The suicide this week of a teenage girl in Aceh after she was arrested and apparently humiliated by the province’s Shariah police has again put the spotlight on laws that discriminate against women.
“She was another victim of discriminatory policies,” said Andy Yentriyani, a commissioner from the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan).
“She was not the first person to fall victim to such laws in the name of religion and morality and eventually take their own life.”
The teenager, identified only as Putri, was reportedly arrested with her friends by the local Shariah police while attending a concert at Langsa on Monday.
Andy said the circumstances surrounding her arrest were not clear, but she was believed to have been released on bail to her family.
She added that she might have been accused of failing to wear Islamic garb or being out in the evening with men who are not her direct relatives. Other reports suggested she was accused of prostitution.
Although the charges against her were unclear, Andy said the stigma felt by the young woman after her arrest burdened her with guilt for shaming her family and is believed to have prompted her decision to end her life.
“It is deplorable that such a tragedy should happen and we demand the state takes responsibility. We have been repeatedly reminding the government to immediately annul discriminatory policies based on religion and morality,” she said.
Saur Tumiur Situmorang, another Komnas Perempuan commissioner, said the central government and Aceh’s local governments should have ensured rehabilitation for the victim and her family, and guaranteed the fulfillment of Aceh citizens’ rights under the Constitution.
“We demand the president take immediate action to annul the discriminatory laws and reprimand his subordinates that defy him by insisting that those laws be maintained,” she said.
As of last month, Komnas Perempuan said it had found 282 local government policies that discriminated against women, mostly in the name of religion and morality. “There have been an additional 128 discriminatory laws since we first formally complained about it to the government in March 2009,” Andy said, adding that as many as 207 of the 282 regional policies directly discriminated against women.
She also said that there were 60 policies that dictated a woman’s mode of dress and religious expression. Some 96 others criminalize women through regulations related to prostitution and pornography.
There are also 38 policies that infringe on women’s rights to freedom of movement by imposing a curfew on women unless they are accompanied by a male relative. Seven policies discriminate against women exercising their right to seek jobs abroad.
In 2007, woman Lilis Lisdawati was arrested in Tangerang, Banten and charged with prostitution for being out alone at night while returning from work.
She was denied access to justice and a chance to clear her name. As a result, she was unable to get her job back.
The stigma led to severe depression and she eventually took her own life.
“Putri’s and Lilis’s cases should serve as reminders to all government entities and policymakers at the national and local levels on the urgency to deal with these religious- and morality-based discriminatory laws,” Saur said.