Gemma Holliani Cahya, Jakarta – Indonesia has passed a landmark bill that for the first time outlaws forced marriage and sexual harassment.
To tears and cheers from supporters in the gallery, on Tuesday the House of Representatives passed the long-awaited legislation that criminalises nine forms of sexual violence, including physical and verbal assault, harassment, forced sterilisation and exploitation.
The new law includes 15-year prison sentences for sexual exploitation, nine years for forced marriage and four years for circulating non-consensual sexual content.
It also stipulates that a court must compel convicted abusers to pay compensation to victims, who must also be offered counselling.
The law was proposed by the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and civil society groups 10 years ago. It was first deliberated by the House of Representatives in 2016.
The legislation had been opposed by conservative groups, who argued the bill's definition of sexual violence supported liberal values that allowed "deviant" sexual behaviours.
The new legislation comes amid rising cases of violence against women in Indonesia. Komnas Perempuan reported 338,496 cases in 2021 – up from 220,000 in 2020.
"When I heard the knock [of the gavel], my mask was just filled with tears. I was trembling so much. I think my voice was the loudest in the room. I kept screaming thank you and thank you," said Imbaniasih Achmad, 56, who was in the house to see the bill pass.
Iim has been campaigning for the legislation since her daughter was raped in 2015.
"Yesterday morning before I left home, I said to my daughter, Ibu [mother] will go to the house today. Today they will finally pass the bill," she said. "She understands that this fight is not just for her, but for all the women, for all of us."
Willy Aditya, deputy chair of the team that spearheaded the bill, said the deliberations had been "intensive".
"The participation of civil society has been enormous, even until the last moments, until the last seconds, we are still receiving inputs from them," Willy said.
The director of the Jakarta chapter of the Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women's Association for Justice, Siti Mazumah, said the bill signalled a new beginning for the country.
"This is not just about law; this is the beginning of a new civilisation that we create together. Indonesia has become a nation that will not tolerate and normalise sexual violence," she said on Wednesday.
Siti said survivors of sexual violence are often blamed by their community, and face discrimination from the authorities when they report cases. The foundation said only about 30% of attacks are reported because victims are often scared or discouraged from going to the police.
"Now we have to make sure that the government will provide the instruments and facilities for this law so it can be implemented. The capacity building of every related institution; making sure they understand how to work with each institution, understand the victims' perspective, the victims' rights," she said.