Made Anthony Iswara, Jakarta – This week comes as a stark reminder for people to protect and uphold the rights of the country's many unsung heroes amid the COVID-19 outbreak: nurses who are on the frontline treating patients, mothers who keep their households afloat and victims seeking justice after the 1998 May riots.
The pandemic has cast a pall over International Nurses Day celebrations on May 12, with nurses dying of the disease while others continue to work overtime to treat COVID-19 patients despite inadequate personal protections.
Additionally, nurses face public stigma for their constant contact with patients, with some even getting evicted by their landlords.
On the other hand, nurses have received more attention from the public during the pandemic, Indonesian Nurses Association (PPNI) chairman Harif Fadhillah said on Monday.
"Nurses have been overlooked for the longest time," Harif said. "But during the pandemic, nurses have been on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19. We hope that this [awareness] continues."
Before COVID-19, nurses had complained about the lack of appreciation afforded to them, including low wages that are disproportionate to their workloads. There were just 113 nurses to care for every 100,000 people in the country in 2016, according to Health Ministry data, a far cry from the government's target of 180 nurses per 100,000 people by 2019.
PPNI data from 2017 also showed that around 82,000 out the country's roughly 1 million nurses worked "voluntarily" in state-owned health facilities without any clear work contract or status. Many of these nurses also earn well below the provincial minimum wage at privately-owned health facilities.
Last year, nurses took to the streets in Bandung, West Java and Gorontalo to demand fair pay and employment certainty. It took at least 27 protests before the government finally ratified the 2014 Nursing Law, which finally recognized the roles of nurses in the national healthcare system.
Alongside International Nurses Day, Indonesia will also commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the May 1998 riots that cost so many lives and stoked fear among the Chinese-Indonesian community that saw hundreds of shops raided and many women allegedly raped.
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the May 1998 riots fact-finding team have respectively revealed their findings on the 1965 and 1998 tragedies, showing that gross human rights violations were committed, with military involvement in both cases. But there has been no punishment for the perpetrators nor any justice for the victims, survivors and their families.
However, there in significant public support for resolving these cases. A 2019 poll conducted by Kompas daily for Komnas HAM found that 82.2 percent of respondents believed that cases of past human rights violations should be resolved; however, many did not believe the government would be able to do so.
"We hope that with public pressure, the country can open its eyes and awaken the political will needed to bring those cases [to court], at least to the investigation phase," said Dimas BA Saputra, the head of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence's (Kontras) impunity watch division, on Monday.
Since the incident 22 years ago, survivors and families of victims of past human rights abuses have regularly participated in weekly silent protests known as Aksi Kamisan, where they call on the government to take responsibility. The movement has since shifted to social media after the COVID-19 outbreak.
The global community also celebrated Mother's Day on May 10 – distinct from Indonesia's own Hari Ibu – at a time when the pandemic has placed a greater burden on the shoulders of women in the country.
The threat of domestic violence haunts women forced to shelter in place, with 33 of the 97 reports of violence against women received between March 16 and April 19 in Greater Jakarta by the Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women's Association for Justice (LBH Apik) concerning domestic abuse.
The organization's coordinator for legal reforms, Ratna B. Munti, said Monday that the figure was only the "tip of the iceberg", with many cases going unreported.
Women, including mothers, have long suffered from many of the country's societal ills, with discrimination, systemic poverty and human rights abuses hitting them the hardest, activists have said.
"More attention needs to be paid to how we treat mothers, who give birth to the next generation. We need to position them as full-fledged citizens who have rights, and those rights need to be protected and upheld by the state," Ratna said.