Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta – Indonesian activists have dismissed objections by conservative Islamic groups against a recently introduced ministerial decree aimed at addressing sexual violence in the country's universities.
The decree, signed by Nadiem Anwar Makarim, the minister of education, culture, research and technology, came into force in late October.
It provides a wider definition of sexual violence, which includes verbal, physical, and non-physical sexual assault, as well as assault through information and communication technology. It also introduces an array of punishments for perpetrators in universities, including dismissal or expulsion of the perpetrators.
Islamist groups such as Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, and the top clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), have strongly rejected the ministerial decree, interpreting it as a legal basis to justify extramarital sex in universities.
Muhammadiyah said in a recent article that the term "without the victim's consent" contained in the regulation could be interpreted as condoning immoral acts and free sex based on consent. Similarly, MUI said the phrase was against Sharia principles, the national ideology of Pancasila (five principles) and the 1945 constitution.
Both organizations have urged the government to revoke the ministerial decree or at least to revise the regulation so as to make its articles in accordance with the existing regulations and Sharia principles.
The regulation contains articles about the handling of victims through protection and recovery. These are progressive steps which show support for victims
Their objections have not held sway with activists who have defended the new regulation.
Sayyidatul Insiyah, a legal researcher at the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said her group appreciated the minister taking such a progressive step in terms of asserting the law and protecting women.
All stakeholders in universities must follow up on the regulation by taking necessary measures to prevent sexual violence on campuses, she said in a statement received by UCA News on Nov 11.
"We urge the government to widely circulate the intentions behind this ministerial decree and enforce it so as to prevent disinformation from conservative groups, which have incorrectly stated that the regulation legalizes adultery," she said.
"Also, the government must hold extensive talks with religious organizations to discuss the legal substance of the ministerial decree, which is to protect women and victims of sexual violence in universities."
Earlier, I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati, the minister of women empowerment and child protection, said many cases of sexual violence on campuses were not addressed properly but she believed that the ministerial decree will be able to address this.
"The regulation contains articles about the handling of victims through protection and recovery. These are progressive steps which show support for victims," she said.
Franciscan Vincentius Father Darmin Mbula, who heads the National Council of Catholic Education, said the conservative groups have likely misinterpreted the true context of the decree, which is quite common in interpreting public policy.
"Different interpretations usually arise. If there are unclear phrases, the government should revise them," he said.
"But I see that the minister has a strong spirit to prevent and to address sexual violence on campuses. I do not think that the ministerial decree legalizes adultery."