Side Views

Straddle babble and legal tangle in Aceh — Julia Suryakusuma

January 10, 2013

JAN 10 — What makes a guy horny? In Aceh, it’s women straddling motorbikes!

It seems that, like psychologists, Acehnese men see motorbikes as phallic symbols. A woman sitting astride a motorbike therefore conjures mental images of being sexually straddled by women — and that makes men either feel threatened, or gets their motors revving wildly!

According to Yusuf A. Samad, a member of Lhokseumawe Legislative Council, straddling a motorbike accentuates a woman’s curves, and “showing the curves of a woman’s body is against sharia”.

To safeguard men’s and women’s marwah (self-respect), Lhokseumawe Mayor Suaidi Yahya therefore plans to implement a perda (regional regulation) called qanun in Aceh, banning women from straddling motorbikes when they ride pillion, to prevent men being exposed to temptation.

He can do this because “special autonomy” was granted to Aceh to prevent it from breaking away like Timor Leste did in 1999. The Acehnese have a strong local identity, of which Islam is a central part — hence self-government and sharia. Elsewhere in Indonesia, the religion power is reserved for the central government, but Aceh gets special treatment, to placate its people.

But where will it all stop? Perhaps one day the Aceh government will feel the need to pass a qanun banning women from bending over to pick up something when they’re in a public place because it might make a man think that the woman is inviting him to have doggy-style sex!

I was initially relieved to read that, for once, the central government reacted quickly. The reason? Home Ministry legal chief Zudan Arif Fakrulloh said that the qanun would infringe women’s rights and also contradict national laws. Duh!

But then I read articles in other Indonesian newspapers the next day, stating that the Lhokseumawe local government would implement the anti-straddling ban immediately, despite the fact that it would only be passed into law in three months’ time. So what’s going on? Certainly the Home Ministry does have the right to block the regulation, but it looks as though it hasn’t actually done so yet in this case — Zudan seems to have been simply stating an intention. And even if the central government does act, local governments often ignore such interventions anyway.

Not that there are many of them. While the central government has revoked almost 1,900 regional bylaws over the past 10 years, most were financial in nature. It tends to completely ignore those discriminating against women. Even if the anti-straddling qanun is blocked, what about the one on khalwat (illegal proximity in seclusion) No. 14/2003, and the many Islamic dress requirements that apply in Aceh?

These are not minor issues. In 2010, for example, a young woman was detained on suspicion of committing khalwat with her boyfriend. During her detention she was gang raped by three members of the wilayatul hisbah (sharia police). It would be ironic if it wasn’t so tragic.

In this sense, the anti-straddling qanun reflects a number of problems with the politics of decentralisation, none unique to Aceh: legal chaos; patriarchal and authoritarian mindsets; wrong development priorities; and (as usual) the degradation of women.

In fact, the existence of different levels of law — national, local, traditional and religious — has created much confusion right across Indonesia. Many perda are poorly drafted and unclear, and ignore pre-existing laws. Complaints are also often made about perda that impose religiously derived norms in the name of “public order” rather than improve public services. But the central government doesn’t really seem to care much about any perda, unless it involves taxes, etc., and reduces Jakarta’s revenue stream. It therefore remains to be seen whether it will, in fact, actually stop the anti-straddling regulation in Aceh.

This is, again, ironic, as many of the “public order” and “morality” related qanun imposing restrictions on women, or other “social deviants” (e.g., punk groups, transgendered people, homosexuals) reflect a patriarchal, authoritarian and moralising mind-set that harks back to the New Order. In this sense, qanun that discriminate against women are an expression of a moral panic, distracting from the much more serious problems that Aceh faces: poverty, unemployment, bad health and education services. So much for reformation, huh?

Ultimately, the mentality behind the anti-straddling qanun is “blame the woman” for everything, including men’s lust and brutality. This is little different from the motivation driving the horrendous fatal rape of a 23-year-old physical therapy student in India recently, with the ringleader of her six rapists bluntly stating she “deserved” it because she dared to stand up to him.

Acehnese women are known for their courage. Cut Nyak Dien and other Acehnese warrior women engaged in armed combat against the Dutch after their husbands died in battle. The so-called Inong Balee women did the same during the conflict between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and Indonesian troops from 1976 to 2005. Is the power of Acehnese women who fought for Acehnese identity now being stripped away by the very sharia they fought for?

So, Acehnese women, channel the spirit of Cut Nyak Dien, and fight, not against the Dutch, but against your own, silly and sex-obsessed oppressors, who have nothing better to do than to make up absurd qanun that surely defy the true meaning of Islam! Perhaps a mass motorbike-straddling rally would be a good start? — thejakartapost.com

* The writer is the author of Julia’s Jihad.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.