May: a champion of women rights in Indonesia

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women. Meirinda Sebayang from Indonesia is a role model for many women in her community.

She was recently elected as chairperson of the National Secretariat of the Positive Indonesian network, a national network for people living with HIV and continues to work  at Spiritia Foundation which is a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV and their families. She is also a mother of two children and expecting her third child. UNAIDS spoke to Ms Sebayang who prefers to be called May.

UNAIDS: Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Indonesia is gender inequality a major issue and if so how does it prevent women from reaching their potential?

May: In my opinion, gender inequality particularly from the point of view of  women is still a major issue in Indonesia. Strong patriarchal culture in the state and society has given rise to policies that are not sensitive to women and the State tends to neglect the protection of women.

In Indonesia, women are still often seen as second class citizens. Even today, some women only meet their spouses on the day of their marriage and the birth of a boy in the family is celebrated while the birth of a girl child is still frowned upon.Women are also treated less well than men in education and employment. One such example is on a government agency website that I recently came across, it was advertising for a position and specified that only male candidates would be accepted.

UNAIDS:Is violence against women a big problem in Indonesia?

May: The data and analysis of violence against women in 2014 were contained in the Note Annual (CATAHU) produced by the National Commission for Women. This showed emergency situations of violence against women, especially sexual violence-related emergencies.

The data looked at the cause of divorce for cases handled by the Religious Courts and found that 47% of cases cited psychological violence which included unhealthy polygamy, forced marriage, married minors. 46% of cases cited economic violence which covers economic issues and responsibilities and 3% cited physical violence. Although the data did not include a specific category for sexual violence, if we look more closely at the categories many include sexual violence, as forced marriage, underage marriage and polygamy should all be considered forms of sexual violence.

The number of cases of Violence Against Women in 2014 amounted to 293,220, 96% were handled by the Religious Courts and the remaining 4% is sourced from 191 partner institutions with the National Commission for Women.

So yes, violence against women is a big problem in Indonesia

UNAIDS: Are there additional  examples of cases you can provide us where gender inequality in Indonesia still exists?

A simple example is that there are many acts of sexual abuse committed by men towards women  that occur on  public transportation- Something I have personally experienced as well. It shows men feel more powerful than woman and they dare doing such things in public.

Another case that I heard of was of a woman living with HIV. Her husband would come home drunk and force her to have anal sex. Although she did not like anal sex, she complied and never refused him because in her religion, it is sinful to not serve one’s husband. This case has been documented in a study and recorded in CATAHU.

UNAIDS: Do you think gender inequality can put women at higher risk of HIV?

Remember the case I talked about earlier? It clearly shows that gender equality can put women in a lot of harm, including being at risk of HIV.  Religious and patriarchal culture gives men more power over women in Indonesia.

In my opinion, the risk of  HIV transmission among sex workers is very high because of the low  position of female sex workers in society and low condom usage.  I am sure many clients who do not want to use condoms during sex force sex workers to comply. If only we could encourage awareness and the policy of “no condom, no sex”,  HIV transmission can be prevented. Unfortunately, what happens if the condom is forcefully  imposed is “no sex, no money”.

UNAIDS: What can be done to address gender inequality?

May: Many things can be done! In my opinion, the main one is law enforcement in handling cases of violence against women. Law enforcement must ensure the rights of women and ensure they are accompanied through recovery and that no recurrence of violence by the perpetrator takes place.

In addition of course, is the empowerment of women in various aspects!

UNAIDS: What are your hopes for women in Indonesia?

May: I hope that Indonesian women have the freedom to choose the best things for herself with full consciousness. I hope, Indonesian women are capable of being the figure they want to be without shackles that prevent them from moving forward and achieving whatever they may want to.

UNAIDS: On the occasion of International Day for Elimination of Violence against women, what message would you like to leave the men out there who still believe they are superior to women?

May: I want everyone to remember that the extension of women’s rights is the basic principle of all social progress.

%d bloggers like this: