To Protect Women, Engage Men

(JG Graphics/Josep Tri Ronggo Laksono)

By : Chika Noya | on 8:38 AM March 09, 2014
Category : Opinion, Commentary

(JG Graphics/Josep Tri Ronggo Laksono)

Indonesia’s Domestic Violence Law of 2004 has proven to be a crucial tool in encouraging female victims of abuse to seek help. But while this law has been an important step in addressing violence against women in Indonesia, the picture is still incomplete. Because if we really want to make a difference, a multifaceted approach that includes men in the effort to change patterns of behavior is crucial.

The problem of violence against women in Indonesia is huge, and it has gotten considerable international attention within the broader context of Indonesia’s increased prominence on the global stage.

The number of reported cases of abuse documented by the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) reached 216,156 in 2012, a huge increase compared the 7,787 cases reported in 2003.

Many women who are victims of abusive relationships in Indonesia are unable or unwilling to simply leave their abusive environments behind. Rifka Annisa, the leading Women’s Crisis Center in Yogyakarta, recently said up to 90 percent of women abused by their partners eventually return to their abusive relationship.

There are a number of reasons why women remain trapped in abusive circumstances. For some, divorce is still considered a taboo. For most, husbands are primary breadwinners, with the threat of destitution a strong incentive to tolerate unjust conditions. For others still, the priority is not to see their husband sent to jail but rather simply for the violence to stop.

Perceptions of and approaches to dealing with violence against women have evolved considerably in recent times. Many women, both survivors of domestic violence and those who provide services to women, suggest that domestic violence cannot be eliminated if the focus of a given intervention is aimed solely at women. Moreover, in various parts of the world there is a growing awareness among experts and gender rights campaigners that in order to break the cycle of violence, men should also be targeted in gender-based violence interventions.

Tellingly, Indonesia’s Domestic Violence Law has acknowledges that violence is a criminal act and that, according to the law, the perpetrators of violence can be penalized. However, in addition to penalties, the law also refers to services for perpetrators in order to change behavior. While these dual elements within the law are a positive step toward remedying a key social ill that also taints the country’s image among international peers, the government is yet to implement the program.

Violence against women and girls in Indonesia, as elsewhere, is rooted in historical and structural inequality in power relations between women and men. Undeniably Indonesian men are exposed to strong norms related to masculinity from an early age. These norms include a palpable reverence for patriarchy, which incentivizes males to pursue superiority, leadership, dominance and aggression in gender relations and consider these positions as “natural.”

Unfortunately, the engagement of men as allies in achieving gender equality often receives little mention in mainstream development frameworks.

There are, however, notable exceptions to the underappreciated role that engaging men can play in changing behavior.

In Indonesia, initiatives undertaken by women’s crisis centers such as Rifka Annisa and Cahaya Perempuan in Bengkulu, Sumatra, have provided recovery programs to men who commit violence within the context of their relationships with their partners. However, only a small number of men seek out help at these centers because the notion of seeking help by men in Indonesia is still (because of cultural norms) not very common, especially when it involves exposing problems in the domestic sphere.

A positive approach campaign like Men Care+, a global male engagement campaign run by the Dutch NGO Rutgers WPF, active in 25 countries, actively involves men in the process of tackling violence against women. Men Care+ encourages men to embrace new norms in gender relations, emphasizing the real benefits that stem from men as equitable, responsive and non-violent partners, fathers and caregivers.

The program has been adapted for Indonesia (as “Laki-Laki Peduli”), where many recognize the need for a fundamental mind-shift regarding the roles and appropriate behavior of men in both family and society. Men Care+ stems from a recognition that such a shift can only become a reality when a comprehensive and integrated approach (rather than a simple confrontational approach) is followed.

A broad and growing amount of evidence illustrates that effectively engaging men for gender equality can have significant benefits for women, children and men themselves. Indeed, promoting healthier and more equitable gender norms with regards to manhood and developing public policy aimed at engaging men and boys to improve men’s and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health rights services is essential in any country wishing to advance the social conditions faced by its population, as well as its international standing.

Chika Noya is program manager for gender-based violence at Rutgers WPF Indonesia.

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