Will Indonesian Women Be Bargaining Chips?
By Ati Nurbati, The Jakarta Post
Toward the end of 2009, Indonesia, a supposedly moderate Islamic country, shocked the world again. It wasn't bombings this time; it was a new bylaw in Aceh that allowed the stoning to death of married adulterers. For the unmarried, the law stipulated 100 lashes for the couple. These were part of the new Islamic criminal code in the province, and did not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims.
As soon as the provincial legislature passed the bylaw, the Home Ministry said it would file a request to have it revoked by the Supreme Court because it was deemed to violate the Constitution, which guarantees human rights.
On the same grounds, the National Commission for Violence Against Women immediately said it would file a judicial review over Aceh's special autonomy law itself, which authorizes the local government to pass sharia-based rules -- invoking an annoyed response on the part of local authorities.
To date, the commission remains alone in demanding a review of the Aceh autonomy law, particularly regarding its above authority.
The commission clearly hit on a political taboo -- it had demanded the revocation of one of those quid-pro-quo results of hard bargaining. The autonomy law for Aceh was a follow-up of the historic peace agreement between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM); its implementation is still hampered by Jakarta politicians -- and now some women wanted its unprecedented powers revoked!
Commission chairwoman Kamala Chandrakirana recently repeated demands to revoke all laws and bylaws leading to "discrimination" against women and other affected groups across the country, even as the Home Ministry had stated earlier there was nothing wrong with those local rules.
nothing to do with religion, said the minister at the time; they were just
rules on "customs".
Why would a modern country allow "customary" bylaws regulating what time women should be home, what they should wear and what type of behavior they should or should not be exhibiting?
The commission maintains these laws are discriminatory against women and non-Muslims, and go against the Constitution, which guarantees human rights for all citizens.
It was only when reports of Aceh's "stoning bylaw" emerged that the Home Ministry said this was a violation of the Constitution.
This shows the state tolerates discrimination to a certain point: "Customs" are allowed as long as they are not extreme to the point of making Indonesia look ridiculous in the eyes of the international community. The regulation of "customs" need not be questioned as long as they serve to make regional politicians happy.
What women's activists, including those on the commission are saying is that there's a limit to bargaining, whether it's with Aceh separatists or unruly local politicians: You don't use women as bargaining chips; you don't confuse culture, customs or autonomy with human rights.
The question for next year is whether the new administration, with a new state minister for women's empowerment, and a new generation of commissioners, legislators and activists see eye to eye on this issue.
Will the government continue to tolerate "customary" rules, among others raising the excuse of local authorities under regional autonomy law?