Sabina Puspita and Muhammad Fajar
This article is originally published in THE CONVERSATION, 8 March 2023
The global fight against sexual violence in the higher education sector has seen important progress in the last decade, with collaboration from students, faculty and government serving as an important factor in combating patriarchy in academia.
In Nigeria, for example, following a documentary revealing the sexual misconduct of two University of Lagos lecturers, public pressure managed to force the government to pass the 2020 Bill on Anti-Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Institutions.
In February 2022, three graduate students sued Harvard University in the United States (US) for ignoring reports about sexual harassment by an anthropology professor. Other faculty members at Harvard retracted their initial support for their colleague, with the US Department of Justice backing the three female graduate students’ lawsuit.
These sorts of experiences should serve as inspirations to boost similar efforts around the world.
This includes Indonesia, home to the largest number of higher education institutions (around 4,500) and students (around 7 million) in Southeast Asia.
A few months prior to enacting the landmark 2022 Sexual Violence Crimes Law, the Indonesian government issued the 2021 Education Ministry Regulation on Sexual Violence Prevention and Redress in Higher Education. This was an attempt to respond to a recurring number of harassment and rape cases – just the tip of a sexual violence iceberg – within Indonesian universities.
The key components of the ministerial regulation are twofold. First, the formation of a selection panel which will establish and institutionalise an “Anti-Sexual Violence Task Force” in every campus. Second, both the selection panel and task force must not only include faculty and administrative staff, but also students.
But the Education Ministry’s records suggest universities are still slow in forming these panels and teams. Out of around 4,500 institutions in the country, only 189 (less than 5%) have formed a selection panel. Less than half of this number have established an anti-sexual violence task force.
Though the number is still very small, the process has done well in engaging multiple stakeholders – including 432 students, 640 faculty staff and 311 administrative staff (per December 2022). Leveraging this sort of collaboration and involvement of various parties, we suggest at least four things the government and universities can do to speed things up.
1. The Education Ministry must intensify their engagement with the thousands of universities, colleges and polytechnics that have not started the process of forming an Anti-Sexual Violence Task Force.
The government must do better in communicating the regulation’s urgency through discussions, workshops or seminars. It needs to highlight steps institutions can start to take.
As cases of sexual violence in campuses continued to surfacethroughout 2021 and 2022, the ministry’s Inspector General, Chatarina Girsang, initiated workshops with several universities on responding to sexual violence reports. They also explained how the ministerial regulation-mandated task forces can help.
2. At the campus level, rectors can also offer incentives to staff to expedite the formation of the task forces.
One way to do so is by considering their participation as additional hours/points in public service – one of three nationally-mandated responsibilities of Indonesian academicsapart from teaching and research.
But university leadership must also ensure the selection panels and task forces are filled by people with strong track records and commitment to anti-sexual discrimination initiatives. A small minority of academics and students, for instance, have voicedhesitancy towards the regulation. They argue the regulation should not only tackle cases of rape and harassment, but also consensual sex on religious grounds.
Universitas Negeri Jakarta was quick to comply with the ministerial regulation’s key components. At the same time, they enabled a webinar on creating “a healthy campus free of LGBT and free sex”. This runs against the non-discriminatory spirit of the regulation.
We also spoke to a women’s rights activist in the student network Jaringan Muda Setara, who have been fighting for an anti-sexual violence regulation across campuses since 2015. They found that several opponents of the ministerial regulation have managed to become members of either their respective campuses’ selection panel or task force.
3. Students can organise themselves to collectively monitor the commitment and progress done by university leadership.
Last year, KOHATI – the women’s wing of the Islamic Student Association – in Gorontalo, North Sulawesi along with Universitas Indonesia’s Student Association called out their respective rectors’ lack of action in implementing the ministerial regulation. They gathered support through petitions and staged on-campus demonstrations.
4. Women’s rights groups working on sexual violence can also play a role.
Demonstrations and marches by women’s right groups were some of the key reasons the media and the ministry started paying attention to rampant sexual violence in universities. They significantly helped gather momentum for the eventual enactment of the ministerial regulation.
In 2022, women’s rights groups such as Perempuan Mahardhikacontinued this effort by holding a series of workshops with campus communities regarding the ministerial regulation’s implementation. Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) and Universitas Multimedia Nusantara (UMN) also organised seminars, collaborating with women’s rights groups and the government.
The Education Ministry can further collaborate with social justice groups to help report and assess the quality of anti-sexual violence task forces in universities. In this way, they act as eyes on the ground, providing real-time information that cannot be garnered merely from behind the desk at the ministry.
Muhammad Fajar, Research fellow, Universitas Katolik Indonesia Atma Jaya.