By Ruby Khalifah
August 06 2015
Tens of thousands of people are gathering in Jombang, East Java, for the 33rd congress of the Nahdatul Ulema (NU), opened by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
While the NU has been active in promoting moderate Islam, it is still necessary to ensure its sustained commitment in responding to human rights issues regarding women and girls, specifically those of sexual violence. In the past there have been reports of assaults committed by religious teachers against male and female students at pesantren (Islamic boarding schools).
These have included schools in NU strongholds and few have had the courage to report their clerics.
As the nation’s largest Islamic organization, NU has shown its strong support to gender equality and justice, especially under former chairman Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid.
Also the country’s former president, the late Gus Dur set a strong example of how NU as an organization with deep and wide grassroots plays a critical role in respecting and protecting human rights including those of women and girls.
To give some background, the 1935 congress in Surakarta, Central Java, resulted in a decision over forced marriage caused by adultery, stating that any marriage is unlawful without the consent of the groom. This decision was very patriarchal because only males were given the right to decide whether they wish to marry women they had raped or committed adultery with.
Some progress was seen in the NU’s 2006 congress in Surabaya, which highlighted the issue of women trafficking. The conference agreed that trafficking in persons is haram due to its inherent discrimination and violence against the victim in every step of the trafficking process.
In relation to victims of forced marriages, the Ulema in Surakarta cited the Koranic verse An-Nur (33): “And do not compel your slave girls to prostitution, while they desire chastity, as you would seek interests of worldly life.”
In this year’s 33rd congress the expert group meeting hosted by the Women’s Movement of Cultural NU, in cooperation with the regional NGO Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN), attempted to bring a more gender sensitive angle to NU’s platform of Islam Nusantara, placing the human rights of women and girls as priority.
So far the NU has not made a clear statement supporting government protection of our millions of women migrant workers, for instance, not to mention involvement in endorsing the draft bill on domestic workers, as a vital early step to prevent trafficking of women aspiring to work outside their hometowns and villages.
Neither has the NU been actively and clearly involved in monitoring the government to enforce the 1990 UN convention on the protection of migrant workers, which Indonesia ratified in 2012.
It is also crucial for the NU as a movement and an Islamic institution to seriously consider the increasing trend of violence against women as reported by last year’s annual review of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), especially given the NU’s decision following its 1997 national conference on the status of females in Islam.
Last year Komnas Perempuan reported 290,266 cases of violence against women, a fourth of which were sexual crimes. In 2013 and 2014 the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) reported thousands of sexual crimes against children.
In response then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a presidential instruction in June 2014 on the national movement on sexual crimes against children.
Therefore, the expert group meeting at the Jombang congress, including male and female religious leaders of the NU and activists, urgently wish to express NU’s support for the above national movement.
Hopefully this small intervention can strengthen the efforts of NU in promoting the protection of human rights of women and girls. Clear actions by the NU to support efforts to protect and prevent victims are in line with principles of Islam as a religion that aims to advocate for the protection of the weak.
Ruby Khalifah is country representative of the Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN).