Dear Indonesia, rejecting the “condomisation of society” is not the solution

Published: February 13, 2015
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Female Indonesian students from a local Islamic boarding school hold up anti-Valentine’s Day placards during a protest in Surabaya. PHOTO: AFP

Indonesian women, some clad in miniskirts, protest remarks made by Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo, who blamed a 2011 gang rape on the victim's choice of clothing. PHOTO: AFP Female Indonesian students from a local Islamic boarding school hold up anti-Valentine’s Day placards during a protest in Surabaya. PHOTO: AFP

“We reject the condomisation of society.”

Nope, that’s not a headline from The Onion or The Oatmeal. And it’s not taken from any satirical website.

I am quoting directly from the Wall Street Journal’s report on Indonesia’s top Islamic authority, Indonesian Council of Ulema. Local news daily Republika reported that there is a ‘crackdown’ on shops to check whether, in effect of Valentine’s Day, shops are selling condoms with chocolates.

Ma’ruf Amein, the man who uttered the golden words quoted above, insisted that if shopkeepers sold condoms to unmarried couples, it would increase the chance of sex out of wedlock.

I hate to break this to you, Mr Amein, but if two hormonal kids/teens/couple want to have sex, chances are they are going to do it anyway – letting them use contraceptive devices is just a way to ensure better sexual health and prevention of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Prohibiting the sale of contraceptives is just adding to the laundry list of problems that occur when there is already low awareness about sex and sexual health.

Not too irrelevant to note that this is the same Council of Ulema that urged the government to perform invasive and humiliating ‘virginity tests’ for women – a practice that raised a lot of hue and cry and was thankfully scrapped later. A jarring list of other equally discriminatory and abusive laws and practices are found in Indonesian law and society.

For example, the law requires women to wear hijab, barred women from wearing skirts, from straddling motorcycles, pray in order to avoid adultery, and in July 2013, in Gorontalo, the entire female staff was replaced with men so as to avoid ‘extra-marital affairs’. Most of the strength to enforce these laws comes from the Council of Ulema who were wooed by the 2005 elected former President Yudhoyono; he promised to integrate fatwas (declarations) into government policies and pandered to the Council of Ulemas and appointed conservative politicians and clerics as cabinet members.

The result of these discriminatory and unjust laws is in the crimes against women that have seen a rise in Indonesia. Crimes against women went up by almost 30% in the year 2013-2014 and data revealed that an overwhelming amount of discriminative bylaws exist which control women’s bodies, professions, legal certainty and the likes – whereas there were no effective laws on sexual violence. The range of abuse was from infants to the elderly and included major social groups such as disabled, migrant workers and students.

The Council of Ulema seems to be far too focused on trivial issues such as banning Valentine’s Day and stopping people from buying chocolates that have condoms with them, rather than focusing on the real problem – violence against women. Somehow, these clerics feel that by banning people from having sex, the violence against women will stop. They feel that by removing women from the social sphere altogether – by shutting them inside houses – the abuse, the crimes and the violence that women face on a daily basis by their partners, family members or even bystanders on the street, in case they go out of the house at all, will stop.

Instead of focusing on laws that treat human beings equally, laws that help women find opportunities and protection from harassment, instead of teaching men to be better human beings, the Council of Ulema focuses all its energies on creating more restrictive laws for women. Perhaps their logic is that if women completely disappear from society, so will the crimes against women? Or if they manage to treat women like cattle, there is a good chance people will forget that they deserve human rights as well?

Mahwash.Badar.

Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.