Indonesia: Briefing to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Women and girl domestic workers

January 1, 2011

Indonesia: Briefing to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Women and girl domestic workers

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Successful prosecutions of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence against women are relatively rare considering the scale of the phenomenon.(17) Many women are reluctant to file formal complaints. The few who do frequently retract their statements so that many cases never reach the courts. Women domestic workers’ reluctance to report incidents to the police is grounded in cultural, economic and educational factors.

Firstly, women may be ashamed to disclose incidents, especially of sexual harassment or violence, to the police. One domestic worker interviewed explained that she did not go to the police because she thought they were all male. In Indonesia, it is still taboo to speak openly about sex, and attitudes women and girls should adopt about sexual relationships are carefully coded. Extra-marital relationships are criminalised in law. Article 254 of the Criminal code provides that any married man or woman who commits adultery or who takes direct part in a sexual act knowing that the partner is married is to be punished by a maximum imprisonment of nine months. This means that women domestic workers may be reluctant to report sexual abuse if they are married themselves or if the perpetrator of the abuse was married him/herself at the time of the incident for fear of being themselves accused of breaking the law. Although recent discussions over the controversial pornography law have shown an increased divide within Indonesian society over these issues, a conservative attitude nurturing gender stereotypes, whereby a woman is confined to the private sphere and should refrain from having sexual relationships before marriage, still prevails, especially among the least educated. In this context, female domestic workers may feel too intimidated to disclose particularly intimate incidents to the police, a male dominated institution. Amnesty International notes that this reluctance by women domestic workers to testify may be overcome, or reduced, if there was more awareness about the recently established gender desks exclusively staffed by female police officers in police stations. (18)

As recommended by CEDAW General Recommendation 19, effective measures should be taken by the government to overcome attitudes and practices that perpetuate violence against women. In particular the government should introduce education and public information programs that reach out to domestic workers.

Secondly, domestic workers may fear losing their jobs or not finding other jobs afterwards if they speak out. This is especially true if the case goes to court, as the process may take a long time and discredit the worker in the eyes of her current and any potential future employer. Additionally, the legal process can be time consuming, making it difficult for the domestic worker to continue working while going through court proceedings.

Lastly, victims may not be aware that domestic violence is a crime. Article 12 of the Law Regarding Elimination of Violence in the Household (Domestic Violence Act) (Law 23/2004) provides that the government is to "organize communication, information, and education regarding violence in household; organize socialization and advocacy regarding violence in household; and organize gender-sensitive education and training on the issue of violence in household and shall establish gender sensitive service standard and accreditation". However, much remains to be done to publicize the law and to implement its awareness-raising provisions. The Domestic Violence Act remains poorly known, even among judges, and domestic workers are among the last to be informed about their rights in this regard. An overwhelming majority of the domestic workers interviewed by Amnesty International delegates had not heard about the Domestic Violence Act and did not know it was applicable to their situations.