Every year on 25 November, Indonesia joins the international community in commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This is to commemorate the tragic incident of the Mirabel sisters, female activists in the Dominican Republic who were brutally murdered by the military regime of Rafael Trujilo on 25 November 1960.
This incident was the starting point of a fight to end state-induced violence against women. The first time it was commemorated was 25 November 1981. Only after almost two decades did the United Nations start to officially commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women through Resolution 54/134 on 7 February 2000.
This historical journey shows how difficult it is to seek specific international human rights instruments to end violence against women and to recognise women's rights as an inseparable part of human rights.
By comparison, the international labour instruments of the International Labour Organization (ILO) had previously identified and specified forms of protection for women workers under a convention on the elimination of wage discrimination based on sex, recognition of women's reproductive and sexual rights and the prohibition of women working in places that may be dangerous for them.
Although the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948, it was only in the late 1970s and 1980s that there were strong demands and initiatives to realise and explicitly acknowledge the existence women's human rights. This was built around criticism of the dominant interpretation of universalism which still relied on the patriarchal public sphere. This interpretation ignored the specific problems experienced by women, such as their experience in the public and domestic spheres, their sexual rights, non-binary gender, and affirmative principles.
It was only in the late 1970s and 1980s that there were strong demands and initiatives to realise and explicitly acknowledge the existence women's human rights.
These efforts resulted in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993. They also influenced the inclusion of women's perspectives in various international human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Palermo Protocol against Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, as well as other human rights instruments.
To ensure the elimination of all forms of violence against women, efforts are also carried out in an intersectional and cross-sectoral manner to make this not only a universal movement but also an inclusive one that can reach out to groups that have been marginalized for so long. Therefore, in 1991, as proposed by the Women's Global Leadership Institute, the 16 Days of Anti-Violence Against Women Campaign was started to take place between 25 November and 10 December every year.
Over that span of 16 days, apart from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), Women's Human Rights Defenders Day (29 November) and Human Rights Day (10 December), we also have the commemoration of World AIDS Day (1 December), the Day for the Abolition of Slavery (2 December), People with Disabilities Day (3 December), International Volunteer Day (5 December), Zero Tolerance Day for Violence against Women (6 December) and World Human Rights Defenders Day (9 December).
In Indonesia, this campaign includes the commemoration of Anti-Corruption Day (9 December) and World Migrant Workers Day (18 December) in the series of commemorations, as women dominate Indonesia’s migrant worker population and often suffer the effects of corruption.
This simultaneous campaign is to ensure that violence against women, both in the private and public spheres, is treated as a violation of human rights. The campaign also reminds women that they are vulnerable to some issues, such as the stigma associated with being people who live with HIV/AIDS, discrimination due to having a disability, exploitation when working as migrant workers, and human trafficking. To voice the interests of victims, it is necessary to promote and support the strengthening of protection mechanisms for victims and female human rights defenders.
For Indonesia, this initiative has been going on for 30 years. It is still very relevant, and serves as a reference for the establishment of a roadmap to end violence against women in the country. In the period 2021-2025, the Indonesian Government’s National Action Plan on Human Rights gives priority to groups of women, children, people with disabilities and indigenous peoples.
There is still a long road ahead in this fight for equality. For example, when the Law on the Elimination of Sexual Violence was being developed in the Parliament, the Ministry of Education and Technology issued regulations for handling sexual violence in universities. This encountered resistance and disagreement, based on morals and religious beliefs. Meanwhile, we continue to see victims of sexual violence who suffer without assistance, and perpetrators who enjoy impunity.
We continue to see victims of sexual violence who suffer without assistance, and perpetrators who enjoy impunity.
Compared to other countries in the Asia region, Indonesia has ratified and adopted most of the international human rights instruments and global commitments related to human rights and women. However, this does not automatically translate into a guarantee that human rights and women's rights are priorities, and used as guidelines to develop policies in this country.
We still see that regulations are developed based of trial and error in Parliament, which leads to negative impacts on society when implemented, such as human rights violations, violence against women, evictions, ecological damage and exploitation of workers.
There must be stronger impetus for Indonesia to prove its commitment to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and women's rights, not only in implementation reports as a state party to international human rights instruments, but by conducting policy audits related to human rights, gender equality and social inclusion of all regulations and policies in Indonesia. Inclusive regulations and policies must be supported by a good knowledge ecosystem and collaboration between stakeholders.
Writer: Wahyu Susilo, Executive Director of Migrant CARE
This entry was translated from an article published on Kompas.id on November 27, 2021.