(2001) 'Something Borrowed, Something Blue: Learning from
Women's Groups in Indonesia'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 6, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/6/2/porter.html>
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Received: 2001/5/18 Accepted: 2001/6/10 Published: 2001/8/31
"I have read several other books, among which Moderne Maagden impressed me the most, because I found in it much that I myself had thought and experienced. Marcel Prevost has spoken the truth, and knows how to express his ideas, I think his book very beautiful. Nowhere have I seen the aim of the 'woman's movement' expressed with so much truth and power. Still I am just as far from the solution of that great problem as I was before making the acquaintance of M.M", (Kartini, 1964:98).
Reactions casting doubt on the truth of the mass rapes during the 13-14 May riots recently published by the mass media have taken the discussion to a level that is bound to have a negative social impact. In particular, the article 'Did Mass Rapes Actually Happen?' by Sri Muryono/Antara suggests a systematic effort and political interest behind the widespread media coverage of the mass rapes targeted at tarnishing the image of Indonesia abroad. Comments of this kind are dangerous, as they tend to shy away from the horrifying reality. Countering this requires our joint efforts to heal the wounds hurting a nation that has otherwise highly respected the principle of social justice. Given the grave implications this could have on our already vulnerable society, immediate action by the government is a must.
The article, among others, reports the views of Mr. Eddy Noor, an observer of social development, who states 'he could hardly believe that mass rapes did happen as it was not logical. He goes on to suggest that may have been a onesided story by activists of NGOs without any courage to show the victims or report them to the police'. He bases his skepticism on the reality of the mass rapes on two stereotypes (i) the impossibility for men, spurred by an erection, of having sexual intercourse in the face of others, and (ii) that rapes are induced by sexual drives. It seems that Mr. Noor is neither a student of history, nor of relevant theory on human behavior. His views, which are unfortunately held by others as well, reflect a conventional way of thinking in terms of stereotypes that simply do not represent the latest developments in understanding of just what creates hatred and how people can be motivated to act in an otherwise seemingly irrational manner.
Let me explain why.
First of all, there are numerous examples of mass rape, such as those which occurred in China (the Nanking Rape), Pakistan, and more recently in Bosnia and Rwanda, which happened in public and in the absence of any known 'sexual drive' on the part of the perpetrators. Mr. Noor should explain why Indonesia is different, particularly in the face of a past history of violence against ethnic minorities.
Second, there is ample evidence of the power of hate and prejudice in motivating human behavior. Equally important is the evidence of the ability to instill such prejudice through conditioning or 'brainwashing'. The latest theory, based on psychological behaviorism, tells us that with sufficient effort, virtually anyone can be trained to do virtually anything imposed by another person. In short, people can be conditioned to believe that mass rape against certain people is acceptable behavior even to the point of having no feelings of guilt or sin after the act.
Third, the argument is based on the conventional usage of proof as evidence, something that is absolutely obsolete in the modern world of dealing with cases of mass rape. International authorities dealing with war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda explicitly allow victims to bear witness anonymously to protect their own safety. Such protection is critical in the case of Indonesia where victims have been directly threatened with further harm if they 'go public' with stories of what happened to them. The testimony accumulated so far by various NGOs, along with the evidence presented by doctors who treated victims should be sufficient for agreement that crimes have occurred.
With this in mind, we must put a stop to further debate and controversy on whether or not mass rapes are conceivable, as well as, whether or not they occurred in conjunction with the May riots. Not to do so, is likely to have a damaging effect on all parties and may well induce international intervention. We should not lose sight of the fact that our own Law no. 7/84 included ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination towards Women. If we do not take a clear and credible stand on this issue, a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women might not be out of the question....(transl. Sadli)
2 For example, David Mosse, 1994, discusses the subtle ways in which PRA methods can reinforce existing social inequalities, as well as the 'solutions' preferred by the powerful and the developers. Other critiques pointing to the limitations of such participatory methods include Guijt and Shah, 1998; Porter, Smyth and Sweetman, 1999; Jackson and Pearson, 1998, Sen and Grown, 1987.
3 This study is based on material collected during the course of several university linkage projects carried out since 1990. During this period, I have been able to record the growth and development of a number of women's groups in Jakarta and elsewhere, to conduct numerous focus group discussions and interviews, and to collect written material - in short to carry out long term participant observation. I was in Jakarta during the period of the May 1998 riots, and for several periods during the aftermath described here. While the interpretation presented in this paper is my own, I have discussed all the material and ideas recorded here with the women I quote and many others in Indonesia.
4 See Charlesworth 1998, for a brief but useful defense of United Nations Conferences for women. Merry discusses various cases where universal Human Rights instruments have been used by local movements and the problem of 'relativism', (Merry, 1997) Among the many efforts to describe United Nations instruments to a broader feminist audience, we can notice Steinstra and Roberts, 1995; Pietila and Vickers, 1994 and Steinstra, 1994.
5 A classic example is the way in which the Javanese retained the traditional puppet theatre (Wayang), which was based on Hindu mythology, while incorporating features of their new religion. Many observers have seen the persistence of the wayang tradition as a form of resistance to the dominance of Islam (Brandon, 1970; Geertz, 1960)
6 One of the most profound and fascinating accounts on this period occurs in Pramoedya Ananta Toer's magnum opus, the Buru Quartet of novels. These rich and detailed sagas were first told by Toer to other political prisoners confined with him on the notorious Buru Island jail from 1965-1979. They were banned in Indonesia up to the end of Suharto's rule, but have been translated into English by Max Lane, and are available in Penguin.
7 The Dutch version of Les Vierges Fortes, Marcel Prevost
8 For more thorough and critical examinations of Kartini's life, thought and significance see Marlita, 1997; Sari, 1997; Dahlan, 1979; Zainu'ddin, 1980.
9 This brief reference omits all mention of the many and powerful women's organisations that were devoted to issues other than politics. There were many active religious groups, such as Aisyiyah, Muslimat NU and Badan Musyawarah Organisasi Islam Wanita Indonesia. (Mulyati, 1999). There were also long standing organisations devoted to women's education.
10 Pasundan Istri (previously Partai Kebangsaan Indonesia bagian Wanita), Persatuan Wanita Murba (Perwamu), Wanita Demokrat Indonesia) as well as Gerwani were all affiliated to political parties. Persatuan Wanita Republik Indonesia (Perwari), which had been formed specifically to continue women's role in the struggle for independence, lost some of its support and position because of its adamant opposition to Sukarno's polygamous marriage (Wieringa 1999: 239-241)
11 After Nairobi, there is a noticeable proliferation of references to the Forward Looking Strategies in academic articles, for example, those included in Tan, 1991; Ihromi, 1990 and this rose to a crescendo after the 4th United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing ( various articles in Notosusanto and Poerwandari, 1997; Oey-Gardiner et al, 1996, Ihromi, 1995, Tan 1997)
12 We must be careful not to overstate the case. The existence of legal mechanisms does not necessarily mean that they can be employed. The number of cases brought under the Conventions is miniscule, and those that succeed in actually changing things are even fewer. The United Nations remains at its weakest in interventions within nation states. Conventions, like other United Nations agreements, are mostly effective at the political level - to enable both internal and external groups to bring pressure to bear on national governments, and to embarrass them about their failures.
13 Although it should noted that the Optional Protocol for bringing cases under this Convention were only finally agreed in 1999. There are, of course, numerous other iinternational legal instruments that might be relevant to women in various situations.
14 Their activity alerted other women's groups to the possibilities of international instruments. An issue of Jurnal Perempuan (Edisi 7 Mei 1998) opened a discussion of the issue of whether the president could be a woman (which some muslims were raising as an issue in Islam in an effort to disqualify Megawati Sukarnoputri)with an extract from the Conventions on the Political Rights of Women, pointing out that Indonesia ratified this Convention 12 December 1958.
15 Some reforms can also be documented in change to successive State Policy Guidelines (GBHN) and Five Year Plans (Repelita).
16 See Laporan Akhir: Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta Peristiwa Tanggal 13-15 Mei, 1998 (the official report of the Fact Finding team set up by the government); Early Documentation No. 3 The Rapes in the Series of Riots, Tim Relawan Untuk Kemanusiaan (Volunteer Team for Humanity).
17 This topic has been covered from another perspective in Siegel's Early Thoughts on the Violence of May 13 and 14, 1998 in Jakarta Indonesia 66 (October 1998)
18 Anonymous reviewers asked me to reference this point. The author of the letter, Saparinah Sadli is a psychologist: I am not, and I do not know the references. But in the context of this paper, it is relevant that firstly, I am prepared to rely on a Southern colleague in a different discipline to refer to a global body of academic literature and secondly that Saparinah is using globally recognised academic work to support her political point about a specific situation in Indonesia.
19 In fact, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (Radhika Coomaraswamy) did visit Indonesia at the request of the women's groups. Her high profile visit lent support to the women's groups, and to the newly formed National Commission on Violence Against Women. It added to the political pressure on the government, but did not accomplish anything we could describe as concrete. Ms. Cooaraswamy appears to be able to deal with the frustrations of a United Nations position that operates by persuasion rather than compulsion, unlike Mary Robinson, who resigned her position as Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission because of the constraints and lack of effective implementation mechanisms.
20 Nor were these empty threats. On 9th October, a young volunteer with Tim Relawan, Marthadinata, was brutally raped and murdered in her home. An ethnic Chinese she had been working alongside her mother in the campaign to support the victims and to publicise the rapes. She was also due to testify before a United States Human Rights group.(Kompas, 10th and 12th October). While it was tragically clear to everyone that the murder was associated with Marthadinata's activity with Tim Relawan, the police insisted that it was an 'ordinary crime', and later arrested a neighbour.
21 It is interesting that when they accepted help from 'the north' in the form of a woman seconded from the British Columbia Human Rights Commision, the task that they regarded as most important was that she check through the many offers of help from outside and establish the credentials and utility of what they had to offer.
22 There are interesting parallels with the argument made in the 'Jane Doe' case in Canada. 'Jane Doe' was raped by a serial rapist in her home in Toronto, one of the notorious 'balcony rapes'. The police already knew about the rapist and the pattern of his attacks, but failed to warn women in the neighborhood because they were trying to trap the rapist. 'Jane Doe' brought an action against the police for failing to warn her of the risk. She won, and the judge's summation makes it clear that the state has a duty to protect its citizens.
23 We should also note how old this reference is, quaintly dated in the context of the sizzling contemporary nature of the rest of the piece. This tendency to quote very old northern sources is visible in many of the Indonesian feminist academic articles.
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