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Jakarta Post

Still we rise: 2019 sees growing fight against sexual violence

  • Gemma Holliani Cahya
    Gemma Holliani Cahya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, December 15, 2019   /   03:10 pm
Still we rise: 2019 sees growing fight against sexual violence Activists participate in a march to support women's rights in Jakarta on April 27, 2019. (JP/Gemma Holliani Cahya)

You may write me down in history, with your bitter twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I'll rise.

Maya Angelou's “Still I Rise” poem about fighting against oppression can be interpreted as analogous to the struggles women’s right activists and survivors have faced in Indonesia throughout 2019. 

The year was marked by increased awareness and resistance against issues surrounding the elimination of sexual violence.

“This year, we have seen a great increase in awareness over this issue. We see many positive movements to support and share knowledge and information about this issue, especially from youngsters. And this is powerful and very important. We are growing, and each of us is becoming an agent that brings more and more people to understand the importance of this fight,” National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) commissioner Magdalena Sitorus told The Jakarta Post recently.

While many survivors are not ready to share their stories, or prefer not to, those that did have helped open dialogue about sexual harassment and, as a result, more people are starting to understand the importance of the issue.

Around this time a year ago the nation heard the name Agni for the first time. Her story made headlines for months after Balairung, Gadjah Mada University’s (UGM) student magazine, published an investigative report about sexual assault experienced by Agni, the pseudonym of a UGM student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a fellow student during a community service program in 2017.

What happened to Agni started the local version of the #MeToo movement, only here it was dubbed #KitaAgni (We are Agni). It went viral as people tried to pressure university leaders to immediately take action against Agni’s assaulter and end the culture of victim blaming.

Agni’s story encouraged other survivors who have been staying silent to speak up. 

Inspired by Agni’s story, from Feb. 13 to March 28 The Jakarta Post, and Vice Indonesia, in a collaborative project titled #NamaBaikKampus (CampusReputation), conducted an online survey and received 207 statements, 174 of which were about cases of alleged sexual harassment.

Of 174 survivors who shared their stories, 87 said they did not report the harassment to authorities. Most campuses in Indonesia do not even have a system of helping survivors report their cases.

Agni’s long battle to find justice and UGM’s initial response to her accusations revealed the serious impact of the absence of sexual harassment policies in universities. No university has specific regulations on handling sexual assault on campus. 

Since the case came to light, several universities, including UGM, have been working toward creating regulations to address the issue.

In September, a group of students and lecturers at the University of Indonesia (UI) completed a guidebook outlining the standard operating procedure for handling cases of sexual violence on campus or during university activities. This was among the first of its kind, as it defines, regulates and details sexual harassment in a college setting.

Difa Shafira, a political coordinator at the UI Law School’s student executive body, said most victims did not know where to go to report harassment, so they therefore lost their right to recover from their ordeals, which allowed perpetrators to walk free without repercussion.

“This standard operating procedure will help us to assist the victims,” she said. "Because of a lack of information on sexual harassment on campus, some of them don’t know that what happened to them was not their fault."

On the legislative level, however, the fight to end sexual violence has been stalled by misconceptions surrounding the issue. 

One of the hardest blows to the movement this year came when lawmakers decided not to pass a bill on the elimination of sexual violence near the end of their term in September, drawing criticism from activists and survivors of sexual assault who had been waiting for change for the past three years. 

Then-House of Representatives speaker Bambang Soesatyo said that, given the little time remaining in their House term, it was impossible for lawmakers to put the bill into law. He argued it was the business of the next group of lawmakers. On Oct. 1, new House lawmakers were sworn in.

The bill’s deliberation under Bambang in the previous term was not effective. By the end of the term, the discussion merely comprised debates about the title of the bill.

It was also strongly opposed by lawmakers from Islam-based parties, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the National Awakening Party (PKB), as well as conservative groups whose members saw the bill as pro-adultery and in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. 

There are no articles in the bill on adultery or the LGBT community.

 “They don’t see it as a bill that will promote justice. That’s why the deliberation has been difficult, because even though parties support the bill, party members have their own assumptions about it, so it is difficult for them to have empathy for victims,” Veni Siregar, the coordinator for the Service Provider Forum (FPL) for female victims of violence, said.

However, in a meeting between the new members of the House Legislative Body and the government on Thursday, it was decided to list the bill in the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) for the 2020-2024 term, along with 49 other priority bills.

“This is good news. But our hope is not only that it is relisted in Prolegnas. We also hope it will soon be passed into law and protect victims of sexual violence,” head of the Legal Resources Center for Gender Justice and Human Rights in Semarang, Central Java, Witi Muntari, said.

Besides the Agni case, one involving Baiq Nuril Maknun has also elicited widespread sympathy and solidarity among the public. It also reignited the discussion on the need for an immediate revision to the country’s draconian cyber law.

A movement called #SaveIbuNuril went viral in support of Nuril seeking justice.

Baiq Nuril, a former high school teacher, was sentenced to six months behind bars for defaming her alleged sexual abuser. Nuril was found guilty of circulating a recording of a phone call in which the principal of the school where she was working, Muslim, related the sordid details of an affair he had with another woman.

After five long years fighting, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo granted her amnesty. 

This past year, Agni and Nuril have been recognized as important faces in the movement against sexual violence. They not only stood up for themselves, they stood up for all women in Indonesia.

In cases in which survivors of sexual violence filed reports with the police or authorities, progress in finding justice has not been any easier.

Data from the Legal Aid Foundation of Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (LBH APIK) found that, of all recorded cases of sexual violence, less than 5 percent were legally processed.

Furthermore, data from Komnas Perempuan shows the number of reported sexual violence cases in Indonesia has increased, from 259,150 in 2016 to 348,446 in 2017 and 406,178 in 2018.

A separate survey conducted recently shows that one out of every two Indonesians is sexually harassed in a public setting before the age of 16.

The forms of sexual harassment listed in the survey include catcalling, unwanted touching, groping and sexual insinuation. 

Though the data and the stories of Nuril and Agni would seem to necessitate major changes at all levels, most initiatives come only from NGOs and the survivors.

In July, during a House Commission III meeting that concluded with an agreement that the President should grant amnesty to Baiq Nuril, a sobbing Nuril sent a message to other women who faced sexual harassment and social injustice.

“Don’t be afraid to tell the truth. You must have courage. Speak up,” she said.

Nuril’s story has shown how survivors have long been fighting on their own to protect themselves.

For Agni and Nuril, and all of those who support their cause, it is time for policymakers to put their hearts in the right place and pass the bill to protect the people.