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North Aceh head bans women from dancing in public

Jakarta Globe - May 26, 2013

Camelia Pasandaran – A women's rights group has criticized a move by North Aceh's district head to ban women in the area from dancing in public places.

Muhammad Thaib, the district chief, on Saturday said that he had banned all adult women from dancing when welcoming guests in North Aceh, adding that only children should perform the tradition.

"I'm very glad to welcome our guests with Aceh culture," Thaib said as quoted by Tempo on Saturday. "But cultural preservation should not damage Islamic Shariah values, such as dancing performed by adult women."

Masruchah, deputy chair of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday that Thaib violated the rights of women to express themselves in an art such as dancing.

"Indonesia upholds the constitution, and it guarantees all citizens the right to express themselves, including in dancing," Masruchah said. "Dancing is apart of Indonesian culture to show people the local tradition. It should not be linked to someone's opinion about Islam. Islam indeed supports art and the right to express."

Thaib said that the ban was in line with the spirit of Islamic Shariah, which he claimed was supported by North Aceh residents.

"Such activities that go against Shariah should be banned according to the mandate of the ulema," he said, adding that if he did not ban public dancing it would reflect on him as a bad leader. The North Aceh Ulema Consultative Assembly (MPU) supported Thaib's ban, calling the move a positive innovation.

Mustafa Ahmad, head of the MPU, said that Aceh's traditional dances, including the Saman dance, were evil because it involved body movement, as quoted by Atjehlink.com.

Masruchah also said that the district head should do something against men who might look at women's bodies in a negative way.

"The interpretation to body movements, whether done by children or adults, lies in the heads of men. Why should women be blamed if men easily get aroused?"

Masruchah said that the Home Affairs Ministry should ensure that all regional heads understand the constitution and human rights.

Home Affairs Ministry spokesman Reydonnyzar Moenek told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday that he had not heard about the ban and would seek information on whether the ban was already written in a regulation before making a comment.