INDONESIA’s first government-sponsored nationwide survey on violence against women has revealed one-third of women have experienced violence in their lives, with educated and urban-dwelling women at greater risk.
Almost 9,000 women between the ages of 15 and 64 were interviewed for the National Women’s Life Experiences Survey, which was conducted by the government statistics body Statistics Indonesia (BPS). It found one in three women had been subject to physical, emotional or sexual violence at the hands of their partner or somebody else during their life.
The survey was commissioned by Indonesia’s Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry, supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Indonesia, and engaged a range of government ministries.
Interestingly, women living in urban areas and with higher levels of educational attainment were more likely to experience violence. The survey found 36.3 percent of women in urban areas had been subject to physical or sexual violence, compared with 29.8 percent in rural areas.
For women who had completed high school education or greater, 39.4 percent had experienced violence, compared to 35.1 percent of women without jobs.
Women’s March Jakarta co-organiser Anindya Restuviani told Asian Correspondent this is the result of Indonesian norms such as the “very traditional Javanese culture that always told me to ‘obey’ the man.”
The BPS found roughly a quarter of married women had experienced violence in the hands of their husbands. The prevalence of sexual violence perpetrated by non-couples such as parents, teachers, friends and strangers was shown to be as high as 14.4 percent.
Ahmad Luthfi Firdaus, a legal analyst at women’s legal aid service LBH APIK told Asian Correspondent the cause of increasing violence against women is “unequal power relations between women and men”, as well as inadequate legal instruments “to protect women from violence.”
Last year, Deputy Human and Societal Development Minister at the government development agency Bappenas Dr Ir. Subandi said, “Many cases of violence against women across Indonesia are not reported, meaning the limited data we have does not portray the true magnitude of the problem.”
Efforts to reduce violence have been hindered by a lack of credible data. Previous estimates had suggested three to four million Indonesian women were victims of violence each year, but the current survey suggests the true figure is higher.
The BPS data reflects findings from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), which found high rates of violence against women in Indonesia.
According to the research, female students constituted 24 percent of all victims in 2016, while 19 percent of violence occurred in the home.
The government has promised to use the BPS findings to implement policy change, building on an agenda set by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Jokowi and gender
Since taking power in 2014, Jokowi has committed to reducing gender inequality in Indonesia. He previously stated, “Women represent half of the drivers and beneficiaries of development.”
“As president, I’ve mainstreamed the issue of gender equality because I strongly believe in removing the root causes of discrimination and violence.”
Indonesia’s Women Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Yohana Yambise said in late 2016 women were a “major source of power” and could be “agent[s] of change in various fields and will lead Indonesia to become a large, just, and prosperous nation.”
Jokowi was widely praised in 2014 for appointing a record number of eight women to his Cabinet, including Indonesia’s first female Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, and is an ambassador of the UN Women “He For She” global solidarity campaign.
Accordingly, the president has committed to achieving 30 percent representation of women at the parliamentary level, to boost access to reproductive health services to reduce maternal mortality, and to end violence against women and girls.
Nevertheless, a recent report from the Jakarta-based Women Research Institute (WRI) states there is “strong evidence that without stronger affirmative actions and regulations at the state level, as well as the internal level of political parties, women could only reach a political representation of 17 percent in the national parliament.”
Moreover, civil society groups note despite some success in setting targets for inclusion, more needs to be done to fully combat gender discrimination and violence against women at the national level.
Eliminating violence against women
“We have to do more to make violence against women an extraordinary crime,” said the head of the BPS upon releasing the National Women’s Life Experiences Survey findings.
Indonesia passed a Law on Domestic Violence in 2004, which states that “victims, most of whom are female, should receive protection from the state and/or community to avoid domestic violence or any threats of violence.”
According to Ahmad Luthfi, however, the 2004 domestic violence legislation is too narrow in scope – covering only violence committed within a marriage or domestic setting. The Indonesian penal code thus “still cannot accommodate the full protection of women.”
A number of Indonesian politicians have introduced a Bill to Parliament that would make sexual violence a more serious offence and encourage women to speak out against violence by creating forums where they can discuss crimes safely.
But Restuviani says the “government doesn’t really see this as urgent,” and she hopes the BPS survey’s findings will help boost support for the legislation.
Some civil society groups have begun using the hashtag #MulaiBicara (start the conversation) to raise public awareness and propose action on reducing violence, particularly since the release of the BPS survey’s findings.
— Lentera Indonesia (@LenteraID) April 7, 2017
Raising awareness is important, said Restuviani, because at present “people are too scared to talk about it.”
“Society tends to normalise this form of violence,” through “most patriarchal culture[s] that exist in Indonesia,” she said.
Education is vital to eliminating violence against women, said Ahmad Luthfi. He says the government should implement education programmes regarding women’s rights and gender at all levels from elementary school to university, as well as promote public awareness campaigns.
Other interventions like training people in domestic and sexual violence-specific first aid “can be done to prevent and respond to violence against women,” he said.
Moreover, news media needs to play a greater role in raising awareness along with government and civil society, says Restuviani, as “There are many cases I feel are important to be raised.”
“Media thinks it’s not mainstream enough to get popularity so they won’t cover it.”