Social unrest in Southeast Asia
Indonesian women demand their rights

In Indonesia, social resistance is mounting against a law banning sex before marriage and the government's weakening of the anti-corruption authorities. A report by Zora Rahman from Yogyakarta

The backyard of the Sangkring Art Space in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta wasn't really crowded - the topic was probably too difficult for that: Various organisations had organised a joint event called "Gerak 28 September" ("Movement 28 September") to mark the "International Day for Safe Abortions". Between colourful art installations there was information for victims of sexual violence and on reproductive health, as well as tips on sewing your own sanitary pads and lots of music with socially critical texts. The mood was emotional.

Some women sported punk hairstyles and were there to get a new tattoo, others wore headscarves and flowing dresses. What united them was their interest in controlling themselves and their bodies. " In Indonesia, these themes are still taboo," says artist Fitriani Dwi Kurniasih, who co-organised the event. "It is important to educate people about unwanted pregnancies and safe abortions, otherwise they will go to a traditional healer without being aware of the risks".

Sex education to be punishable by law

All this could soon no longer be possible. The draft for a new penal code in Indonesia (publicly known as RKUHP) envisages, among other things, that even information about abortion should be banned. In addition, any sexual relationship outside marriage could become punishable. This would apply to cohabiting outside marriage, flat-sharing among people of different sexes and to homosexual couples.

"The state is interfering far too much in the private lives of its citizens", complains Hera Diani, editor-in-chief of the feminist magazine "Magdalene". "I find the paragraph on reproduction and contraception one of the most critical. It states that even health advisors or parents and teachers could be punished for providing their children with sex education – that is ridiculous!"

Tens of thousands of students took to the streets across the country at the end of September to protest against a watering down of anti-corruption laws, violence in West Papua and apparent government inaction in the face of huge rainforest fires.


Students protest in Jakarta on 24.09.2019 against the deployment of additional troops in the restive province of Papua, the watering down of corruption legislation and a law prohibiting sex before marriage (photo: DW)
Resisting discrimination and paternalism: the student protests in September were directed against plans for a tougher penal code in the world's most populous Muslim country. According to the plan, sex between unmarried persons could be punished with up to six months imprisonment. In addition, prison sentences will also be possible in the future if someone insults the president

At the moment, however, hardly anything moves the Indonesians as much as the planned new penal code, whose new moral paragraphs could affect everyone personally - especially the younger generation. Hashtag #semuakena("It affects everybody") was one of the most posted until recently, as was #tolakrkuhp ("reject RKUHP").

In Yogyakarta, the protesters poured out from three directions onto the Gejayan crossroads. Here, 20 years ago, their parents' generation fought for the democratisation of the country. Beside banners with political slogans, there are colourful posters saying "My sex life is not your business" and "Don't throw us in prison for love". But the funny slogans and respectable campus uniforms cannot hide the fact that the demonstrators are serious: they are the biggest student protests since the mass demonstrations that forced the former dictator Suharto to resign in 1998.n.

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