“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.

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Ten reasons to visit Indonesia

Ten reasons to visit Indonesia

Paul Smith suggests ten reasons, in no particular order, to consider a trip to Indonesia, one of the lesser visited destinations in Asia.

1. TANAH LOT, BALI

About 30km to the west of Bali’s capital Denpasar, Tanah Lot is a special place where Hindu temples sit on outcrops of rock along the volcanic coastline.
The black sand, craggy rocks and white spray from the pounding sea look strangely like Auckland’s west coast beaches but the temples, thought to date from the 15th century, add a mystic feel especially at sunset.
Eating outside dinner at the Melasti Restaurant as the sun goes down is a wonderful experience.
2. CORAL REEF, BUNAKEN
Anyone who snorkels or scuba-dives will enjoy the wonderful coral reef at Bunaken in the province of North Sulawesi.
Boats go out from the mainland each morning for the reef, set just off the palm tree-lined shore of the island.
Hundreds of varieties of fish and marine life can easily be seen in the warm, clear water.
Lunch is available on the island at a basic, sand-floored restaurant.
3. THE FOOD
Meals often start with an excellent soup, often a salty, vegetable broth but sometimes in a more spicy, Thai-style. Main dishes include barbecued fish – skewered and cooked over hot coals with chilli, satay chicken, or beef cooked in a vegetable stock and coconut milk. Green beans cooked in chilli and garlic is a mainstay vegetable dish.
There is a link to Thai food but less in the way of curry as meat is often prepared with an almost dry sauce. You’ll probably need to like chillies because there is some heat in most dishes, though it is not usually overpowering.Dessert leans towards the super-sweet.
4. THE COFFEE
Although the dreaded Nescafe rears its ugly head from time to time, the standard of coffee is usually excellent.
Often made in the filter-style favoured in the US, rather than the espresso-base of New Zealand and Australia, the coffee is usually very smooth and gently invigorating rather than a morning energy bolt.
Coffee beans can be bought direct from plantations in places including Bali for as little as about $3. (Or you can always get some prized luwak coffee beans, which cost about US$55 having been eaten by civet cats and passed through them before being collected.)
5. THE WEATHER
As long as you like it hot and humid, Indonesia’s climate is for you.
Running roughly 5000km along the equator, the country is very warm all year round. Jakarta’s temperatures range from around 23C at night to 31C in the day with a wet season from November to March.
6. SHOPPING IN JAKARTA
Whether you want Western designer goods at the plush Grand Indonesia mall in the city centre, or one of the more traditional mall-cum-markets dotted around the city, shoppers should be happy.
Obvious targets for the credit card are Indonesian-made batik clothing and textiles, while you might just be able to find a new mobile phone at malls which have an entire floor of cellphone stalls one after the other.
Some of the main shopping centres in the city are: Elite Plaza Indonesia, Plaza EX and the Plaza Semanggi in central Jakarta, Taman Anggrek Mall in the west, Kelapa Gading Mall in the east, WTC Mangga Dua in the north, Plaza Senayan and Pondok Indah Mall in the south.
If there is a price displayed it’s probably fixed, but otherwise bargaining is expected.
7. TEMPLE HOPPING IN YOGYAKARTA
Yogyakarta in central Java is one of the historical and religious centres of Indonesia.
The Prambanan and Borobudur temples just outside the city are both Unesco World Heritage sites. The thousands of pieces of volcanic rock they are built from make them an arresting sight.
The Buddhist Borobudur temple is a national icon covering a surface area of 2500 square metres. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries and restored with Unesco’s help in the 1970s.
An earthquake in 2006 partially destroyed the Hindu Prambanan temple and set back the restoration by several years, but work continues and the site is very much visitable. (A viewing platform at the site collapsed a year later with a tour party of Russians on it, initially sparking fears of another earthquake before it was realised 90 people had been on a structure built for a maximum of 30.)
8. MANADO BISCUIT FACTORY
Almost too surreal for words, the biscuit factory attraction in Manado, North Sulawesi – bizarrely housed in a place called the Merciful Building – has to be checked out.
The crowd of workers who welcome you with big smiles, megaphones and shirts proclaiming “the group the never the sleeps” (I think this translates as “we work 24/7”) are just so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
They take you down the four floors of the factory (or at least a simulation of what is presumably a real factory somewhere else), explaining how all the biscuits and confectionery are made.
It’s actually quite interesting, and the produce is very good. Funnily enough, you end up at the bottom in the shop where you can then buy to your heart’s content. Which, as the prices are cheap and the taste good, is no bad idea.
9. THE PEOPLE
You can expect a warm welcome wherever you go in Indonesia.
Though the hawkers at tourist sites can become annoying, elsewhere you are likely to be greeted with smiles and genuine friendship.
The governor of the North Sulawesi region even calls his region “The Land of Smiling People” with some justification.
10. SECURITY?
This is the great unknown of Indonesian travel. Following the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 many tourists are understandably wary of visiting.
At the time of writing, the Australian and New Zealand governments are warning against travel because of fears of repercussions following the execution of the Bali bombers.
On the other hand, more than 5m tourists visited Indonesia last year without serious incident. I didn’t see anything to concern me about either terrorism or crime during my visit, but that does not mean dangers do not exist.
* Paul Smith visited Jakarta, Manado, Bali and Yogyakarta courtesy of the Indonesian government.