INDONESIA: Women Increasingly Pay the Price as Regional Bylaws Proliferate

Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Jakarta Globe
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Despite widespread criticism, the number of discriminatory bylaws continues to increase across the country, a leading women's rights group said on Tuesday.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) said that 35 such bylaws had gone into force this year, bringing the total to 189.

Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, the organization's chairwoman, said 80 of these bylaws limit women's rights to free expression and gainful employment.

“In the name of morality, women's rights are being sidelined in a country that is ostensibly governed by a spirit of democracy and humanism,” she told the Jakarta Globe.

“This figure is concrete proof of the fact that the Constitution has pushed women to the periphery of society.”

For example, a bylaw in the South Pesisir district of West Sumatra demands female employees and high school girls wear Islamic clothing. In Tangerang, women caught in public places after midnight are considered prostitutes and rounded up by the authorities.

What was exacerbating the rise in such bylaws was the fact that women were increasingly being left out of the policy-making process, Yuniyanti said .

“This is sad because women and minority groups have the same rights as other citizens of this country,” she said.

Indonesian women, she said, were also prevented from taking a united stand against this trend, having been divided into distinct groups by social mores.

Women from the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect, for instance, suffer a far higher degree of oppression than those from officially recognized religions, she said.

“Legal certainty, equality and democracy are at stake if we keep allowing discriminatory bylaws to flourish in our country,” Yuniyanti said.

Queen Hemas of the Yogyakarta Sultanate said this worrying trend was a threat to the country's cherished motto of “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” or “Unity in Diversity.”

“We can't violate this fundamental basis for our everyday lives,” she said. “Discriminatory bylaws also have a great potential to increase intolerance and can cause national disintegration.”

She added that the discriminatory bylaws took a patriarchal view of women as the source of the problems they were ostensibly trying to address.

“It seems to me these bylaws have no place in our Constitution,” Hemas said.

The main problem in stemming their rise, she said, was the fact that not enough people speak out against them. “The silent majority is failing to stand up for human rights, especially when it comes to minority groups,” she said.

Sasmita, the Justice and Human Rights Ministry's director for bylaws, told the Globe that the concept of regional autonomy had rendered his office powerless to amend or repeal discriminative bylaws.

“The 2004 Law on Bylaws states that the ministry can only fine-tune laws issued at the national level, not bylaws issued at the regional level,” he said.

But he said the ministry would keep educating its officials at the regional level on human rights and gender equality.

In the UNDP Gender-Related Development Index, released in March, Indonesia ranked 96th out of 109 countries.