Muslim Women Protest Anti-Porn Bill

Michael Hayes
JAKARTA – An anti-porn bill has drawn criticism from an unlikely quarter: Muslim women. The bill, which is now being reviewed by a special parliamentary committee, has prompted nearly 1,000 Muslim women to protest in the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

The bill, which was originally drafted in 1999, goes further than simply banning pornography. Under the bill, public kissing, the display of women’s “sensual body parts” and exhibition of “erotic artworks” are all acts punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines as high as $100,000 (about R700,000).

The controversy over the bill highlights political and religious divisions in Indonesia. Although home to190 million Muslims, the Indonesian government is a secular institution. The current debate illustrates tension between those who prefer secular laws and a more conservative Muslim opposition that would prefer Islamic based laws.

“The people behind this are using religious values to make their argument,” Husna Mulya, a women’s rights activist told the BBC. “It is not stated in the bill, but the standard being used is the standard of Sharia law.”

Plans by Playboy to produce a local edition of the magazine have brought added attention to the public discourse. Although a desire to view pornography was probably not the prime motivation that drove Indonesian women, some dressed in traditional garb, to voice their concerns about the bill. Rather, the protesters displayed a unified front with respect to the issue of women’s rights more generally. Mariana, an organizer of the protest, told the crowd that the bill represented discrimination against women, according to the AP. She then called on the crowd to “fight that kind of oppression.”

While the controversy continues, the fact that such a debate is taking place in public could be read as a sign that Indonesia is moving towards greater democratic reforms.