Revival of draft Islamic code sought

Jakarta, Indonesia - Women activists are seeking to revive an alternative draft for an Islamic code of law (KHI), which they say would help reduce domestic violence cases.

They urged the government on Monday to revoke its decision to annul the controversial draft issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in October last year.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) argued that the alternative draft embraces progressive thought in Islam as it puts women in a more powerful position in marriage.

Designed by a team led by gender expert and Islamic jurisprudence scholar Siti Musdah Mulia from the religious affairs ministry, the draft was aimed at accommodating contemporary issues and women's needs, instead of heavily weighing on male interpretations.

Several articles of the draft include banning polygamy, allowing interfaith marriages and giving women equal divorce rights, as extended to men, as well as the right to marry without the permission of a guardian.

The draft had, however, angered many Muslim clerics, with some calling it satanic and others, comical. The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) also opposed the draft.

Minister of Religious Affairs M. Maftuh Basyuni announced on Feb. 14 that the controversial draft had been shelved due to unrest among Muslims in the country.

Komnas Perempuan chairwoman Kamala Chandrakirana said the government's revocation of the draft violated the peoples' right to express their opinion and to explore or discuss new ideas.

"Pros and cons are part of democracy and human rights. Besides, the draft was part of the government's gender mainstreaming program, to open public discussions about gender equity. Why should it be stopped?" she told a discussion on Monday.

Kamala said the government had no reason whatsoever to halt public discourse about the alternative draft, since it was part of upholding human rights.

She revealed her commission's latest report showing that violence against women had increased nearly 100 percent in the past year, from 7,787 cases in 2003 to 14,020 cases in 2004.

Contributing factors, Kamala said, included "politicizing religious identities", in which religious instructions were interpreted in a black-and-white manner.

Moreover, a study by a Muslim-based women's organization, the commission reported, showed several government policies had been enacted to curtail women's rights.

A few examples included a bylaw enacted by the Tasikmalaya regental administration in West Java, which obliges female civil servants to wear jilbab (head scarves) in their offices, and forbids women and men swimming together.

Similarly, a bylaw enacted by the West Sumatra administration imposes a curfew for women that prohibits them from going out between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The report also disclosed how hard-line groups often launched violent campaigns against "immoral" women, with most victims being commercial sex workers.

Local government policies restricting women's rights were also found to be widespread in several regions that have pushed for the enforcement of sharia (Islamic law), such as Garut and Cianjur regencies -- both in West Java; Banten, Riau and South Sulawesi.