Indonesia in the media

There was plenty of media attention today on Indonesia. 

It focused on the erupting volcano, the displacement of up to 50,000 people, deaths from flash flooding and landslides, and an emergency landing for a Quantas aircraft. 

This did not leave a great deal of column inches to talk about Amnesty’s new report on the deprivation of access to women’s sexual health care and the deadly consequences, launched in Jakarta today.

 Increasingly this is becoming a trend, particularly in “my” area, Asia, over the last year or so. Months of research, and testimony gathering on the ground, plus the academic compiling of the report ahead of its launch, and then completely unavoidably and unpredictably, it can be entirely eclipsed by a natural disaster of huge magnitude. There is less space then, or appetite perhaps, to be concerned with longer term issues, some of them social and attitudinal, when there is such pressing and instantaneous tragedy to be addressed and covered.  

Yet concern about these threats, can and must coexist with the concerns highlighted in the report. One does not preclude the other. It was refreshing to see that news services in Jakarta, covered the report launch despite the ongoing dominance of the volcano story. 

Left Without a Choice describes how government restrictions and discriminatory traditions threaten the lives of many Indonesian women and girls by putting reproductive health services out of their reach.
 

In Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, Amnesty International’s research shows discriminatory practices and problematic laws are prohibiting access to contraception for unmarried women and girls, and endorsing marriage for girls younger than 16. The law in Indonesia requires a woman to get her husband’s consent to access certain contraception methods, or an abortion even in the event that her life is at risk. Amnesty International also found that health workers frequently deny the full range of legally-available contraceptive services to unmarried women and also to childless married women.
 
Interviews with Indonesian women and girls, as well as health workers, highlighted how restrictions increase unwanted pregnancies and force many women and girls to marry young, drop out of school, or seek an illegal abortion. An estimated two million abortions are performed in Indonesia every year, many of them in unsafe conditions. A woman or girl seeking an abortion (the legal age for criminal responsibility in Indonesia is eight), or a health worker providing one, may be sentenced to up to four and 10 years’ imprisonment respectively
 
Sharifah’s case is a typical example. When she became pregnant at 17, her boyfriend left her and her school expelled her. Traditional healers in her village induced an abortion, but she soon developed complications. Two days later she died from blood loss. 

This is not the epic sort of disaster-news-flash that will hijack the headlines of rolling news stations, but it is nonetheless a tragedy which is needlessly claiming lives. It will take a shift in attitude to redress this injustice, but unlike the onslaught of natural peril, such deaths can be prevented by human hand.

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