Balawyn Jones and Max Walden – Proposed legislation to eliminate sexual violence in Indonesia has made headlines in recent weeks because of vocal opposition to the bill from Islamic conservatives. They argue that it "promote[s] free sex and deviant sexual behaviour".
The political parties of both President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, support the legislation. However, the conservative Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has rejected the anti-sexual violence bill in the House of Representatives.
A Change.org petition supporting the anti-sexual violence bill currently has over 217,000 signatures. At the same time, a competing petition opposing the bill has gathered close to 162,000 signatures since late January.
The bill aims to prohibit and prevent sexual violence including rape, forced prostitution, sexual slavery and sexual torture in the household, workplace and in public. The bill gained prominence in 2016, as activists called for the legislation to be fast-tracked in response to the shocking public gang rape and murder of a 13-year-old schoolgirl by 14 drunk men in Bengkulu.
The latest statistics from UNFPA indicate that more than one in three Indonesian women between the ages of 15 and 64 have experienced physical and sexual violence in their lifetime. The actual number of sexual violence victims is likely much higher as more than 90% of rape cases in Indonesia are estimated to go unreported.
Fears over 'free sex' are misplaced
One of PKS's main arguments against the anti-sexual violence bill is that it criminalises rape, including marital rape, but does not explicitly prohibit consensual, non-violent sexual relations outside of marriage.
PKS argues that by not explicitly addressing premarital sex, the bill indirectly promotes "free sex" and homosexuality. But there are good reasons why the bill does not explicitly address these issues.
First, the aim of the bill is limited to eliminating sexual violence. Non-violent sexual relations fall outside the scope of the bill and are not relevant to this legislation.
Second, the legality of premarital relations is already being debated and legislated in a controversial draft of the amendment to the criminal code.
As other legislation already addresses premarital relations, it is not necessary or appropriate for the anti-sexual violence bill to contain such provisions.
Challenging the bill on the basis that it does not discuss consensual, non-violent premarital relations is therefore misplaced.
National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) Commissioner Azriana said in an interview with the authors that the "issues of free sex and homosexuality are the unilateral interpretation from groups that reject the bill without clarifying with those who drafted it".
The latest trend in rejecting women's rights
Conservative opposition to the anti-sexual violence bill is not a new phenomenon. However, the timing of PKS raising the issue appears to be an attempt to garner votes heading into elections in April.
It is the first time Indonesia's parliamentary and presidential elections will be held at the same time. Islamic parties have historically performed poorly at the ballot box.
Its image tainted by a series of corruption scandals, PKS won just 6.79% of the vote in the 2014 presidential election. This represented a swing of 1.09% against the party, which lost 17 seats.
Lacklustre electoral results have seen Indonesian Islamic parties like PKS turn their attention to a political agenda focusing on conservative "morality" issues.
Rejection of the anti-sexual violence bill echoes PKS criticism of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, which was passed in 2004.
At the time, PKS members argued that the Anti-Domestic Violence Law implicitly supported premarital relations. The party also rejected clauses outlawing marital rape. That same year, the then deputy leader of PKS, Hilman Rosyad Syihab, defended child marriage, stating that Islam allowed for marriage regardless of whether a girl has reached sexual maturity.
PKS politicians have also been at the forefront of proposing provisions to criminalise premarital relations in the draft criminal code. While discussion of this legislation has largely targeted prohibiting sexual relations within LGBTQ communities, the provisions in their current form also threaten the broader community.
Women's and civil rights groups have condemned the proposed criminal code particularly because of its broadly drafted provisions. They argue that the draft could potentially put millions of Indonesians at risk of prosecution.
Under the proposed criminal code, those prosecuted for premarital sex could face up to five years in prison.
Protection of men, women and children
The anti-sexual violence bill is not about premarital sex or homosexuality. It is about the prohibition and prevention of sexual violence against Indonesian men, women and children.
Importantly, the bill includes detailed provisions for the protection and support of victims of sexual violence. This includes providing health services and legal assistance for victims.
These long-overdue reforms are necessary to protect vulnerable members of Indonesian society.
[Balawyn Jones is a PhD Candidate and Research Fellow, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne. Max Walden is a PhD Candidate and Research Assistant, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne.]