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Indonesia

Fight Broadens Against Anti-Women Laws

Faiza Mardzoeki and Max Lane, Green Left Weekly (radical newspaper), New South Wales, Australia, March 20, 2006

An Indonesian man reads a pornography tabloid at a news stand. (Photo: Arif Ariadi / AFP-Getty Images)

A united front has developed among almost all women's rights organizations to campaign against a new law currently before the parliament, the Law Against Pornography and Porno-Action. Opposition to the law was the focus of International Women's Day protests in Jakarta on March 8.

Kompas newspaper reported that thousands of women gathered in Thamrin Street in the city centre and marched to the State Palace and then the parliament. More than 40 organizations participated, including Women's Journal, Women's Freedom, the Women's Legal Aid Center, the Indonesian Women's Coalition and several trade unions, including the Migrant Workers Union. In addition to opposing the Law Against Pornography, demonstrators raised the issue of poverty among women.

The law, which was first proposed in 2002, contains provisions under its prohibitions of "porno-action" that in effect criminalize the female body. Some of these provisions include a ban on women revealing parts of their bodies in public, including the thigh, hip, buttocks, belly button, shoulders and — either partially or wholly — breasts. Penalties include jail terms for between 2 and 10 years. There is also a ban on kissing on the lips in public and "erotic dancing" or "erotic swiveling" of the hips in public.

The proposed anti-pornography provisions include bans on any media forms that "exploit the attraction" of "sensual parts of the human body," "of the naked adult body," "of people kissing" and of a range of heterosexual and same-sex sexual activity. The bill provides for heavy prison sentences of up to 18 years.

At the forefront of the parties in parliament supporting the bill is the Justice and Welfare Party, which has strong Islamic fundamentalist perspectives. Other parties have vacillated or refused to take a clear stand on the law during the past year, but are being increasingly pressured to either reject or revise the bill. Apart from women's rights groups, human rights groups have also joined in criticizing the bill.

A wide range of figures from the arts, film and the media have spoken out against the proposed law, which could lead to a massive puritanical purge of Indonesian cinema, television, and photography, which all show kissing and other aspects of romantic life (of course, with the usual sexist bias of the current society).

Politicians from the more mainstream political parties have come out in opposition to the bill. Both members of parliament from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, as well as its chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri, have now stated their opposition to the law. What appears to have tipped the balance in the world of elite politics is increasing fear of a threat to cultural pluralism in a society that has no single dominant cultural perspective.

A broad coalition of community organizations from Bali have opposed the law. This stems from Hindu Bali's acceptance of women's bare shoulders and bare upper torso in traditional dress, including the appearance of such women in traditional paintings and other art forms, such as sculpture. There are also concerns about the impact on Balinese beach culture and tourism. On March 6, the Balinese provincial parliament passed a motion rejecting the bill, with the support of all the major parties, including Golkar (the party of former dictator Suharto). There have been protests from Papuan groups on similar grounds.

Now former Golkar chairperson Akbar Tanjung has weighed in against the bill, arguing that there can be no national law that cannot be implemented in specific provinces. However it is not clear whether these mainstream parties will reject the bill or simply soften it. Vivi Widyawati, from Women's Freedom in Jakarta, told Green Left Weekly that "the campaign against the bill has created quite a polemic and is forcing pressure for revision. But it is not looking good for getting the bill stopped given the ambivalent stand of most of the parties."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has remained silent, emboldening the Justice and Welfare Party (P.K.S.) and other supporters of the bill. Yudhoyono's party, the Democrat Party, has so far supported the Law Against Pornography.

There are strong fears that the passing of the bill will open the way for greater oppression of women. Even before it has passed, said Widyawati, there have been repressive actions. "In some areas, raids and arrests have already started … This is hitting poor women particular hard. For example, in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, they have instituted a curfew for women. Three women were arrested and fined. In other areas, the sense that the law will be passed has emboldened local governments to decree the wearing of Muslim dress for women." Local governments have issued regulations against prostitution, under which women have been detained and sentenced simply because they were out alone at night.

In the island of Batam, just 20 minutes from Singapore by ferry, there have been increasing raids on shopping malls where women have been warned about wearing "provocative" clothes, such as sleeveless tops. In Aceh, there have been arrests of women walking with men who were not their husbands or relatives.

"The driving force behind the bill is the P.K.S.," said Widyawati. "They have said that they think it will help them win the next elections. They have tried to harden the bill by proposing an amendment that an Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action Body be established not only at the national level, but for every town."

Not all Islamic groupings are supporting the bill. Various Islamic figures from the Nahdlatul Ulama, the organization that former President Abdurrahman Wahid headed for 20 years, have called on the bill to be revised and have criticized the stand taken by other Muslim organizations. One such cleric, Mustofa Bisri, was quoted in the Jakarta Post on March 6 as saying that some Muslim groups were attempting to push the law through parliament without proper consultation. The pressure was "a manifestation of panic from Muslims who have no self-confidence," he said. "It seems that certain Muslims are so worried about globalization and are unable to deal with it that they are resorting to speedily passing this law."

Islamic student organizations, such as the Indonesian Islamic Student Union and the Association of Nahdlatul Ulama Young Men and Women have also outright rejected the bill.

From Green Left Weekly, March 15, 2006.

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