Published:  12:27 AM, 29 October 2019

New minister for women's empowerment 'could lead' fight for urgent reforms

New minister for women's empowerment 'could lead' fight for urgent reforms Women's empowerment and Child Protection Minister I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati, better known as Bintang Puspayoga, greets the press during the announcement of the Indonesia onward cabinet in Jakarta.

Ati Nurbaiti

The new minister for women's empowerment and child protection is in a good position to lead continued efforts to raise the legal marrying age and to get the sexual violence eradication bill passed into law, human rights activists have said.

These two measures, the activists claim, are urgent steps needed for women and girls, to follow up earlier actions by the government and the House of Representatives in the 2014-2019 period.

Azriana Manalu, chairperson of the National Commission for Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said on Thursday that the ministry under newly sworn-in Minister I Gusti Ayu Bintang Darmawati "could lead" urgent measures to ensure the legal marrying age for girls is increased from 16 to 19 in the planned revision of the 1974 Marriage Law. The law currently stipulates the minimum marrying age for boys is 19.

Just before the end of the House's term in September, the government led by Bintang's predecessor Yohana S. Yembise and legislators finally agreed that the marrying age for females and males should be at least 19.  The 2002 Child Protection Law defines children as those aged 18 and under.

The lawmakers had been convinced following intense lobbying that also involved activists and the commission and a successful judicial review of the Marriage Law submitted by child marriage survivors at the Constitutional Court, which issued the ruling last December. 

Latest figures from UNICEF show that Indonesia has the world's eighth-highest absolute number of child marriages, at 1.46 million. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo last year pledged to end child marriages amid mounting pressure.

"We need much more complete data on child marriages," Azriana told The Jakarta Post. "We know nothing of unreported cases as available data is mostly compiled from local Islamic courts where parents can request the necessary dispensation to have their children married at an even younger age than that stipulated in the 1974 law."

At the Cabinet's inauguration Jokowi said Bintang was responsible for "strengthening the role of women in entrepreneurship, eliminating child labor and overcoming violence against women and children."

So far Bintang has only been known as the wife of former cooperatives and small and medium enterprises minister Anak Agung Gede Ngurah Puspayoga with experience in a few organizations, including in the National Handicraft Council, reports say.

During the last months of former minister Yohana's term Azriana said the ministry "had greatly improved the government draft" of the sexual violence eradication bill, thus the ministry "would be prepared" to work with the House to pass it into law in the next sessions.

Activists had expressed disappointment that the previous House had failed to pass the bill, while increasing reports of sexual harassment and violence in campuses, the workplace and public spaces including in concerts were beyond the scope of the Criminal Code and the Domestic Violence Law.

Komnas Perempuan celebrated on Thursday its 21st anniversary, which fell on Oct. 15, at the Habibie-Ainun Library at the residence of the late president Bacharudin Jusuf Habibie in Kuningan, South Jakarta.  Habibie passed away on Sept. 11.

His son Ilham Akbar Habibie said that although the couple's two children noticed mutual respect between their parents they realized that "the role of both the mother and father are sometimes irreplaceable."  Their mother, Hasri Ainun Besari, he said, "had chosen to sacrifice her [medical] career" to better raise her children.

Azriana said Komnas Perempuan was among Habibie's legacies during his short stint as president, as he had agreed to its establishment following the pressure of women activists including psychologist Saparinah Sadli. They had raised the rape and killing of women in the May 1998 riots in various cities. Saparinah, the commission's first chairperson, was in the audience. 

A witness to the riots in Central Java's city of Surakarta, Dewi Candraningrum, said she painted several survivors to "document" them and to heal her own trauma.

The former chief editor of Jurnal Perempuan, one of the speakers at the talks held on Thursday, displayed three scarves, respectively depicting survivors of Japanese sex slavery during that country's occupation of Asian countries including Indonesia in the 1940s, survivors of May 1998, and those of the 1965 political upheaval mostly targeting communists.

The work of Komnas Perempuan is partly reflected in the thread running through the experience of such survivors, Dewi said.

Azriana said in the commission's 21-year journey there had been an outpouring of support for it and concern about violence against women particularly from the young generation, while before it was a taboo issue. The new minister will "hopefully be open to dialogue" with various parties to improve gender equality in the country, Azriana said.

"However, even after accommodating various voices, it is crucial that she coordinates with other relevant ministries" and other government bodies as gender issues are still largely treated as the main responsibility of the women's ministry, Azriana said.

Hailing from Bali, Bintang is among just five women in the new 38-strong Cabinet, compared with eight in Jokowi's first-term Cabinet, and one of the few ministers from eastern Indonesia.

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