Challenging Social Norms through the Advocacy for the Protection of Victims of Violence against Women

Longgina Novadona Bayo
Smita Tanaya

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Domestic violence is the most widespread form of violence against women in Indonesia. In a 2017 study, the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) found that 71% of cases of violence against women occur in their own households. There is also an ongoing need for more mechanisms and services to report and handle domestic violence. Domestic violence can thus be thought as an “iceberg phenomenon”, as available data does not capture the true prevalence and severity of violence.

This case study examines the creation of mechanisms to report cases of domestic violence and provide support to victims of violence in a research village in North Central Timor District in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). This research village has limited agricultural resources and underdeveloped infrastructure, which affects the quality of life of residents. The social structure of the village is deeply rooted in the history of its foundation and founding families, creating a culture with high homogeneity of leaders and strong family ties, which are key elements of power and influence. The culture of the village is oriented toward the rights of older men, or patriarchs, both in terms of inheritance and lineage, as well as the unequal status and influence of men and women. This, many villagers argue, has contributed to a normalisation of violence against women and children in the village. Moreover, the strong influence of customary systems and practices in the research village also impacts victims of violence by restricting their ability to report cases of violence and access services.

The Amnaut Bife Kuan (Village Women’s Care) Foundation (YABIKU), in partnership with the Forum for Service Providers  (FPL), has sought to support village women by working with existing Women Farmers Group to increase their economic independence, broaden their agendas and perspectives on gender by holding activities, and increase the number and diversity of members. It has also aimed to bridge gaps in domestic violence services and advocate at the village and district levels. Broader advocacy efforts have been led by YABIKU’s founder, Yohana, an activist who has worked in anti-violence support programs since 1999. Yohana’s election to the regional People’s Representative Council (DPRD) with the intention of creating more pro-women policies, spearheaded YABIKU’s advocacy for institutional changes at the district level. At the same time, YABIKU also expanded its advocacy capacity by building civil society organisation networks at the district level and outside TTU.

YABIKU’s advocacy was instrumental in the formulation and ratification of two district policies: the District Regulations on the Implementation of Women’s Protection (No. 14, 2016), and on the Implementation of Child Protection (No. 15, 2017). Village women, with the support of YABIKU also formed a paralegal group in the research village and initiated a draft Village Regulation to provide protection for women and children experiencing domestic and other gender-based violence. The draft Regulation also aims to change customary dispute resolution practices for reported cases of such violence as these practices have tended to favour men.

These grassroots and district-level advocacy efforts have created several changes in the research village. The two District Regulations have succeeded in changing and reducing the use of customary dispute resolution practices that marginalise the rights of women victims of violence. These Regulations legitimise and recognise YABIKU’s paralegal groups in villages who offer support and advice to women victims of violence. They have also become a legal reference point for victims and enabled them to access legal and healthcare services.

Other positive changes have also resulted. First, there is growing awareness among village women about the importance of gender justice and gender equality. Second, the District Regulations and paralegal groups have been a deterrent for perpetrators of violence. Third, women in the village have started to claim their right to participate in the public sphere, such as in village politics. Finally, village women have developed greater capacity to organise and have new livelihood skills giving them greater independence and power to reform repressive norms within households. Yet, these changes have only been able to partially shift strong social norms in the village so far as the process is slow and incremental. This is the result of a long history of strong patriarchal structures that exclude women from decision-making in village development, few resources in the village for women’s activities, and having no women in leadership positions could possibly advocate for women’s needs. This case study of the North Central Timor research village provides strong evidence of the need to strengthen agency to accelerate social change and to enable potential grassroots women leaders to influence social and political decision making at the village level.

Read other case studies in the same sectoral focus area of gender-based violence.