Anti-Pornography Bill in Indonesia

March for Diversity

Human Rights Groups join the protest of Indonesian women against a new tough anti-pornography bill – the opposition to what many in Indonesia call the "Talibanization" of society is strong. Edith Koesoemawiria reports

A vendor shows Indonesian version of Playboy magazine to passing motorists as a Muslim woman walks past by on a street in Jakarta, 7 April 2006 (photo: AP)
The toned-down edition of Playboy went on sale in the world's most populous Muslim nation, defying demands from Islamic leaders that the publication be banned

​​Kartini Day is traditionally celebrated throughout Indonesia on 21 April. Kartini, an Indonesian national hero died at the age of 25 after giving birth to her first child. Born in 1879, she was forced into traditional confinement at the age of 12. It lasted four years. Kartini, who fought for the empowerment of Indonesian women, had always been against this Javanese tradition of confinement.

102 years after Kartini's death, Indonesian women still feel threatened by this tradition of confinement which now could be backed by a tough anti-pornography law.

This year women activists took to the streets in great numbers in Indonesia on International Women's Day. They were protesting against a proposed anti-pornography law, which they believe penalizes women. Women's rights advocates say that this new law will not protect them.

Masruchah, secretary general of the Coalition of Indonesian Women, is strongly opposed to the law.

"If the anti-pornography bill is accepted like it is, it will have a bad affect on Indonesia, and especially on Indonesian women."

A bill to domesticate women

Fatayat, the women's wing of one of Indonesia's largest Muslim parties, NU, has been studying the anti-pornography bill and comes to the conclusion that it domesticates women. Masruchah, who was previously also an active member of Fatayat, states:

"The phenomena of the anti-pornography bill started with the appearance of by-laws in some of the regions. Although not explicitly packaged as anti-pornography, they have put in place of anti-prostitution laws, morality laws and even Islamic Sharia laws. All these laws attempt to force women back into their homes. I know of at least 27 regional by-laws that are similar, though not exactly the same as the anti-pornography law."

Most Indonesian women nowadays have to work for a living. Many of them have to work at night: As vendors, factory workers, teachers as well as dancers and prostitutes.

Partial application of these regional bills has seen women being picked up by the police at seven in the evening on the charge of being prostitutes. In most cases those charges had to be dismissed.

In a recent case in Tangerang, a city near Jakarta, the police picked up the wife of a school teacher, who was waiting at a bus station on her way home. She was charged with prostitution and ordered to pay a fine. Being unable to get in touch with her husband and not having much money, it took several days before she was finally allowed to leave jail. She still faces a costly court process to prove her innocence.

Behaviour monitored by the police

The law makes it illegal for women to dress in tight clothes, wear miniskirts or even kiss in public for more than five minutes. A special branch of the police is supposed to monitor people's behaviour.

Gadis Arivia, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia and co-founder of the feminist publication Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan, feels that the anti-pornography law is a setback to the empowerment of women in Indonesia:

"This law really confines women. Essentially, the law appears to have an agenda to change this country, so that it will no longer be democratic, but will have the traits of a certain religion. This is an even greater threat."

The "Talibanization" of society

But opposition to what many in Indonesia call the "Talibanization" of society is strong. Critics asked the lawmakers to take into account the pluralistic nature of Indonesian society. Since the nation's birth in 1945 "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika", or "Diversity in Unity", has been promoted as a cornerstone of Indonesian culture.

Yet, to comply with the anti-pornography bill would mean that various eastern Indonesian provinces would no longer be able to express their culture. Bali has a pronounced Hindu culture which conflicts with the new law.

The Balinese have threatened civil disobedience, if their culture is not taken into account. Bali and Batam-Island also believe that the law will have a dire impact on tourism, their main source of income, as the casual and carefree lifestyle of the mostly western tourists could be punished under the new law.

The Special Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Pornography has stated that they welcome input from various sectors of the population. A revised draft is expected to be ready within two months. Some clauses, such as the ban of public kissing, may have to be toned down.

Yet critics are not ready to accept an even softer version of the proposed bill. They still see the bill as ill-defined and point out that the already existing laws against pornography are sufficient.

The Indonesian women's movement plans to keep on marching until their call for more freedom is answered.

Edith Koesoemawiria

© Deutsche Welle 2006

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