Women Continue Local, Global Struggle for Change

This article was published in thejakartapost.com with the title

“Women continue local, global struggle for change”

Just last year there were over 300,000 cases of domestic violence; almost 70 percent
occurred within personal relations, the Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas
Perempuan) reported.

These statistics show that little has changed in over a decade despite the fact that the
womens’ movement helped to push the passing of the 2004 Law on Domestic Violence.
Cases have included torture and maiming, murder of girlfriends, a wife being doused with
petrol, rape of young girls by a stepfather or grandfather and so on.
It is not a problem that is reflected only in national statistics and nationally reported horror
cases. The problem and protests around occur everywhere. In 2016, in Gunung Kidul, an
impoverished area in the province of Yogyakarta, people from all walks of life protested
high rates of sexual violence, resulting, they said, in hundreds of cases of teenage
pregnancies over the last few years.

And women have had to come out to protest not only as a response to sexual violence and
direct gender discrimination, but also in response to decisions that affect families
economically.

Remember the women from the village of Kendeng who staged a vigil outside the State
Palace in Jakarta, their feet cemented into concrete blocks, protesting against a new cement
factory that they said would ruin the irrigation and environment upon which they relied for
their livelihood. This is just one of many similar cases.

It is clear the scattered and irregular protests are not working. There has been no real
progress reflected in the statistics. The cement factory in Kendeng seems to be going ahead
anyway. A growing and ongoing movement is urgently needed. And this March there are
important initiatives being taken.

March is the month of commemorating the international struggles of women. In 1908
working women in New York marched to demand improvement on wages and working
conditions. March 8 is now commemorated as International Women’s Day (IWD).
Then in 1910, the International Working Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, attended by
100 women from 17 countries, passed a resolution calling for an international day for
women adopting a resolution proposed by Clara Zetkin, from the German Social Democratic
Party.

Almost seven decades later, in 1978, the United Nations declared an International Women’s
Day. 

In Indonesia, IWD is neither a holiday nor has any formal national status. IWD was only
commemorated during the Sukarno period before 1965 by organizations such as the
Republic of Indonesia Women’s Union (PERWARI), as well as organizations such as the
Indonesian Women’s Movement (GERWANI).

Various women’s groups celebrated IWD on March 8 during the New Order up until now.
March 8 is often a day for women to unite to further the campaigns for their demands.
The sustained support for IWD in Indonesia is part of the renewing of the women’s
movement as part of a global movement.

For example since 2013, there have been activities on V-Day (Vagina Day) initiated by the
One Billion Riding (OBR) movement, which opposes violence against women in general, and
rape culture in particular.

In Yogyakarta, OBR raised awareness around the city’s very high rates of domestic violence.
No wonder that women’s struggle for improvement is never ending. Discrimination and
exploitation is endemic, not only regarding wages, but also in sexuality and the body.
In Indonesia, the state preserves this “second sex” patriarchal culture, as reflected in the
statements of state officials. This ranges from officials demanding virginity tests for
schoolgirls and women applying to be police officers.

Or they show they are still trapped by shallow stereotyping such as when the Agriculture
Minister Amran Sulaiman blamed women’s gossiping fo1 a failure of chili production and
price hikes. Women should stop gossiping and plant more chili, he said. Or the Research and
Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir banning sexual minorities from campus,
because “they violated national morality and values.”

Even the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Yembise. a female
professor, blamed a victim for her rape. A former Jakarta governor, Fauzi Bowo, once said
rapes occurred because too many women wore mini-skirts.

The patriarchal culture is also sometimes worsened by statements from religious
institutions. The World Health Organization has declared female circumcision as a violation
of human rights with no health benefits. Indeed they state that it can cause infections,
problems with urination and complications with giving birth. Yet the Indonesian Ulema
Council has declared it is recommended as an important religious duty and that there
should be no banning of the practice.

While these views remain dominant and affecti policy decisions, opposition and criticism
will inevitably continue.

This year local activists are organizing a “Women’s March”, responding positively to the
women’s marches in the United States opposing President’s Donald Trump’s mysoginist
statements on women, anti-human rights policies on immigration and sexual minorities,
among others. The movement started through proposals launched through social media
and now more than 5 million people have participated in marches around the world.
In Indonesia, with support from many local and international NGOs, the March will be held
on March 4 in the lead-up to IWD on March 8.

The Jakarta Women’s March is demanding the government do more to defend and promote
tolerance and diversity, act against violence, including violence against women and
violations against human rights. Discrimination against minorities or any group, on the
basis of ethnicity, race, religious belief, or sexual orientation must end.
Achieving real progress for women in this country, in ending sexual violence and improving
the economic rights of women will need more and more people to support and join in such
actions.

The writer is a playwright, a director and a theatre producer and co-founder of Institut Ungu,
Women’s Art and Cultural Space.