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A Victory for Reproductive Rights for Indonesian Women and Girls with Disabilities

Indonesian women with disabilities recently achieved a major victory to protect their community from sexual violence, including forced contraception and sterilization — efforts made possible through support from the Disability Rights Fund (DRF) and its sister fund, the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund (DRAF). 

Until 2022, Indonesia had no law to comprehensively protect its citizens from sexual violence. Now, after a nearly 10-year-long legislative and advocacy process, the country has a law that comprehensively addresses sexual violence against all women, including women with disabilities. This is vital, as the rates of sexual violence for women who experience intersecting forms of oppression, such as classism and disability, are disproportionately high. In fact, “more than half (55%) of women with disabilities report intimate partner violence compared to 37% of women without disabilities.”

Coalition of organizations led by women with disabilities at Indonesian parliament.

The journey began in 2012, when a draft Elimination of Sexual Violence Act (RUU TPKS) was proposed by Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnasper). Women’s rights activists — thinking they were actually protecting the rights of mothers of young women with disabilities — inserted an article into the bill before its hearing in 2016 that legalized forced contraception and sterilization of women and girls with psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities. The proposed article stated that if sterilization is requested by a family member and based on an expert opinion, it is not a criminal act and does not require the woman’s consent.

“When forced insertion of contraceptives is considered not a crime if it is done to persons with disabilities, respect for a person’s [bodily] integrity is violated.” said Bu Maulani, a woman with a disability who is the executive director of Himpunan Wanitas Disabilitas Indonesia (HWDI)-National, the national umbrella organization of women with disabilities and a grantee of the DRF.

To facilitate dialogue about why the article was contrary to all women’s rights, DRF funded an October 2018 convening of women with disabilities and other women’s rights activists in Jakarta. Following the convening, HWDI-National and Perhimpunan Jiwa Sehat, the Indonesian Mental Health Association (IMHA), led a concerted advocacy effort to ensure the article would be dropped. These efforts were supported by grants made in February 2019 from the DRAF.

However, the Bill was then challenged by conservative parliamentarians who wanted to change it to address “sexual crimes” such as adultery, identifying as LGBTQIA+, and sex work instead of sexual violence. To address this conservative push-back, the coalition of activists broadened their efforts and partnerships, working together on advocacy to prevent gender-based violence and promote inclusive sexual and reproductive health rights.

Unfortunately, as the Bill was heard in Parliament in April 2022, coalition members received news that the government reinserted articles delegitimizing the legal capacity of all persons with disabilities. DRF staff in Indonesia supported grantees to organize an emergency meeting during which they texted members of the parliament and government representatives. This successfully influenced the working group of the house of representatives, and the article was officially removed. 

Yeni Damayanti submitting inputs from the disability coalition.

The Bill was passed into law on April 12, 2022 and is touted by the United Nations as “reaffirming Indonesia’s commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” The law is Indonesia’s first law to recognize equal legal capacity of women with disabilities by guaranteeing that the testimony of disabled victims and witnesses of gender-based violence is of the same weight and value as testimony of those without disabilities. Furthermore, the law also recognizes that victims with disabilities are entitled to accessibility and reasonable accommodations to fulfill their rights.

“We lobbied hard for this article until the last moment before it was passed,” recalled Yeni Damayanti, the co-founder of IMHA. “Calling and texting people from the ministry of women empowerment, vice minister of law and human rights, and the chair of the parliamentarian task force, day and night. But we finally made it.”

Key to the success of this effort was funding and convening support by DRF staff — people with disabilities, themselves — on the ground in Indonesia. It necessitated flexibility, long-term vision and unwavering commitment. Most importantly, it required trust in complicated, inter-movement, collaborative group processes.

There is still work ahead, because eight bylaws are mandated toward the law’s implementation. Now, efforts must turn to the bylaws and supporting a diverse women’s rights coalition to continue advocacy. Through ongoing efforts that recognize intersecting forms of oppression and funding that supports collaborative approaches, there is hope for this work to protect the rights of all women.