09/20/2019, 18.00
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Indonesian activist seeks rights, equality and gender justice for women

by Paolo Fossati

The activist is the general secretary of the Coalition of Indonesian women for justice and democracy. Her organisation has led the campaign to raise the minimum age for marriage, bringing the issue before the Constitutional Court where tragic stories of some "child brides" were heard.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - After raising the minimum age for women to marry, the next step to be taken in Indonesia is a law on gender equality and justice, said Dian Kartikasari, general secretary of the Coalition of Indonesian women for justice and democracy (Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia, KPI), speaking to AsiaNews.

Founded in 1998, the KPI has contributed decisively to the historic decision by the Indonesian parliament to raise the minimum age for brides from 16 to 19 years.

According to KPI’s data, 27 per cent of Indonesian children are involved in child marriages. The number of females is higher than that of males. In the world, Indonesia ranks 7th for this kind of union in the world; second only to Cambodia in Asia.

For Kartikasari, "The reasons behind the phenomenon are above all cultural. For many people, a girl who gets married soon ceases to be a burden on the family.” Hence, “Poverty also plays an important role.

“Among the more conservative Muslim communities, early marriage is also as a way to avoid the sexual activity of young women. Fortunately, the raising of the minimum age will affect not only civil authorities but also religious courts, which have so far contributed to the practice.”

"The campaign for raising the minimum age began in 2010, when we asked the government to change the Marriage Law, in force since 1974,” Kartikasari explained.

"At the time, the government told us that doing it would be too complicated. We therefore turned to parliament, where, however, we failed to overcome the opposition of more conservative religious groups.

"In 2014 we changed strategy and called on the Constitutional Court to express itself on Article 7, the one that set the minimum age limit for marriage.

"Faced with a first failure, we realised that it was necessary to collect more data and information, to better highlight the importance of the issue."

"We have been confronted with members of the Coalition who were victims of the practice in the past. We asked them if they were willing to tell their experience to the judges of the Constitutional Court. Finally, in December 2018 the Court accepted our request and urged lawmakers to change the law.

“The stories we brought to court are really tragic. There is that of Mariati, who was forced by her father to marry a family friend at age 13 because he contracted a debt with him after losing money gambling. Shortly thereafter the girl became pregnant, but the child she was carrying died during childbirth.

"Another story is that of Rahmina. The mother of the young woman is very poor, so she thought that with her daughter's marriage she would solve all her problems. Rahmina married four times: the first at only 12, then at 16, 18 and finally at 26.

 “During the second marriage, she was used to prepare food for farmers who worked for her husband. One day she was bitten by a snake. The infection caused by the poison cost her the amputation of a leg. Faced with her disability, the husband decided to abandon Rahmina.”

The parliamentary vote on Monday is a great victory for the Coalition. However, general secretary of the KPI notes "there is still a lot of work to do. The next step to be taken is a law on gender equality and justice. This will be hard to achieve, especially because of conservative Islamic movements.

"By promoting interpretations of Islam inspired by the Middle East, radicals reject our demands because in their view they represent a threat to the authority and power of man in society.

"Still, we are not alone in this battle, because we are supported by several progressive and moderate Muslim leaders who stress that gender equality is part of Islamic teachings. Other religious communities are also on our side; Christians, Buddhists, Hindus are with us.”

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