Komnas Perempuan, or KP, as it is affectionately known by its staff and supporters, is not your average institution. For a start, it’s the only government-owned building with a giant mural painted on its wall – a woman in the process of freeing herself from a tangle of cords. But there’s more that sets it apart than that.

Mural in front of the Komnas Perempuan building in Jakarta. Photo: majalahkartini.co.id

Mural in front of the Komnas Perempuan building in Jakarta. Photo: majalahkartini.co.id

The National Commission on Anti-violence against Women was set up after the political turmoil of 1998 in response to public outcry over the violence against women that occurred at that time. Although receiving some funding from the government it remains an independent body, working as a kind of watchdog on women’s rights, monitoring policies, shaping public attitude and, in particular, addressing the issue of violence against women.

Working Towards Change

In 2014 alone there were 293,220 recorded cases of violence against women in Indonesia. This staggering number, rising each year since it was first recorded, reflects the unequal position of women in society. KP strives to change these statistics by working with service providers, law enforcers, judges, community groups, government departments, religious groups and the media, to promote changes in attitude, a better understanding of women’s issues, and the protection of women’s rights. In doing so it goes where no other organisation is willing to go, with nothing beyond debate, and no individual or group beyond reproach.

The Death Penalty

KP took up the case of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino migrant worker scheduled for execution. Despite public support for the death penalty, KP came out strongly in opposition to it, fighting for the most fundamental right of all, the right to life.

In April 2015, KP sent a team to visit Mary, or MJV as she is known in the Indonesian media. They also spoke with her family, attorneys and other people assisting her to gather information on her case. From these conversations it became clear that MJV was a victim of human trafficking. KP began an all-out campaign to bring her plight to public attention and appeal to the President for clemency. At the last moment, just hours before the scheduled execution, MJV’s sentence was postponed. It remains to be seen what will happen in this case, but KP continues its efforts towards elimination of the death penalty in Indonesia.

Chemical Castration

With the recent disturbing cases of sexual abuse against children, there has been a push in Indonesia towards chemical castration of offenders. KP has spoken out against castration, reminding authorities that this form of punishment goes against the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Indonesia signed in 1985. KP believes there should be a more comprehensive approach to sex crimes that addresses protection and prevention, as well as a focus on ensuring all offenders are processed in court.

Bill on the elimination of sexual violence

Sexual violence in Indonesia is at unprecedented levels with 35 cases reported every day. However, according to KP, there are huge gaps in the current law that leave women inadequately protected. Of the 15 forms of sexual violence identified by KP only three are covered by law. Crimes such as incest, polygamy, forced abortion and forced contraception, are amongst those not included. In addition, in cases of sexual violence, the burden of proof rests with the victim.

The bill promoted by KP includes a more detailed definition of sexual violence, prevention and protection for witnesses and victims, victim recovery, rehabilitation of offenders, and the role of the public. For this year’s 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, which started worldwide on 25 November, KP and its partners have chosen the theme, ‘Sexual violence is a crime against humanity’. It is hoped that this campaign will help encourage the government to include the bill in the list for discussion in 2016.

Discriminatory Bylaws

KP has been monitoring and reporting on the ever-increasing incidence of discriminatory bylaws in Indonesia. In 2014, KP recorded 389 bylaws that discriminate against women, three times the figure first recorded in 2009. These bylaws, although created with the aim of protecting women, in reality limit women’s mobility, choice of clothing, and other human rights. KP campaigns to increase public awareness on these discriminatory bylaws and urges the central government to ensure all laws are in line with the Constitution and human rights.

These are just a few of the issues tackled by KP. In addition, KP has campaigned to amend the Marriage Law, which currently allows girls to marry as young as 16, advocated for abolishment of virginity testing for new female police recruits, and called for an end of impunity for public figures.

Brave and Passionate

In an office where daily conversations revolve around rape, violence, and inequality, the people who work at KP need to be both brave and passionate. One staff member describes his initial experiences with KP as ‘falling in love’. From the first time he spotted a banner advertising one of KP’s activities to when he attended a heartrending session where women recounted their personal experiences of abuse, he could feel himself getting irretrievably involved. Eventually, going against the plans of his traditional Chinese family, he took a step outside the ‘norm’ and chose to do his internship at KP. “I’m still in love”, he admits with an infectious smile of enthusiasm. His ‘thing’ is raising awareness on dating violence – a largely un-discussed topic in a society where being ‘jomblo’ or single on a Saturday night is considered deeply embarrassing.

The staff at KP challenge the norms and bring into question stereotypes about ‘conservative’ Muslim societies. From conversations in the open plan office about vaginas and penetration sex, to mini skirts that raise the most liberal-leaning eyebrow, to colleagues who can be enticed into displaying their talents – sexy belly dancing – at any KP event. On a particularly confusing day, you may even find yourself chatting with a staff member who chooses to wear her, ‘I’m not a virgin and proud of it’ t-shirt slightly hidden under the tail-ends of her hijab.

However, KP is not about scandals and free sex. It’s about defending the right of individuals to choose their own path. It’s about standing up for vulnerable and marginalised women. In such a challenging environment, with such a myriad of issues, it may seem that KP faces an impossible task in eliminating violence against women in Indonesia. However, like the new mural on KP’s wall, KP remains optimistic that, with ongoing public support, women in Indonesia will free themselves from the tangle of cords that restrain them and eventually be able to enjoy their rights. Women’s rights, after all, as succinctly stated by Hilary Clinton, are human rights.