INDONESIA: Yogyakarta Group Lends A Hand To Abused Women

Sunday, April 24, 2011
Jakarta Post
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Being well educated or financially independent does not always come with red carpet treatment for women. Some still fall victim to domestic abuse.

The gloomy observation came from Rifka Annisa, a nonprofit organization which has assisted abused women since it started offering counseling to women and housewives in Yogyakarta in 1993.

“Many of our clients are highly educated, financially independent and even important decision makers in their respective social or business environments,” the group's executive director Mei Shofia Romas, more commonly known as Shofi, told The Jakarta Post.

She blamed denial of the horrifying experience and insufficient understanding of abuse for such situations.

“The first time they come to us, they mostly say that they just want to share their feelings, not to report abuse,” Shofi said.

After a few sessions with the group's counselors, things usually come out in the open. The women finally realize that they have been victims of abuse, which in many cases is committed by their husbands.

Domestic violence ranks first among the cases of violence against women that the group deals with.

Hand in hand: Men join a campaign to fight against domestic violence, one of the activities supported by Rifka Annisa women crisis center, in Yogyakarta. Courtesy of Rifka Annisa
This year alone, the group has received103 cases of abuse against women as of mid-April. Of the cases, 74 were domestic violence, while the rest were date violence (17), sexual harassment (2) and family violence (2).

Last year, of the group's 321 cases, 226 were domestic violence. The rest were dating violence (43), rape (31), sexual harassment (10), family violence (10) and trafficking (1).

“The longstanding image of Rifka Anissa as an institution providing counseling for married women who encounter domestic problems may have accounted for the [high] figures,” she said.

Formed on Aug. 26, 1993, Rifka Annisa, which literary means “the friend of women”, was known as a women's crisis center during its first years of existence and holds to its mission of helping to eradicate violence against women in the country.

Besides serving as a women's crisis center, it has also evolved into a human resources development center with the same mission of stopping violence against women in the country.

The group offers a range of services and activities, including psychological counseling, legal advice if the clients decide to take legal actions, a safe house for abused victims facing life threats, a men's program, outreach services for women in remote areas and victims of violence and capacity-building activities.

“Counseling activities take various forms, ranging from face-to-face counseling, counseling by email, phone or Facebook, interactive radio broadcast counseling and counseling through newspaper columns,” Shofi said.

One of the group's services, the men's program — where counseling is also provided to men and husbands as abusers — is considered by many a breakthrough.

“The service was based on our data showing that 90 percent of abused wives decided to go back to their husbands to continue their marriages. At the same time, no counseling was provided to the abusive husbands,” the group's public relation officer Nisa Khaerunisa said.

The men's program was launched in 2006 as a result of a growing awareness among the group's activists that men were potential partners in the effort to stop violence against women, she said.

It was for this same reason that the group started staffing men in 1998.

Such an approach, however, initially received strong criticism from other organizations working for similar causes, considering that it was not common practice to involve the abusers in the counseling.

Nisa said that the involvement of men is a necessary compromise for dealing with the abusers as the source of the problem.

“Rifka Annisa has its own strategic consideration in using the approach,” she said.

The program turned out to be effective in helping the abused housewives find safe ways back to their husbands to continue the marriages, she said.

In its development, the program turned out to be dealing not only with abusive husbands but also with men struggling in their relationships, she added.

Another program, which is considered an important step in the effort to stopping violence against women and protecting their rights, is the formation of an inter-institution network that the group helps to coordinate.

The network was set up in response to monitoring in a number of cities — including Medan (North Sumatra), Makasar (South Sulwesi), Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya (East Java) and Semarang (Central Java) — in 2007-2008 on the implementation of the 2004 Domestic Violence Law.

The monitoring revealed that almost no divorce trials in religious courts accounted for the domestic violence law, regardless of the fact that the trials were triggered by domestic violence.

Shofi said that the judges presiding over the cases did not try to find out more even in the very beginning of the trials, simply stating the reason for the divorce was “incompatibility between the couple”.

“The judges did not try to explore why the incompatibility was there, and even if they did, and found it was due to domestic violence, meaning there's a violation of the Law on Domestic Violence, they would say it was beyond their authority and that such cases belonged in the criminal courts,” Shofi said.

The network, which involves representatives from related institutions and other NGOs, is tasked with creating a strategy for integrating the Law on Domestic Violence into religious courts. Currently, religious courts use only the 1974 Marriage Law as a reference in making decisions.

The network, she said, believes that it is possible to integrate the Law on Domestic Violence into religious courts to ensure that the rights of domestic violence victims in seeking settlements or divorces are upheld in religious courts.

“The final goal of this movement is a Supreme Court's ruling obliging religious courts to integrate the use of the Law on Domestic Violence in the courts.”