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Jakarta Post

Ending poverty, ending violence against women

Devi Asmarani
Jakarta   ●   Wed, November 25, 2015

A teenage girl was raped by her neighbor, but he was never prosecuted. Instead, the victim was expelled from school when she became pregnant and people stopped coming to her single mother'€™s food stalls.

The community in West Java, uneasy with controversies in their own backyard, decided the family was not fit to live there and had them kicked out of their rented home. Homeless and without livelihood, they are no longer registered members of a community, making it hard for them to claim their rights to social protection programs that they are entitled to.

If the family was poor before, they have become even more impoverished now.

This scenario is all too familiar for activists who have long worked in the field of violence against women.

Nov. 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Survivors of violence, particularly rape, often continue to be victimized in the aftermath of the assault.

Not only do they suffer physically and mentally, they also lose many of their rights, including that of
employment, home, basic services and, if they'€™re still of school age, education.

But here'€™s the bigger picture: violence against women '€” whether physical, sexual, emotional or other forms of abuse, whether taking place in a domestic or public setting, and whether committed by individuals or by the state or institutions '€” often has an economic dimension.

The so-called '€œtriad of oppression'€ comprises violence, women and poverty. When you are a poor woman, you are more likely to become a victim of violence, including being trafficked.

Conversely, violence also keeps you poor. So closely linked are poverty and violence against women that addressing one problem must involve addressing the other.

At the root of the problem is gender inequality '€” which limits women'€™s access to education, health care, property ownership and employment. Gender inequality yields laws and regulations that limit the rights of women. It perpetuates harmful practices, beliefs and norms, whether culturally or religiously based, that are permissive of various manifestations of violence, from wife-beating to female genital mutilation and to child marriage.

Across the globe, 35 percent of women and girls experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The situation is equally stark in Indonesia, where every two hours, three to four women endure sexual violence. Last year the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) recorded 293,220 cases of violence against women, up from 279,760 cases in the previous year.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, because for every case reported, many remain hidden, leaving women and girls to suffer silently. And of all the domestic violence cases reported to the police, only 10 percent end up in court.

In villages, women commonly report abuse to community leaders or village heads, but the cases are often solved through informal ways, as domestic violence is still seen as a private matter.

Clearly, the Law on Domestic Violence has not been effectively implemented. In addition, there is little support for a recovery process to help victims overcome their trauma.

The government has begun a series of measures to improve the situation, including establishing the Integrated Service Center for Women and Children (P2TP2A). About 200 safe houses have been built across the archipelago, merely a third of the regencies and municipalities in Indonesia.

The quality of services at these centers remains uneven, due to budget constraints and capacity issues. In fact, the effectiveness of the P2TP2A centers depends much on the commitment of the local governments and leaders where they are located.

Meanwhile, the bulk of law enforcers still lack the perspective of gender equality. The National Police'€™s Special Unit for Violence against Women, set up a few years ago, receives less appreciation within the institution than more prestigious departments, like criminal investigation.

The Law on Domestic Violence, while a much-needed breakthrough, does not cover violence in intimate relationships outside of marriage as well as sexual violence.

And when it comes to sexual violence, the Criminal Code (KUHP) hardly sides with the victims.

In fact, many of the services for female victims of violence are provided by civil society.

These are significant challenges that need to be overcome. However, eliminating violence against women must tackle the most fundamental issue, which is that many women are still victims of economic exclusion, with implications of not only poverty but also political disempowerment.

This economic vulnerability limits their chances to change their situation. They also have limited access to health, education, social protection and legal services.

Eliminating violence against women, thus, requires a more integrated effort. It must involve empowerment, raising awareness on gender equality and ensuring access to basic services as well as employment.

Intervention must target education, behavioral change and cultural shifts, and it must involve women and men, children and adults.

There are some initiatives that address this fundamental problem, using various entry points. Some development programs supported by international development agencies tackle poverty, violence and economic exclusion of women to infuse the bigger message of gender equality.

The programs range from working with migrant workers and female heads of the family (who are often left out of social protection programs), to providing reproductive health services and conducting workshops to increase women'€™s participation in village planning and in monitoring social protection programs.

All these efforts are part of a gender-focused development approach that concentrates on economic, social and political empowerment of disadvantaged and vulnerable women, be it through community-based programs or advocacy at the national level. Programs like this must be sustainable, so they can be replicated and adopted in the existing system and policies.

While laws and regulations are crucial to support gender-focused development strategies, the government and parliament must also work with civil society organizations and community leaders to ensure the flexibility of programs and to adapt to the complexity of each community.

Violence against women is both a cause and effect of poverty. Ending violence requires empowerment, but ending poverty requires ending violence as well.

When women live free from violence, they have a better chance of earning an income, raising a healthy family and contributing positively to their communities.
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The writer is chief editor and co-founder of feminist online magazine Magdalene.co