“Anti-porn” bill could threaten Indonesian women

“Anti-porn” bill could threaten Indonesian women

by Soe Tjen Marching
25 November 2008

Jakarta – Two weeks ago, Indonesia’s parliament passed an “anti-porn”
bill, which bans anyone from wearing clothes or promoting material
that could incite “sexual desire”.

Although regulations regarding pornography are important, there is
some concern that there will be other implications, for instance for
women’s rights, even down to what is permissible to wear in public. In
addition, the law also criminalises homosexual activities which
previously were not illegal in Indonesia.

The head of the special committee that drafted the bill, Balkan
Kaplale, insists that it will protect Indonesians’ morality, and guard
women and children against sexual exploitation.

But by putting the blame on the “cause” of sexual arousal, this law
victimises women rather than protects them, allowing perpetrators to
argue, for example, that the victim provoked incidents of rape or
sexual harassment.

In Indonesia, a passed bill becomes law after it is signed by the
president or 30 days after it is ratified by Parliament.

However, only three days after the law was ratified, three exotic
dancers in Mangga Besar, West Jakarta were arrested, while the
managers and owner of the club were left alone.

In fact, the police detained these women based on a provision from a
previous draft of this bill.

Unfortunately, this victimisation and negative stereotyping of women
in relation to sexuality is not new in Indonesia.

Under former president Soeharto’s “New Order” government, which was
dominated by the military and characterised by a weakened civil
society, emphasis was put on the purity of women, stressing the
importance of their roles as loyal wives and good mothers.

After Soeharto’s resignation in 1998, however, Indonesians took
advantage of their newfound liberties to express their opinions and
criticise authority.

Several female Indonesian authors, including Ayu Utami, Dewi Lestari,
Clara Ng, Djenar Maesa Ayu and Herlinatiens, gained popularity,
writing new roles for women, particularly when it comes to sexuality.
Similarly, Indonesian film directors, such as Mira Lesmana, Nia
Dinata, and Sekar Ayu Asmara, have become widely known in the
Indonesian film industry for portraying multi-faceted, complex
Indonesian women.

In their works, many of them expressed criticism against sexual
restrictions placed on women in Indonesia. If the anti-porn bill is
ratified, the works of these women may be affected, since the new law
could label their books pornographic.

Since early 2006, several women’s groups — Komnas Perempuan (Forum on
Women), Kapal Perempuan (Women’s Boat) and Aliansi Mawar Putih (White
Rose Alliance) — have protested against the bill, which has been
pending for several years. On 22 April 2006, thousands of artists,
activists, students and civilians gathered at Monas Monument in
Jakarta carrying giant posters which read: “Indonesia is not America,
but it is not Saudi Arabia either.

We reject the anti-porn bill.” And “We reject pornography, but we
reject the anti-porn bill.”

More recently, Ayu Utami wrote a play, Sidang Susila (Susila’s Trial),
which demonstrates how the bill could violate women’s rights.

A week after the bill was passed in parliament, a well-known actor,
Butet Kartaredjasa, performed the work in Sidang Susila Teater Gandrik
in Jakarta to protest the new law.

Despite the prevailing impression that this bill is widely supported
by all Muslims, Islamic organisations like the Liberal Islam Network
(JIL) in Jakarta, the Institute for Islamic and Social Studies (LKIS)
in Yogyakarta and the Institute for Religion and Social Studies (LKAS)
in Surabaya have voiced their strong opposition to the bill.

They claim that the bill will limit freedom of expression in art,
including film and literature, and that Islam has been inaccurately
used by certain groups to justify the ratification of the bill. These
groups have created blogs highlighting articles criticising the bill
and organised demonstrations and press conferences.

Non-Muslim minority groups, especially in West Papua, Bali, East Nusa
Tenggara and North Sumatra, have also fiercely opposed this law
because they claim that their local customs and traditions will be
threatened by it. In West Papua, for instance, men and women go
bare-breasted.

In Bali, nude statues proliferate and the Balinese people are also
worried that the new law will negatively affect their tourism
industry, as many foreigners may no longer be able to wear bathing
suits, sundresses or shorts at the beaches.

Recently, governmental officials from these regions have gone so far
as to threaten to split from the Republic of Indonesia in protest.

If the president signs the bill into law, the government may gain more
popularity amongst the conservatives. However, it will simultaneously
offend minority religious groups, as well as women, splitting its
support base and potentially threatening the unity of the nation.

To achieve common ground between different groups, the law must be
completely revised. The term “pornography” must be made more specific
and implicitly or explicitly encourage respect for women’s bodies.

A national dialogue with minority groups — as well as feminists — to
define exactly what pornography is will definitely help. The issue of
subordination of women in pornography must be the bill’s primary focus.

###

* Soe Tjen Marching is a researcher and tutor at the School of
Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, and a
composer of avant-garde music. This article was written for the Common
Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at
http://www.commongroundnew s.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 25 November 2008,
http://www.commongroundnew s.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

http://www.commongr oundnews. org/article. php?id=24428& lan=en&sid= 1&sp=0&isNew= 1

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2 Responses

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