Tracing CEDAW Implementation in Indonesia 40 Years After Ratification: Successes and Challenges

The struggle to liberate women from various forms of discrimination began in 1946 with the stipulation of women’s status under the human rights commission. However, significant progress was only seen in 1979 when the UN General Assembly passed the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This convention is considered a turning point in efforts to protect women because it succeeded in laying a formal foundation that is legally binding for the countries that ratify it. Until 2022, 189 countries have committed themselves to CEDAW. By ratifying CEDAW, the state has an obligation to comply with and translate CEDAW articles into national laws and policies that can ensure: (1) the elimination of forms of discrimination against women in all aspects of life; and (2) there is a guarantee for women to exercise their rights freely. Indonesia itself is classified as a country that was relatively early in ratifying CEDAW, namely in 1984 through Law Number 7 of 1984. It has been almost 40 years since Indonesia has ratified CEDAW. Then, how is the situation of the protection of women in Indonesia today? What challenges arise in the effort to create a safe space for women?

Legal Provisions and National Policy for Women

Indonesia’s decision to ratify CEDAW was based on the mandate of the 1945 Constitution article 27, paragraph 2, which relates to the right of all citizens to obtain a decent job and livelihood. CEDAW ratification proves the government’s commitment to strengthening the efforts to empower and protect women as a marginalized group. After ratification, the government attempted to translate the articles of the convention into a statutory system; therefore, CEDAW played a significant role in shaping the national and even local legal framework relating to women. Many national constitutions have been created to provide legal umbrellas for the protection of women, including (1) Law Number 23 of 2014, which mandates the central and local governments to establish policies related to the empowerment and protection of women; (2) Law Number 8 of 2016 concerning the protection of women with disabilities; or (3) Law Number 7 of 2014 concerning the protection of women and children in times of conflict.

These various national constitutions are then translated into multiple more specific regulations through Government Regulations, Presidential Regulations, and Regional Government Regulations (Perda). Some of the regulations relating to the protection of women can be found in Government Regulation Number 61/2014, which regulates women’s rights to reproductive health, or in the Regional Regulation of Kebumen Regency Number 1/2015 concerning gender mainstreaming. Furthermore, CEDAW has also become one of the foundations for establishing government development policies and programs. From 1984 until at least 2019, the principles and values ​​in CEDAW were adopted in the National Medium Term Development Plan (RPJMN) with the aim of (1) increasing the role of women in development; (2) providing protection for women from violence; and (3) developing institutional capacity in efforts to mainstream gender.

At first glance, various formal legal and policy programs issued and implemented by the government begin to impact women’s development. The KPPA Report 2018 shows Indonesia’s Gender Development Index (GDI) has increased from 90.07 to 90.99. Likewise, the Gender Empowerment Index (GEI) moved from 70.07 to 72.10. In addition, the number of women’s representation in the general elections 2019 has also increased to around 40 percent of the total number of candidates. Women’s access to the economic and social fields is also more comprehensive: it is easier for women to gain access to bank financing, strategic positions with equal pay, higher education, and self-capacity development.

Nonetheless, despite all forms of progress in efforts to protect women over the past few decades, it must be admitted that many things related to women are still the government’s homework. Amid various existing regulations, in fact, there is still a lot of violence against women. In 2018 alone, there were approximately 21,428 domestic violence cases, of which 21,209 cases involved women and children as victims. Not to mention the existence of laws that are often blunt against women, especially in cases of sexual violence and rape; from this explanation, it can be seen how the ratification of CEDAW, although it has encouraged the strengthening of the constitution for the protection of women, still has not entirely freed women from the oppression that marginalizes them.

Cultural Challenges in Efforts to Protect Women

Increasing regulation of women and advancing gender mainstreaming policies must be overshadowed by cultural barriers in the implementation process. Efforts to remove Indonesian women from marginalization must face cultural and traditional challenges still thick with patriarchy. The existence of a patriarchal structure in society, especially at the grassroots level, creates a perception that privileges men with their masculine traits. As a result, there is a hierarchical relationship between men and women that has started even from the smallest social group, which is the family.

Such a view also fosters the perception that women are less valuable than men. As a result, women are often objectified and associated as ‘belonging’ to men or only related to aspects of their sexuality. This kind of construction has a tremendous impact on women. For example, concerning men, women are seen as inferior creatures, so they can become the easiest targets of violence. Or in relation to rape, women are often seen as perpetrators because they are considered too ‘seductive’ rather than as victims who must be protected. Such cultural barriers show how the various regulations that the government has created to protect women must also be accompanied by efforts to eliminate cultural barriers that continue to marginalize women in every form.

Wahyu Candra Dewi
Wahyu Candra Dewi
Graduate student in International Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. Interested in digital transformation, environmental issues, and human security.