Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has called on the Supreme Court to reject a legal attempt to overturn provisions on consent in state guidelines for on-campus sexual violence, following a successful bid to revise another nondiscriminatory policy.

The national struggle to protect women against sexual violence has often been complicated by the more conservative elements of Indonesian society, who are reluctant to endorse rights that go beyond prevailing religious and cultural norms.

Some sections of the population are more forthcoming, actively blocking any progressive policy-making, as was the case in May last year, when a mass organisation from West Sumatra successfully had the court revoke a joint ministerial decree banning public schools from prescribing religious dress code for students regardless of their faith.

At the time, the justices agreed to revoke the decree because it was inconsistent with the umbrella framework. Now the same group, the Minangkabau Customary Institution (LKAAM), has filed another review with the Supreme Court, this time challenging a regulation from the Education, Culture, Research and Technology Ministry on the prevention and handling of sexual violence cases in educational institutions. The group has argued that the term used, “without the victim’s consent”, does not meet prevailing norms.

The request for a review was sent to the court on March 1.

Komnas Perempuan commissioner Siti Aminah Tardi told the Jakarta Post on March 24 that there was no reasonable justification to overturn the regulation. She said its issuance was in accordance with formal legal procedures and that the phrase under scrutiny was necessary for identifying incidents of sexual violence.

In response to the judicial review request, Komnas Perempuan submitted an amicus brief arguing these points to the court on March 24, which it said “received a positive response” from Chief Justice Muhammad Syarifuddin and other members of the bench.

An amicus brief, or amicus curiae, is a brief submitted for consideration by someone who is not a party to a case.

Another commissioner, Andy Yentriyani, expressed concern that if the court decided to grant the LKAAM’s request and revoke the regulation, it could weaken ongoing efforts to eradicate on-campus sexual violence.

“If this happens, our ability to respond to the increasing number of reports of sexual violence will suffer,” she said.

Earlier this month, Komnas Perempuan said it had recorded 338,496 cases of gender-based violence in 2021. It said the handling of such cases was complicated by poor infrastructure and jurisprudence.

This is why the request to review the consent provision was important, Siti argued, as it could set a new precedent for policies to prevent or address sexual violence.

“We have to understand that prevailing legal mechanisms should not have to be used by conservative groups to annul regulations that favor women,” she said.

The education ministry’s acting director general for higher education, Nizam, said the provision upholds religious values, morality and kinship to be able to protect everyone from any form of violence, including sexual violence.

However, he also said the ministry would respect the legal process.

“[We have] submitted our official response to the judicial review to the Supreme Court on [March 21], in accordance with the prevailing provisions,” he told the Jakarta Post on March 25.

At a webinar on International Women’s Day on March 8, the education ministry reiterated its insistence on providing safe spaces for women, in line with Minister Nadiem Makarim’s goal of abolishing sexual violence as one of “three big sins” that persist in the national education system – the other two being intolerance and bullying.

The ministerial regulation in question, signed on August 31, was made in response to reports of rampant sexual-violence cases within educational institutions.

Some Muslim groups criticised its use of “consent” as providing a legal basis to justify extramarital sex in the country’s higher-education institutions.

Even so, students have welcomed the regulation, which they say is a “big step” in the fight against sexual violence on campuses, and hope that it will be followed up by the passing of the sexual violence eradication bill.

Lawmakers at the House of Representatives are aiming to conclude deliberation of the bill by April, even though recent changes to the draft could push it back further.

Meanwhile, not all universities across the country have made use of Nadiem’s regulation.

Renie Aryandani, from the Indonesia Jentera School of Law’s student executive body, said on March 21 that some campuses were not even aware of the provisions, whereas those that did tended not to include the students in the process of forming a task force, as mandated by the regulation.

Puja Monica Rahayu, a student at the private Gunung Jati University, said her campus had yet to implement the provisions.

“We have talked with the rector, but the campus isn’t budging. We call on the rector to support the regulation’s implementation and form a task force selection committee as soon as possible,” Puja told reporters on March 21.