May 30, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Justice for women?

Ratna Bataramunti

Working and running the household makes me very tired, and as a result I often don’t feel like having sex. But my husband doesn’t care how I feel, and is offended when I say no. He abuses me, calls me a disobedient wife, and then drags me onto the bed, tears my clothes, and forces me to do things that revolt me. I can’t stop him because he threatens me with a knife he always keeps in the mattress. Every time we have sex I feel as if I have been raped.

This is AT’s story – a mother, worker and housewife who came to us for help. Unfortunately, we at the Legal Aid Society for Women (LBH-APIK) in Jakarta see all too many cases like this. While many have suffered violence, others have been coerced into sex with their husbands in other ways – including through threats to withhold living expenses, shaming and psychological pressure, and by being forced to drink alcohol until drunk. And some women have come to us after having been physically abused with foreign objects and degraded in other ways by their husbands.

The reality for many women is that they suffer from many forms of violence and oppression in the home, including physical, economic and psychological abuse. Some also suffer from the effects of husbands entering unequal and unsanctioned polygamous relationships, sometimes without their knowledge, or after coercing their permission through physical, financial or psychological threat.

Economic abuse is a common type of abuse in the cases handled by LBH-APIK. These cases are not limited to husbands neglecting the needs of mothers and children, either during marriage or after divorce. Women seek help in a range of circumstances, including where husbands take away their earnings from their employment outside the home, where husbands prevent them from working by forbidding or shaming them, and where all the family’s income is wasted by husbands on alcohol. Disturbingly, based on cases coming to LBH-APIK and other such organisations, violence against women in the home in all forms, including physical violence, is on the increase.

Deep-seated barriers

Until very recently there has been no access to justice for these women. Article 285 of the Criminal Code only regulated sexual relations outside marriage, and so no legal processes were available – even though a Constitutional amendment in 1984 was supposed to guarantee all women, regardless of marital status, equal rights and protection.

The problems for women are based on prevailing norms, values and beliefs in our society – the things we have internalised to the point that they have become beliefs we ‘take for granted’. According to these beliefs women are seen as having certain roles – as wives, as ‘sex-providers’ for their husbands, as domestic workers. They are always on the ‘losing side’ of morality’s double standards, and are always seen in terms of dichotomies such as the ‘good/moral woman’ versus ‘bad/immoral woman’.

As a result of these gender constructions, women are highly susceptible to becoming victims of domestic violence. They are often, for example, accused of being responsible for causing domestic violence, or for driving their husbands to take another wife.

This culture of victim blaming does not only affect victims in a social and cultural context, but has resulted in the perpetuation of major obstacles to obtaining justice. Founded on the prevailing culture, the legal system is gender biased, and gives women inadequate protection – both in the legislative and procedural spheres. The legal system’s traditional view of domestic violence as a private affair is an example of this.

A breakthrough

LBH-APIK Jakarta is the Legal Aid Society for Women. Established in 1997, it gives legal aid to women, particularly poor women, and works to eliminate gender inequality and gender injustice in their various forms.

Since 1997 LBH-APIK, along with other women’s and justice-focused groups, has been advocating for law reform to protect women from domestic violence. Yet we have been faced with a legal and social system that saw what happens in the home between husbands and wives as a private matter.

What was needed was a major breakthrough. We believed that this could only come through the law. Before any practical improvements were ever likely to occur, what was needed was a clear statement by the parliament and the law that outlawed violence against women, including in the home.

Our breakthrough finally came in September 2004. After years of effort, the parliament passed the law on violence against women in the home (Law No. 23/2004). The new law outlaws four forms of violence – physical, psychological, sexual (including marital rape), and economic neglect. Significantly the law makes ‘criminal’ violence against all members of the household, including husbands, wives, children and extended family members.

Addressing barriers

The new law is the result of well thought through lobbying and analysis. It addresses some fundamental barriers that have always prevented victims from getting justice.

To begin with, the very passing of the law has overcome an important cultural and psychological barrier. The parliament, and thus the legal system, has declared that domestic violence is not acceptable. Systemic and cultural change would be impossible without this essential first step.

The new law does much at the practical level as well. Police, prosecutors and other elements of the justice system now have defined duties in relation to reports of domestic violence. They can no longer reject complaints on the basis that they are ‘private matters’.

But perhaps the most significant change is in the area of evidence. Under the criminal code two witnesses are required for a conviction. How often would this be possible in a domestic violence case? Under the new law, however, the testimony of one witness, with one other piece of evidence, is sufficient. At last the voice of victims can mean something.

Is it working?

Our joy at achieving this breakthrough has, of course, been tempered by the reality that the passing of a new law is not the same as the effective implementation of it. We understand that this will be a long process. So far there is both good and bad news.

The good news is that the victims themselves are feeling more empowered by the existence of the law. Many more have come to us at LBH-APIK since the law was passed, rising from 877 cases in 2004 to 1046 in 2005. The women’s human rights group, Komnas Perempuan, has been collecting data on reports of domestic violence from women’s legal support groups across the country. Reports have risen from 14,020 in 2004 to 20,391 in 2005. And numbers have increased so far in 2006 as well.

Good news also is that some courts and legal institutions in Jakarta have begun implementing the new, mandated procedures.

However, it is not all good. In most regions it seems that so far the new procedures have not been implemented. Most courts, for example, are still demanding the testimony of two witnesses. Prosecution and conviction rates have not changed either, and the sentences awarded to the two convictions made to date under the new law have been very light – five months and 10 months in prison respectively.

So our campaigning cannot stop. Our focus now is on the implementation of the new law. Our efforts are now on getting information about the law to the whole community, and especially to the formal components of the justice system – the police, the prosecutors and the courts. We publish information and distribute leaflets about the new laws, run advertisements on television, and have a weekly column in a popular women’s newspaper.

With the new law we have achieved a major breakthrough. Victims of domestic violence previously received no support from the law or the community. Now at least the problem has gained official recognition. But cultural change and socialisation across the archipelago is a huge task, and so justice for most victims of domestic violence is still a long way off. ii

Ratna Bataramunti( ) is the director of LBH-APIK.

Inside Indonesia 87: Jul-Sep 2006

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