Minister Says Indonesia Facing ‘Sexual Violence Pandemic’ in Colleges

Ronna Nirmala
Minister Says Indonesia Facing ‘Sexual Violence Pandemic’ in Colleges Indonesian activists from a women’s anti-violence movement hold a banner reading “freedom is free from sexual violence,” during a protest against sexual harassment and violence and gender-based violence on campuses, in Jakarta. Feb. 10, 2020.

Indonesia is facing a pandemic of sexual violence at higher learning institutions, the education minister said Friday, as he defended his ministry from criticism by religious conservatives who oppose part of a new decree designed to stop such offenses.

Some conservative groups in the Islamic-majority country view the ministerial decree as allowing or encouraging pre-marital sex, but Education Minister Nadiem Makarim says it is needed to shield women because of a lack of regulations that has worsened sexual violence on campuses.

“It can be said that the situation is critical. We are not only experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, but also a sexual violence pandemic,” Nadiem said at an online discussion.

“What we’re seeing is an iceberg phenomenon. If we scratch further, we can see that sexual violence is rampant on campuses.”

Nadiem said an education ministry poll of university lecturers last year showed that 77 percent of them acknowledged that sexual violence occurred on campus. Only a third of women who experienced sexual violence reported the offenses, he added.

In a bid to tackle the scourge of sexual violence, the education ministry in August issued the decree, which widened the definition of sexual violence to include verbal and non-physical attacks, as well as those committed via the internet.

According to the decree, forms of sexual violence include “touching, rubbing, hugging, kissing or rubbing one’s body on the victim without the victim’s consent” and “undressing the victim without the victim’s consent.”

Muhammadiyah, the country’s second largest Islamic organization, urged the ministry to revise the decree, arguing its provisions mean that acts which are forbidden by religion are allowed if there is consent.

“The implication is that as long as there is no coercion, sinful acts are allowed and justified, even though they are done outside of marriage,” the group said in a statement released this week.

According to Muhammadiyah, sanctions imposed on colleges where cases of sexual violence take place, including withdrawing funding and lowering their accreditation status, are excessive.

The Indonesian Ulema Council, a semi-official authority on Islam in the country, also opposes the decree and demands the ministry revoke or revise it, said one of its deputy chairmen, Cholil Nafis.

Sexual acts must be based on mutual consent, yes, but they also must take place within religiously-sanctioned marriage, Cholil said on Twitter.

The decree is “problematic because the victim’s consent is the [only] consideration,” Cholil said.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but its government is officially secular.


Meanwhile, Nizar Ali, secretary general of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, defended the new decree on sexual violence, saying its rules are intended to protect victims.

“There’s nothing in it that approves of pre-marital sex. Nothing at all. That’s a big misconception,” the state-run Antara news agency quoted Nizar as saying. The ministry administers government-run Islamic universities and those of other religions.

For Amiruddin, deputy chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), the decree is timely “given recent cases of sexual violence on campuses.”

“Komnas HAM supports its implementation to prevent sexual violence and be the basis for taking legal action against the perpetrators,” Amiruddin, who goes by a single name, told BenarNews.

The decree is also needed because many women are discouraged from reporting sexual violence and are often told they are to blame, said Andy Yentriyani, who chairs the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan).

“Victim-blaming … is the biggest obstacle,” she told the online discussion attended by Nadiem.

“Because of that, Komnas Perempuan appreciates the measures taken by the Ministry of Education and Culture,” she said.

The Setara Institute, an NGO that monitors cases of intolerance and human rights violations, called for an information campaign to counter misrepresentation of the decree by conservative religious groups.

“The government must also conduct a more extensive dialogue with religious organizations to discuss the substance of the decree, which is to protect women and victims of sexual violence in universities,” the institute said in a statement.


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