In­done­sian men don mini-skirts in protest

A cam­paign to end vi­o­lence against women

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Syaldi Sahude re­calls how he was left speech­less eight years ago when he came across a study that showed 85 per­cent of In­done­sian women who have suf­fered vi­o­lence at the hands of their part­ners re­main in the re­la­tion­ship. As­ton­ished, Sahude dis­cussed the sub­ject with his friends as he sought an ex­pla­na­tion - and then he re­al­ized some­thing was miss­ing.

“There were women’s em­pow­er­ment, le­gal aid and trauma pro­grams for sur­vivors but the root cause of this is men,” said Sahude, who was work­ing at a women’s rights group at the time. More dis­cus­sions fol­lowed with like­minded ac­tivist friends, and a year later a cam­paign group Aliansi Laki-laki Baru - or the New Men’s Al­liance - was born. The men-led cam­paign has taken on elim­i­nat­ing vi­o­lence against women as their mis­sion - chal­leng­ing a deep­rooted and of­ten hid­den is­sue in In­done­sia’s pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety.

Through on­line cam­paigns, pub­lic ral­lies, dis­cus­sions and coun­sel­ing tar­geted at men, they chal­lenge mis­con­cep­tions about mas­culin­ity and broach sub­jects such as sex­ual iden­tity, rape and con­sent. While the ac­tiv­i­ties are also open to women, their main tar­gets are men and boys, groups that women’s rights cam­paign­ers have tra­di­tion­ally had dif­fi­cul­ties reach­ing, Sahude said. “Many In­done­sian men still think women have no rights to tell them this or that, that women are in­fe­rior to men,” the 37-year-old co­founder of the group said. Vi­o­lence against women has come un­der the spot­light in In­done­sia this year af­ter the bru­tal gang-rape and mur­der of a school­girl, which prompted the govern­ment to in­tro­duce harsher pun­ish­ments for sex of­fend­ers in­clud­ing the death penalty and chem­i­cal cas­tra­tion.

Ac­tivists say cases of vi­o­lence against women have been on the rise al­though the real scale re­mains hard to gauge in the South­east Asian coun­try of 250 mil­lion peo­ple. There were 321,752 such cases in 2015 - in­clud­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and sex­ual as­saults - a three­fold surge from 105,103 in 2010, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment­backed Na­tional Com­mis­sion of Vi­o­lence Against Women. The com­mis­sion said the fig­ure, com­piled mainly based on com­plaints lodged with re­li­gious courts, was just the tip of the ice­berg as many women lack the re­sources or are too afraid to re­port abuse.

A na­tion­wide on­line poll in July found 90 per­cent of rape cases go un­re­ported, with ac­tivists blam­ing so­cial stigma for many women’s un­will­ing­ness to go to the au­thor­i­ties. Sahude said the stigma sur­round­ing vic­tims of sex­ual abuse is an is­sue his group wants to tackle. Some men in the group, for in­stance, have donned mini-skirts to protest a se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cial’s sug­ges­tion that women should not wear short skirts on pub­lic trans­port to avoid be­ing raped. “Too of­ten it’s about the way women dress or the way they be­have. So we thought if it’s re­ally about mini-skirts, how about men wear­ing them?” Sahude asked.

A 2013 United Na­tions study in Asia showed nearly half of 10,000 men in­ter­viewed in six coun­tries - in­clud­ing In­done­sia - had used phys­i­cal or sex­ual vi­o­lence against a fe­male part­ner, while nearly a quar­ter had raped a woman or girl. The ten­dency towards sex­ual vi­o­lence is com­mon in cul­tures where male tough­ness is cel­e­brated and men have a sense of sex­ual en­ti­tle­ment, it found. Risya Kori, a gen­der equal­ity ex­pert from the In­done­sian of­fice of the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund, one of the UN agen­cies which spon­sored the 2013 study, said in­volv­ing men in the fight to end vi­o­lence against women would have “pos­i­tive ef­fects”.

The New Men’s Al­liance ini­tia­tive is one of many around the world aimed at en­gag­ing boys and men to tackle vi­o­lence against women. In Colom­bia, for ex­am­ple, the Men and Mas­culin­ity Col­lec­tive uses the­atre and mu­sic to chal­lenge gen­der stereo­types. And in Mozam­bique, an­other ap­proach has been to get thou­sands of boys and men in kitchens and cook­ing to con­front machismo. The needs are great in In­done­sia, as many prac­tices that vi­o­late women’s rights are con­sid­ered “nor­mal”, Kori told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. — Reuters

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