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Image of Indonesian protesters advocating for the criminalisation of sexual violence

Advocates Corner Series: Rahima’s Journey in Advocating for the Criminalisation of Sexual Violence in Indonesia

Image of Indonesian protesters advocating for the criminalisation of sexual violence
Credit: Ricky

Indonesia has established a bill that is meant to protect its citizens from sexual violence. The bill is an effort to prevent various kinds of sexual violence. It aims to protect the survivors through recovery and enforcement of laws, and to ensure that there is no recurrence of sexual violence. Approved on 12 April 2022 through the Indonesian parliament plenary meeting, the bill is a result of the co-operation and commitment among parliamentarians, lawmakers, and civil society organizations (CSOs). 

As part of the CSOs spearheading the establishment of the Sexual Violence Bill, Rahima still remembers very clearly the seconds leading up to the ratification process. We have watched since the beginning of the plenary meeting via YouTube Live with pounding hearts, full of doubt and worry on whether this bill will be ratified or not. Since the political situation can change drastically within minutes due to various conflicts of interest, we hardly believed the decision makers’ promises. Our eyes and ears were concentrated fully on the plenary process; we listened to each of the words and statements delivered by the parliament’s factions. 

Ratification of the Anti-sexual Violence Bill

Picture of Indonesian protesters gathering to advocate for the criminalisation of sexual violence
Credit: Andi Faizah

We felt pure joy and relief when six parliamentary factions expressed their agreement of the Sexual Violence Elimination bill. The only parliamentary faction opposing the bill was the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). President Joko Widodo was unable to attend and was represented by the Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, also known as Bintang Puspayoga. The Minister delivered strong arguments in favor of ratifying the Sexual Violence Bill. Puan Maharani, the chairman of the Indonesian Parliament, asked once again for the approval of all factions, then hit the gavel to mark the successful ratification of the TPKS Bill.

Representatives of the CSO sector were indescribably happy, with government officials seen embracing one another in celebration, especially the factions who had spearheaded the discussion from the beginning. We, at Rahima were overcome with tears when we witnessed the passing of the bill. Each case of sexual violence came to mind, especially the extreme and traumatising cases, one of which was a brutal case of gang rape of a young woman. 

We cried with the hope that the existence of this bill will create no more victims of sexual violence, and the perpetrator will get the justice and punishment they deserve. It made us remember where it all started: back in 2019 when we first started engaging in this very difficult process of pushing for the bill. 

But our challenge really began back in 2012 when the National Commission on Violence Against Women proposed the bill on the elimination of sexual violence that regulated nine types of violence such as: non-physical sexual harassment, physical sexual harassment, forced contraception, forced sterilization, forced marriage, sexual torture, sexual exploitation, sexual slavery, and electronic-based sexual violence as mentioned in article 4 (1) of Law 12/2022. 

The bill met with several hurdles, even though it was first proposed at the parliament in 2016. Challenges we faced included an emerging debate that the bill would legalise sex before marriage and LGBTQ+ rights. Finally, after numerous discussions, the draft entered a national legislation programme, PROLEGNAS, and in March 2021 its name was changed to Criminal Law against Sexual Violence Bill (TPKS Bill) before it was finally approved. The bill will provide protection of survivors, including their rights, recovery, restitution, prevention and treatment, as well as punishment and rehabilitation for the perpetrators. Through this lengthy process, Rahima, as an organization focusing on the Islamic notion of gender equality and one of the initiators that oversees the research of the Indonesian Women’s Ulema Congress (KUPI), supported advocacy efforts alongside the national women’s movement. 

Since 2017 until now, Rahima and KUPI have been involved in advocating to ratify the TPKS Bill. The advocacy started with the study of the bill to campaign and lobby. We were involved since 2019 in preparing the problem inventory list also known as Daftar Inventaris Masalah (DIM) on the draft of Criminal Law against Sexual Violence Bill and created promotional content, which was circulated to KUPI’s network to campaign with and for grassroots communities. We produced a handbook, which was also distributed to the parliament, Islamic organizations, and CSOs. KUPI’s action and statement is to strengthen the legalisation of the bill, especially to address queries from opposing parties. 

Campaigning through Media

Picture of Indonesian protesters gathering to advocate for the criminalisation of sexual violence
Credit: Andi Faizah

At the grassroots level, Rahima invited women ulema from various regions of the country to educate and campaign through the media to fight the narratives of the patriarchal religious opposition that rejected the TPKS Bill. One of Rahima’s accomplishments in 2019 was the collaboration with the National Commission on Violence Against Women. We invited women ulema to a safe space where they could learn and understand the bill.  After gaining a better understanding of the bill, women ulema started to spread what they learned within their respective communities. For example, a woman ulema from Tasikmalaya, West Java organized a discussion, “Reviewing the Importance of the Criminal Law against Sexual Violence Bill”, attended by IPPNU (Nahdlatul Ulama Woman’s Association) and PMII (Indonesian Islamic Student Union) Tasikmalaya Regency. Another woman ulema from Madura, East Java, discussed the bill from an Islamic perspective to the members of her community, a majority of whom are stay-at-home mothers.

In January 2022, we took part in a joint presentation in front of the parliament buildings demanding the government to push for immediate ratification of the TPKS Bill. Rahima’s team created strong slogans, such as “Islam Forbids Sexual Violence”; “Create a Legal System that Support Survivors of Sexual Violence”, and more. Alongside women’s rights defenders, we tied a purple ribbon on our wrists symbolising our demand to end sexual violence.

Rahima organized several dialogues through online and offline platforms with legislative members – visiting heads of parties in the parliament – to convince them about the importance of the bill that it is in line with traditional Islamic teachings. 

We also voiced our vehement support of the bill on our social media. The effort is to counter and demystify the narrative of the bill which was perceived as liberal and not conforming with religious norms. In September 2019, Rahima’s team pioneered the initiative to create an infographic of the TPKS Bill from an Islamic perspective. The information was based on KUPI’s research, ‘Questions and Answers About the Bill on the Elimination of Sexual Violence‘. Rahima’s media team targeted the youth who were still unsure about the purpose of the TPKS Bill. 

Later, the infographic evolved to a more extensive and refined content. The production of the new infographic was a collaboration of Alimat, Fahmina, Mubadalah, AMAN Indonesia and Rahima. This time, the content aimed to debunk the misinformation on the TPKS Bill, especially on the issues of adultery, LGBTQ+ rights, and forced sexual relations between husband and wife.

Rahima’s media team also invited the women ulema to promote the elimination of sexual violence during the 16 Days of Anti-Violence Against Women (16 HAKTP). Several women ulema shared voice recordings of their experiences in providing their assistance on the endemic sexual violence in the country.

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Besides that, Rahima produced a short video inviting women ulema and women’s rights activists to promote the urgency of the TPSK Bill’s ratification. 

The campaign on the TPKS  bill also carried through print media in the Swara Rahima Magazine edition no. 58 in 2021, titled ‘Examining the Importance of Eliminating Sexual Violence‘. The magazine is distributed to the networks of women ulema in various regions in Indonesia (West Java, Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, and South Sulawesi). 

Further efforts to strengthen the campaign were also carried out through the ‘Istigotsah Kubro and Joint Prayer for the Safety of the Nation from the Sexual Violence Emergency’, a meeting that was held in December 2021 via the Zoom platform. This activity was a collaboration of KUPI’s network and Sexual Violence Emergency Care Community Network which consists of more than 300 organizations, Islamic boarding schools, institutions, and CSOs.

The continuous battle and campaigning online and offline were worth the sweat and tears once the bill was ratified this year. However, this is not the end of our fight. There is still the implementation of derivative regulations in the form of government regulations that will serve as a guide for the implementation of the bill. What is equally important is how this bill is implemented and popularized amongst the greater public to create greater awareness so all women will not be unprotected and ignored.

Pera Soparianti 
Pera is the director of Rahima’s organization during the 2019 – 2024 period. Pera is also a deputy chairman at Nadhlatul Ulama Family Benefit Institute (LKKNU) Bogor regency, West Java. Pera has worked at the National Commission on Violence Against Women and Fahmina Institute, Cirebon. Pera is currently finalizing her master’s study at Nahdlatul Ulama Indonesia University. 

Andi Faizah 
Andi completed her Master’s Degree from the Gender Study Program, School of Strategic and Global Study, University of Indonesia. Faizah initiates Perempuan Peduli as an education platform of feminism through illustration at Instagram @perempuanpeduli, targeted to youths. Currently, Faizah is actively involved in Rahima as Program Coordinator.