by Fitri Bintang Timur
The United nations (UN) 57th Session on Commission of the Status of Women finally managed to agree on a declaration to end violence against women in New York on March 15th.
There were 131 nations’ representatives, including Indonesia, that concurred to adopt “the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls”, agreed to bring it back and implement it in their home country.
A decade ago, the organization had tried to reach an agreement on a similar declaration but failed miserably. In those days, countries could not reach consensus on what was perceived as violence against women, even though at that time, already 100 million women were missing through sex-selective abortion and gender discriminative healthcare (Amartya Sen, 1990). No wonder UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed this session as “historical”, as from that moment on, the world was finally willing to acknowledge that violence against women exists.
It was timely that after the declaration, on March 21, Indonesian Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo announced that women could finally enter the military academy dedicated to the force.
Credit should go to the army, as policy to empower women in the defence and security sector has been long overdue.
This means that women can have a better career and welfare within the army without fear about discrimination and harassment.
The army will recruit 16 woman cadets in the initial batch. Antara news agency quoted Pramono as saying that he aspired for these women “to become fighter helicopters” (sic.). Unlike the Afghanistan Army that already has trained its first batch of female helicopter pilots, the Indonesian Army still needs to wait until this policy materializes.
The Indonesian Air Force already has seven female pilots and if the force pursues the pro-women policy, the number will increase in the near future. The Indonesian Navy announced a similar plan last year but has not publicized its implementation. Meanwhile, the police force has allowed women to enter its academy since 2003.
According to the 2009 data, women account for less than 3 percent of the Indonesian military members. Obviously, the country still has a long way to go to reach the minimum allocation of 30 percent for inclusive representation in the work force, let alone reaching 50 percent representation to reflect the Indonesian population.
Why is it important to open barriers for women in the work force? Because the barrier shows that women are not considered equal and, according to International Relations scholar Valerie Hudson, violence becomes an acceptable option when women are not considered equal.
Contrary to the general belief that countries lost their people in open war or conflict with other states, Hudson’s decade-long statistical research shows that more lives have been lost because of female devaluation that results in mortal danger. This is manifested in domestic violence, the desperation of suicide and honour killing to female infanticide. Because of violence against women, they are no longer half of humanity, even with a ratio of 101.3 men per 100 women (Hudson, 2012).
Interestingly, her research found that a population committing violence domestically will be more inclined to perpetrate violence abroad. This is similar to the work of Caprioli and Trumbore, who discovered that countries respecting human rights have lower levels of international conflict and tend to solve problems using peaceful means (2003; 2006).
Having said that, it means that “democratic peace” theory — where countries using democracy as their political system do not engage in war among each other — is not enough. They ought not to abuse their fellows back home too, so violence does not become a daily norm.
According to the new UN declaration to end violence against women and girls, the adopting countries should address the underlying causes of violent acts, one of which is discrimination. This declaration suggests countries to eliminate discrimination and to open equal access to education, employment and provide equal pay for equal work.
The nations’ leaders present in the UN meeting believe, through social and economic empowerment, women can influence the decision making process. This will lead to fewer women who are willing to succumb to the act of violence. To implement this declaration, countries need to formulate legislation supporting equal access, or to revise their discriminative laws. This is an important step for the action of empowerment to have a legal basis to work on in order that the violators can be punished.
Speaking beyond equal access to employment, involving more women in the security sector will be another significant step in eliminating violence. More than being helicopter pilots or traffic managers, these women will be the frontrunners in stopping sexually based violence, becoming peacemakers, peacekeepers, conflict negotiators and also role models for society. They will show that women can be the protector, not always the protected.
The writer is an associate research fellow of S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Published in Jakarta Post, 15 April 2013
Kartini’s day commemoration photo courtesy of Sina news agency
Indonesian woman photo courtesy of Tribun News