Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. 238 souls live in this archipelago of over 17,000 islands, which became an independent republic after World War II. Some of the locations in this land echo wild exotic images my mind: Lake Toba in Sumatra, wildlife in the island of Borneo, scuba diving off the coast of the island of Sulawesi, Java and Bali.
Indonesian culture - like many others - has always confined women to the sole role of wives and mothers, discouraging their development as individual human beings. During the past few decades, the situation has changed, with more and more women leaving the countryside looking for more fulfilling professional opportunities. Unfortunately, such change has also increased the likelihood that Indonesian women may fall prey of sex offenders, resulting in an increase of the number of rape episodes throughout the country.
Last January, a judge made a comment that triggered outrage all over the nation. Daming Sanusi, a candidate for the Indonesian Supreme Court, stated that rape victims enjoy being violated. When somebody asked his opinion about the application of the death penalty in cases of rape, he said: "Consideration needs to be taken thoroughly for the imposition of death penalty for a rapist because in a rape case both the rapist and the victim enjoy it." He basically insinuated that since the victim "allows for that action to occur", she has to take some type of pleasure while it goes on. The whole planet reacted to his outrageous statement, with thousands of women demonstrating worldwide and asking for justice.
The Indonesian government has made steps forward in trying to improve the conditions of its citizens, but violations of human rights - especially women - still take place on a regular basis, and more work needs to be done. Torture is still being used by authorities in some provinces - caning is still part of judicial punishments - and religious minorities still suffer heavy discrimination. Some women and girls from poor and marginalized communities are still being denied permission to decide about their future, especially when it comes to exercising their sexual and reproductive rights. Female circumcision is still widely practiced, and arranged marriages involving girls of barely pubertal age are still a daily occurrence. To make the situation worse, rape represents a growing problem in the country. More and more incidents are reported every year, mostly thanks to the support that social media has provided to the victims. The number of women using this vehicle to fight back and denounce their perpetrators is steadily increasing, exposing a side of this society that has been kept silent for centuries.
Many women in Afghanistan share similar life experiences. In isolated areas distant from direct government control, Afghan women are also subject to female genital mutilation. Arranged marriages and domestic violence are frequent in Afghan households, with daughters often being given as spouses to settle a dispute between families. Sadly, everything happens under the eyes of the whole community, which does nothing to prevent this from happening. As a consequence, rape becomes a recurring episode, with the victims having nobody to count on other than themselves. It might sound unimaginable to us, but every day something like this goes on in many Afghan homes, with very little is being done. Rape is not just a normal felony. Rape is a crime of its own kind that should be assessed and judged separately from any other offense. We are usually familiar with the devastating physical and psychological damage afflicting a woman who falls victim of rape. However, in this society - and others alike - rape has also disastrous consequences on a social level. Raped women become outcasts in their community. Marriage becomes unlikely for them, and they're often forced to live as rejects for the rest of their lives. By denouncing their violators, they bring shame upon their own families. Because of this, sometimes they even become victims of honor killing. It's no surprise why in these circumstances many Afghan girls and women commit suicide.
Like in Indonesia, sharing on social media can help every woman from Afghanistan express her right to make her voice heard, and demand justice. The story of a single woman can show how to empower thousands more, so that crimes such as rape will no longer go unpunished. Women's Annex is a self-sustaining digital platform - launched by Film Annex - that offers a viable opportunity for Afghan women who find themselves repressed by others. The quickly-expanding site promotes female empowerment across the globe, and provides women with additional tools to reach their own independence. By sharing their stories on this website, not only they can denounce their perpetrators, but they can also give support to others in similar situations. A woman who publicly fights back and condemns those who violated her can represent a wonderful inspiration, and motivate thousands more to follow her lead. Women's Annex provides the stage for these stories to be published, and it even rewards writers with a monetary recompense. There's only to hope that such comments as Daming Sanusi's will continue to be publicly condemned, so that significant change can be generated in the cultures that need it.
follow me @giacomocresti76