffer prolonged shame and stigma.” (An Uphill Battle to End Discrimination, supra.)

In one recent case, such public shaming was so severe that the object, a teenage girl, killed herself. After attending a concert on September 3, 2012, she was arrested by the sharia police and accused of prostitution. Information, including her full name, appeared in local media. Three days later she was found dead, apparently having committed suicide. (Aceh Teen’s Suicide Linked to Sharia Practice, THE JAKARTA POST (Sept. 14, 2012).) The Commission has pointed to incidents like this one to argue that laws that discriminate based on gender must be repealed. (An Uphill Battle to End Discrimination, supra.)