Tue, 13 Jun 2000

Constitutional change on equality urgent: Activist

JAKARTA (JP): A special section on human rights must be included in planned changes to the 1945 Constitution to enable the replacement of many discriminative laws, advocates for women's equality said.

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana said Monday that a clause on equality must be added to the constitution because in 1984 the government had ratified the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Nursyahbani, a noted lawyer, was addressing a press conference on behalf of the Indonesian Women's Coalition for Justice and Democracy where she is secretary general.

The clause on equality should be inserted in the additional chapter on human rights, said Nursyahbani, who also represents women in the People's Consultative Assembly.

Although the constitution already mentions among others rights to a decent living, religious rights and rights to education, Nursyahbani said these were inadequate.

"The right to live and the right not to be discriminated against are not covered in the constitution," Nursyahbani said.

Talks of making changes to the Constitution, expected for completion during the Assembly's session this August, have largely focused on issues such as the president's power.

Nursyahbani said the ad-hoc committee preparing the changes since October had not responded to inputs from the Women's Coalition. Discriminative laws include the marriage law and the labor law, she said.

Noted sociologist Julia Suryakusuma said separately that the clauses on human rights in the constitution were open for interpretation.

"We are a patriarchal community, and our laws are interpreted in a patriarchal light," she told The Jakarta Post.

Julia cited the marriage law which states that the male is the head of the family. The law has led to the waiving of domestic violence reports, Julia said, on the grounds that such cases were private affairs.

"The law implies that the woman is the man's property," she said.

She agreed with Nursyahbani for the need of a specific section on human rights and the rights of women and children in the constitution to avoid open interpretation.

Apart from mending the constitution and laws, authorities should also be taught about gender sensitivity, Julia said.

"No matter how specific the constitution, if the person interpreting it is patriarchal, then it will be patriarchal," she said.

The Women's Coalition proposed that the special section deal with civil and political rights; social, economic and cultural rights; reproductive rights; the right to fair and sustainable development; and the rights of indigenous societies.

Nursyahbani said ratifying the Convention also obligates the government to set up affirmative action for women until considerable equality is reached.

Nursyahbani stressed that discrimination extends to sexual orientation.

Reality shows homosexuals and lesbians exist in society and in a country upholding the rule of law, discrimination based on sexual orientation is unacceptable, she added. (10)