Aceh is one of 32 provinces in Indonesia, which has applied Sharia Law or Islamic Law. The situation is not very positive for women, hence the law targeting mostly women’s bodies, rights and public sphere participation – among others. The number of violence against women cases is high, not just in the conflict situation (Aceh has suffered from military operations for the past decade) but also during disaster periods and in post-disaster management.
Why is this happening? How is the understanding of reproductive health and sexuality in post-conflict areas, such as Aceh?
Eva Khofifah from Aceh Indonesian Planned Parenthood Forum, one of the speakers at the Youth Sexuality and Reproductive Health Training in Aceh (run by PWAG Indonesia, last February 2014), mentioned that Islam is actually very protective and concerned with reproductive rights of women and children. It is also stated in the Quran that people should not abandon the needs of vulnerable groups such as children, especially for their well-being. We could interpret this verse as a strong demand for information on sexuality and reproductive health for young people. Instead the local Islamic law targets at how women have to wear hijabs, how they must dress and restricts women’s access to public space and condemns women to walk outside at night hours.
AYOMI, an organization in Aceh, has done some research since 2008 stating that over 30% of the girls between 16 and 18 years old have been forcibly married and that over 40% experienced dating violence in Aceh. This number doesn’t even include the fact that many teenagers have been involved in unsafe sex with their friends. The risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases is very high, leading the youth to conditions, in which they are not able to continue education or even find any work in the future.
According to Ryan Fajar Febrianto, one of our facilitators during student training, the health of young people doesn’t just include physical health, but also mental and social health within their society. Access to comprehensive reproductive health is crucial, not just for information purposes but also to prepare the youth for a better future.
The problems in Aceh are not just based on the culture that prohibits access to information on sexuality and reproductive health, but also on the missing access to comprehensive information. Institutions such as schools need to have programs for comprehensive sexual education, said some of the activists in Aceh.
The youth involved in our 4-days training was very positive and responsive towards the program that PWAG Indonesia made. It has also been suggested to increase this kind of training in other schools outside of Banda Aceh (capital of Aceh province). PWAG Indonesia has been working closely with Aceh Women for Peace Foundation and LBH APIK Aceh, in order to develop similar trainings in other cities, for future programs. The urgent call of women and youth living under these conditions in Aceh needs to be addressed, not just with a one-time program, but with continuing and sustainable programs.
By Olin Monteiro (National Coordinator PWAG Indonesia)