Indonesian Women Suffering Domestic Violence Epidemic

Activists have warned of an “epidemic” of sexual harassment and violence against women in Indonesia, in the wake of two recent cases of horrific domestic abuse. In one incident, a man in Jakarta reportedly slashed his wife’s throat with a machete after she refused to have sex with him, an act witnessed by their two children, aged seven and 14. The mother survived the attack last week, police told reporters, after neighbours heard screams, broke down the door and found her in a critical condition. The 34-year-old woman is recovering and “now able to speak.” This week a mother of three from West Java attacked her husband with an axe after he allegedly demanded his sex “quota.” Police said the woman, who gave birth two months ago, had postpartum depression. “The stories were so shocking, one because they were pretty graphic and brutal, but at the same time, I was quite shocked that not many media picked it up,” Hannah Al Rashid, an Indonesian actor and activist, told the Guardian. “Maybe it’s because in these cases both women were married and it was about marital rape, something that a lot of people in this country deny exists.” Describing violence against women in Indonesia as an “epidemic,” the actor said, “I think what scares me most about the issue here is that you can call it an epidemic and not much is being done.”

In a country where airing marital problems has long been considered taboo, the recent incidents are indicative of a deeply ingrained problem, said Mariana Amiruddin, from the national commission on violence against women. “In Indonesia, marital rape is subject to the domestic violence act,” she said. “But the culture here still considers that wives have to sexually serve [their husbands] under any circumstances.” Data from the national commission in 2018 showed the highest number of cases of violence against women occurred within households, with a rising trend of marital rape, in part, the commission believes, because more women are coming forward. Separately, results from a survey released by a coalition of women’s rights groups on Wednesday showed that Indonesian women also face frequent sexual harassment in public spaces, including in the street and on public transport, and at the workplace and educational institutes. The survey, which included 62,000 respondents from across 34 provinces, revealed that more than 60% of women in Indonesia had experienced verbal sexual harassment and more than half before the age of 16.

The results also tackled several victim-blaming myths. “Victims of sexual harassment have been blamed a lot for being seen as ‘inviting’ harassment by wearing sexy clothes or walking alone at night,” said Rika Rosvianti, from one of the groups involved. “But all these assumptions can be refuted by the results of this survey. The survey results clearly show that veiled women are often harassed, even during the day.” Some 17% of women surveyed said they were sexually harassed in public while wearing a hijab, while 35% said they were harassed during the day, compared to 21% at night. Speaking at the release of the survey, Al Rashid called on the public to raise awareness about violence against women, particularly online. “Sometimes we think who are we to change anything? But we actually can make a change, one case at a time.”

Credit: Kate Lamb for The Guardian, 18 July 2019.