Women marching in support of the anti-sexual violence bill in December 2018. Photo by Tunggal Pawestri.


Early reports have indicated that as the Covid-19 pandemic intensifies in Indonesia, domestic violence is emerging as a parallel public health crisis.


This is consistent with trends around the world. It is well established that crises such as natural disasters and pandemics trigger domestic violence. This is because many people feel powerless in the circumstances and seek to regain a semblance of power by exercising it over their partners.


Under Indonesia’s Anti-Domestic Violence Law (No. 23 of 2004), physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence are criminalised. But even before the Covid-19 outbreak, there were many barriers to implementation of the Law. These range from a lack of public education about domestic violence to under-resourcing of front-line services. Despite this, domestic violence is now widely recognised as the most prolific form of gendered violence perpetrated against women in Indonesia and it is only getting worse as Covid-19 spreads.


In fact, domestic violence during the Covid-19 pandemic has been described as “more frequent, more severe, and more dangerous”. The Legal Aid Institute of the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (LBH Apik), for example, has reported a dramatic increase in domestic violence cases since Large-Scale Social Restrictions (PSBB) came into effect in Jakarta last month. As well as exacerbating the frequency and seriousness of violence in already abusive relationships, the PSBB measures may also aggravate tensions in families because of extended periods of confinement, leading to the deterioration of previously healthy relationships and instances of violence where none had previously occurred.


‘[T]he home is not necessarily a safe place for women, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic’ – Director of LBH Apik Jakarta


Further, patriarchal social norms mean that women carry a greater burden of caregiving for children and extended family members. This is compounded for working women, who may now be expected to also take on the bulk of home schooling responsibilities. According to LBH Apik Jakarta Director Siti Mazumah, this can be another trigger for violence.


For example, if women are seen as lacking in their provision of care, violence may be perceived to be justified as ‘disciplinary’ to enforce compliance with these norms. It is not uncommon for domestic violence perpetrators to try to justify violence with excuses like “my wife didn’t fulfil her household obligations”.


On the other hand, social norms that position the husband as the head of the household and primary breadwinner may place pressure on men who lose their jobs. Widespread job losses are expected in the face of Covid-19, particularly in the informal sector, where most Indonesians are employed. Without an adequate government safety net, many families are falling into poverty. While domestic violence can occur in households of all income levels, financial pressure and unemployment are well-known triggers.


The coronavirus pandemic presents unique challenges because restrictions on movement also impede victims’ access to services and support. Not only are women’s access to formal or state support services restricted, but women may also be isolated from their local, family and community-based support systems. Further, a loss of independent income also increases women’s vulnerability and limits options for escaping abusive situations.


The effects of mobility restrictions on victims of domestic violence can be seen most clearly in areas such as Jakarta where under the PSBB measures “residents have been urged not to leave their homes”. Mobility restrictions are warranted to stem the spread of the virus. But problems arise when services for domestic violence victims are not classified as ‘essential’ and are suspended under the PSBB measures. National Commission for Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) Commissioner Siti Amind Tardi has said that PSBB has already led to a reduction in domestic violence services and the closure of domestic violence shelters and safe houses.


Government officials responsible for implementing PSBB should, of course, try to protect citizens from Covid-19, but not at the cost of victims of domestic violence. The classification of domestic violence shelters and safe houses as essential services is critical for the safety of women and victims impacted by the rise in domestic violence – this should be done as a matter of urgency. Further, government and civil society support services must communicate to victims that seeking assistance for domestic violence is an ‘essential activity’.


But even this may not be enough. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, domestic violence safe houses had only been established in some provinces, and are not yet present in many regional areas. Where safe houses are available, many are already at full capacity because of the Covid-19-related increase in domestic violence. This is why domestic violence organisations in areas like Jakarta are now launching new initiatives that offer alternatives to safe houses, such as phone consultations, virtual sessions and renting rooms for women and children who require emergency escape.


The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a rise in domestic violence and, at the same time, further complicated access to services and support for victims. Although women’s advocates, activists and NGOs have highlighted the need for government action, the emerging domestic violence crisis “has not received a response from the Indonesian government”.


To avert a second public health crisis, the government must urgently step in to provide funding for domestic violence services, in particular, emergency housing for victims of violence.

If you are experiencing domestic violence and require support in Indonesia contact LBH Apik, Pusat Pelayanan Terpadu Pemberdayaan Perempuan Dan Anak (P2TP2A) or Unit Pelayanan Perempuan dan Anak (PPA) Polda, or local services in Australia.

The Indonesian National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) is conducting a nation-wide survey on the impact of PSBB on women, in particular with respect to domestic violence – to access the survey click here.


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