Indonesian NGO Works to Stop Violence against Women by Providing Shelter, Raising Awareness and Taking Perpetrators to Court

18 March 2005
Author: UNFPA

JAKARTA—Visiting a small town in Tasikmalaya, Central Java, former first lady Shinta Nuriyah appeared before a crowd of local women.

“Have any of you ever experienced violence against women?” she asked.

“NO!” the crowd replied almost in unison.

“Superb, couples here really care for each other,” the wife of the country’s fourth President Abdurrahman Wahid said, nodding her head. Then she continued. “Are there among you, women whose husbands left without saying a word?”

Some timidly raised their hands into the air.

“…or whose husbands have remarried?” she asked.

Again, some hands were raised.

Shinta continued, “Have any of you ever been financially neglected by your husband?”

“YES, WE HAVE!” they replied loudly.

Patiently, the former first lady asked one last question. “Now, I would like to repeat my first question: “Have any of you ever experienced violence against women?”

All of a sudden, the gathering became quiet. The women looked at each other but none of them said a word.

As this 2004 event clearly revealed, many Indonesian women are not aware that they have been treated unjustly and that they can be classified as victims of violence against women. Last year, the National Commission on Violence against Women recorded 14,020 cases of violence, classified into domestic violence, violence occurring in the community, trafficking of women and violence committed by state personnel. This was nearly double the previous year’s figure.

“We still have a long way to go. Many people still think that women’s place is at home, to do chores and to loyally serve their husband. And it is this set of expected behaviour of women that preserves gender discrimination,” says Faishol Adib, programme officer with Puan Amal Hayati, an Islamic non-governmental organization (NGO).

His group, working closely with officials from local hospital, the police, the district court and local psychologists, runs five women crisis centres, located in Tasikmalaya and Indramayu in Central Java and Jember, Madura and Malang in East Java. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports the Tasikmalaya and Indramayu centres, which have received around 20 and 17 reports from victims of violence, respectively.

In most of the cases, Faishol says, “the perpetrators are people close to the victims, such as the husband who resorts to acts of violence like beating and slapping when he gets jealous or wishes to remarry or when his wife refuses to have sex.” The NGO has brought 17 cases to the courts, but these have remained unresolved to date.

Encouraging victims in such cases to seek help is a challenge. Most victims are reluctant to report the abuse they have experienced, because they depend on the perpetrators, feel insecure due to a lack of protection or fear unfair judgement by members of the society. They may also be deterred by expectations of insensitive treatment and interrogation by law enforcement offices, leading them to think that they have no place to go.

“Establishing gender-sensitive treatment for victims from all parties concerned is important to assure these vulnerable women that they are not alone and that help is available,” says Dr. Bernard Coquelin, UNFPA Representative in Indonesia. It is also important that women have access to information on where and how to get the support they need.

Puan Amal Hayati runs its centres with an aim to assist traumatized women by providing counselling, legal and medical support (if needed) and to protect them from the abusers in its shelters. It uses a religious approach to support the victims and carries out activities to raise awareness among government and law enforcement officials, and community and religious leaders on gender equality and equity.

“In many communities in Indonesia, the involvement of religious leaders is especially important to foster awareness on gender,” Faishol notes.

Women need to be empowered to make informed decisions, she adds. Vulnerable women often hope that islah (peaceful settlement, a reconciliation process facilitated by a religious leader) will end the beatings and motivate the perpetrators to change; but many are disappointed and find themselves trapped in a repeated cycle of violence-peaceful settlement-second chance. “Some cases need to be settled in the court because islah alone is not enough to end such injustice,” Faishol concludes.

—Maria Endah Hulupi

Population : 273.5 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 78%
Girls 80%

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