Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta – A civil society group in Indonesia has come under fire from rights activists after it called on Muslim women to cover up, wear hijabs and avoid close contact with men to prevent them from falling victim to an increasing number of sex attacks.
In a letter issued early this week, the Family Welfare Movement (PKK) in Salatiga in Central Java province said all Muslim women should wear hijabs and cover up when out in public.
The PKK is a national voluntary movement of mainly women that focuses on development, primarily in villages.
The group also called for Muslim women "to dress modestly when they are at home" and "to sleep in separate bedrooms with males unless they are married couples."
It justified the calls by saying the number of sex assaults on women in the city had increased from 18 in 2020 to 23 in 2021.
The number is relatively small compared with nationwide figures compiled by the National Commission on Violence against Women, which recorded 431,471 cases of sexual violence against women in 2019.
By issuing the letter, they seem to agree that women's clothes are the main cause of violence against women
The group's calls immediately drew condemnation when the letter went viral on social media, with critics accusing the group of being out of touch and intolerant.
"We appreciate the PKK's goodwill in addressing the issue of violence against teenagers and women in Salatiga. However, the PKK's letter containing such an obligation is not the right instrument to tackle sexual violence cases," Sayyidatul Insiyah, a researcher at the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said on Dec. 22.
"They have failed to understand the reason why violence against women can happen. By issuing the letter, they seem to agree that women's clothes are the main cause of violence against women."
Calling this view a "fallacy," she said many sex attacks against women happened not because of the way women dress but because men see themselves as dominant and think they can get away with it.
"The PKK's letter fails to pay attention to the principles of equality and non-discrimination, which are the main principles of human rights... The letter should also have mentioned the role of males and what measures they should take to such attacks. PKK volunteers are not only women but also men," Insiyah said.
The call "is a form of intolerance because it restricts the freedom to dress," she said, urging the group to withdraw its call for the sake of pluralism.