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Indonesian City Bars Women from Working Late at Night


An Acehnese woman straddles on a motorbike on a road in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Rahmat Yahya)

An Acehnese woman straddles on a motorbike on a road in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Rahmat Yahya)


A city in Indonesia recently began enforcing a new regulation that bars women from working after 11 o’clock at night. The regulation has produced a mix of reactions among Indonesians. The law has received international attention.

The law took effect last week in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province. Aceh is the westernmost province in Indonesia. It is on the island of Sumatra.

Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal is the mayor of Banda Aceh. She is the city’s first female mayor.

Ms. Djamal says the Aceh provincial administration approved the law in early June. She says she later made a few changes, based on the situations and conditions in Banda Aceh.

The law is directed at women who work in what officials are calling recreational areas, such as Internet cafés, coffee shops and sports centers.

The mayor says the measure orders business owners to not let women work after 11 p.m. Ms. Djamal says the purpose of the law is “to protect female workers.” She says it is dangerous for women to work in recreational areas late at night. She says the rule aims to prevent sexual violence against women.

The mayor says business owners, not their female employees, will be punished for violating the law. She adds that the Banda Aceh administration might revoke a business’s permit to operate if it violates the law.

Ms. Djamal says the rule does not extend to women who work as politicians, journalists, medical aides or hotel employees. VOA spoke to the mayor by telephone. She denies that the law bars women from being outside the home after 11 p.m.

“I myself sometimes have to work until dawn. I am a woman myself. There is no way that I would harm women…Banda Aceh is a woman-friendly city and we will be fighting for women’s rights.”

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Of Indonesia’s 34 provinces, Aceh is the only one enforcing its form of Islamic or Sharia law.

For years, the area struggled during a long, bloody civil war. In 2006, a tsunami hit Aceh Province, claiming thousands of lives.

Police in Aceh direct a woman on a motor bike (AP)

Police in Aceh direct a woman on a motor bike (AP)

Ten years ago, the central government decided to give the provincial administration permission to enact Sharia law. The offer was part of a peace deal to end the fighting.

The Aceh administration has approved rules that require both Muslims and non-Muslims to obey Sharia law. The rules bar people from drinking alcohol and gambling, playing games of chance. They also bar people from ignoring Friday prayers and from physical contact between the sexes outside of marriage.

The administration also requires women to cover their heads. Women are not permitted to wear tight pants. In some parts of Aceh, women cannot dance in public or ride motorcycles with men who are not family members.

A public caning in Aceh (AP)

A public caning in Aceh (AP)

The provincial administration has deployed special police officers to enforce the Sharia laws. Caning is one possible punishment for violators. Activists say such laws discriminate against women.

Azriana, who like many Indonesians has only one name, is chair of Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women.

“This is a discriminatory law because it restricts women’s spaces. It does not impose on men.”

She says the new law is unnecessary because Aceh’s labor laws already control operating hours for businesses.

“If the Mayor says that the number of cases of sexual violence is high, the problem is in men’s minds, not the women’s. So, restricting women’s spaces is not the answer to this problem.”

Eli lives in Aceh Province. She says she used to live in the city of Banda Aceh for almost 10 years.

“This is unfair. How about the domestic violence cases? Restricting women to not go outside after 11 p.m. does not guarantee that this new law would lower the number of cases of domestic violence.”

She says some women might only be able to work at night.

“If a woman is the backbone of the family, this law will restrict her working hours. As the result, this might also affect her income to support her family…How about the men who sometimes hang out at coffee houses until 2 a.m.? The men have wives and children, but they still hang out during those hours.”

The Aceh Monitoring Network is a group of non-governmental organizations. The network fights for the empowerment of women and to protect children.

The group says there were 581 cases of sexual violence against women across Aceh between 2013 and 2014. About 66 percent of the cases were said to be domestic violence cases. The attacks took place at home and involved family members.

Ms. Eli suggests the local administration increase security in Banda Aceh. She says the local administration should protect both sexes, not only women. And she thinks the administration should have a better way to protect the public at night, without restricting the movement of women.

To prevent domestic violence, Ms. Eli adds, the administration should educate both men and women to treat women with more respect.

“This law is not the answer to tackling the sexual violence issues.”

Ms. Azriana says better education will also make people understand that women are not sexual objects.

“Moreover, the local administration has to bring the perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence to justice.”

The new law has also fueled debate among Indonesian governmental officials. Jusuf Kalla is the country’s Vice President. The Indonesian newspaper Kompas reported that Mr. Kalla questioned the urgency of implementing the law. He called on the Aceh administration to re-examine the regulation.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

And I’m Ashley Thompson.

Triwik Kurniasari reported on this story for VOA Learning English. The editors were Adam Brock and George Grow.

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Words in This Story

regulation n. official rule or law that says how something should be done

revoke v. to cancel; to put an end to something

enforce v. to implement, impose; to carry out

caning n. hitting a person’s body with a stick as a form of punishment

domestic violence n. violence that happens at home and involves members of the family

perpetrators n. people who carry out a crime

Now it’s your turn. What do you think about this regulation? Do you think the new law will reduce cases of violence against women?

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