Just yesterday, Indonesian media was filled with news about a 63-year-old university teacher in Medan who was stabbed to death by a male student in a university bathroom, allegedly over an issue with his grades. Due to the public nature of her death it received widespread media coverage.
But there are many other horrific cases of violence against women that receive very little attention in Indonesia and are quickly forgotten. That is almost what happened to YY, a 13-year-old who was raped and killed by 14 boys and men in Bengkulu in April. One of them was reportedly her ex-boyfriend. Another went to the same school as she did.
Despite the shocking brutality of her murder, YY’s case was barely reported on in the national media. It was only due to the efforts of feminist activists from around Indonesia that YY’s case was pushed into the national spotlight.
But there are still so many other stories of violence against women from just this year that barely made an impact on the national conscious. Have you heard about SBP, a 65-year-old woman from Padang Sidempuan who was killed by her husband in April? He hit her with a piece of steel during an argument.
What about SS from Muara Enim, South Sumatera? She was 26 when her husband stabbed her and their two children to death, also in April. Local media reported that SS’s husband felt offended and that she did not listen to him.
“That means at least one woman has been killed by a man every three days so far this year in Indonesia. This is not a natural occurrence.”
Back in March, a sex worker from Banjarmasin by the initials of SEW was killed by a client when he decided he didn’t want to pay for her services. SEW was 35. Her murderer beat her up and drowned her in mud.
These women represent just a few of the 44 women and girls reported to have been murdered by men during the first four months of 2016.
On the surface, their cases appear to have nothing in common. The victims were all of different ages, came from different parts of the country, were of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and were all killed by different people.
But there is one characteristic that they share: they were all women, and they were all killed by men. In fact, the vast majority were killed by their intimate partners, such as their husbands or boyfriends. YY was one of these – her ex-boyfriend was one of the 14 boys who raped and killed her.
That means at least one woman has been killed by a man every three days so far this year in Indonesia. This is not a natural occurrence – it is frequent, yes, but it is not normal. It is not something that we should just shrug off and accept, like the fact that it rains every day during rainy season or that your favourite nasi goreng seller didn’t show up tonight. We have no control over those things.
But violence against women? We can stop it. It will take time, and will require dedicated efforts from all sectors of society and government, but it is possible. It must be possible, because we cannot go on like this, seeing the lives of hundreds of girls and women cut short every year at the hands of men and boys.
The first step towards realising an Indonesia free from violence against women is the ratification of the Law on the Elimination of Sexual Violence. The law is needed to protect women from multiple forms of sexual violence, including rape, harassment, and forced abortion, and would ensure that violators are appropriately punished. Current Indonesian laws cover only three of the 15 types of sexual violence identified by Komnas Perempuan.
The draft law is on the Prolegnas list for discussion in 2016, but has so far failed to gain much traction, despite strong pushes from Komnas Perempuan. It should now be clear just how badly we do in fact need the law. If you want to show your support for its passage, you can sign this Change.org petition and add your voice to the 28,000 who have already signed it.
It is time for a serious national discussion on violence against women. We need to change the country’s mindset from one that blames women for what happens to them, to one that fully supports women’s rights to safety, security, and bodily integrity. To do this, we must make changes at both the personal and institutional levels, beginning with the ratification of the law on sexual violence. Only then can we say that Indonesia is a safe place to be a woman.
Kate is a queer feminist activist in Jakarta. She has a Master of Human Rights from Curtin University, and has lived in Indonesia for four years.