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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 15 Jun 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Aceh’s Curfew for Women and the Urgency of Gender Equality Law


By Khoiriyah Helanita

June 13 2015

Deliberations on the bill on gender equality and justice have been stalled for quite some time and may not be endorsed by the House of Representatives anytime soon due to the strong opposition from many institutions, mostly religious ones. The concept of gender equality itself always sparks controversy, not only in Indonesia but also in the rest of the world.

For ages, cultural and religious perspectives have suppressed the rights of women and justified it with the argument that women “are supposed to be” under men, an edict used to explain many aspects of life, such as disproportions between men and women in education and occupation, underrepresentation of women in politics, impartiality toward women as victims and other discriminatory and oppressive situations against women.

These conditions led to the establishment of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, which Indonesia ratified under Law No. 7/1984.

Indonesia’s ratification of CEDAW has not significantly cut the number of cases of violations of women’s rights in the country, considering incompatibility between the narrative of women’s freedom from discrimination and the deep-rooted culture of patriarchy and the paradigm of women’s roles, which limits women to specific affairs: “sumur, dapur, kasur” (well, kitchen, bed).

Women’s rights are protected by the 1945 Constitution, but the antidiscrimination law is toothless.

The bill on gender equity and justice offers a solution to the issue of women’s rights protection in Indonesia, especially in remote regions, where women’s rights are restricted.

While the gender equality bill is being debated, the Banda Aceh government issued yet another gender-oriented regulation, which justifies a curfew for women in the Aceh capital city. The policy was issued to protect women from sexual harassment and violence, which is rampant there.

The controversial policy reminds us of other discriminatory regulations in place in Aceh, such as the bylaw on women’s dress in West Aceh, the prohibition on women straddling motorbikes in Lhoksumawe and many more.

In 2013, the National Commission for Women Protection already found 342 policies that discriminate against women on the pretext of religion and morality.

The discrimination excluded violence and abuse against women which occurred in the enforcement of the policies, such as law enforcers who forcibly cut off women’s hair for not donning a head scarf and ripping apart women’s pants for not wearing skirts.

The female mayor of Banda Aceh said the curfew was intended to decrease sexual harassment against women there. An investigation conducted by the Kita dan Buah Hati Foundation in 2015 placed Aceh on top in terms of sexual harassment cases in 2014, with the most incidents recorded in Banda Aceh.

The curfew is more like a quick fix than a remedy. Apparently the mayor failed to analyze the root cause of the high rate of sexual harassment against women.

Understanding the root cause is important to come up with the right measures to address the problem. Is the harassment rampant because of the evening activities of women or are there other reasons that trigger the incidence such as minimum presence of security officers and patrol in Banda Aceh, especially at night? Or maybe the punishment handed down to perpetrators of sexual harassment fail to provide a sufficient deterrence effect.

The main concern is that in the sexual harassment case women are the victims. The curfew bylaw however blames the victims instead of protecting them. Therefore, instead of limiting the victims’ activities, providing maximum protection to them is more pressing so that they can continue their daily routine and actualize themselves without having to feel insecure.

That there is a curfew for women in Banda Aceh and that there are other discriminatory policies in Aceh and other regions in Indonesia, should prompt a national campaign for immediate endorsement of the bill on gender equality and justice, so that the state can uphold and protect women’s rights as stipulated in the 1945 Constitution and CEDAW.

It is important for the nation to eliminate the perspective that “women are objects and a source of problems, so their rights have to be limited”. The bill, if passed, will provide guidelines to the policymakers to avoid making gender-biased policies or regulations and to take affirmative action that is required to ensure the protection of women’s rights.

Khoiriyah Helanita is a lawyer who works in Jakarta