Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Personal is political for Valentina Sagala

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 12/22/2008 11:05 AM | People

ROTUA VALENTINA SAGALA: Courtesy of Rotua Valentina SagalaROTUA VALENTINA SAGALA: Courtesy of Rotua Valentina Sagala

Soeharto's downfall during the 1998 reform movement prompted the emergence of NGOs, which mushroomed by including big names as their patrons or on their advisory boards.

But that was not the case with Rotua Valentina Sagala.

Valentina founded Yayasan Institut Perempuan (Women's Institute Foundation) in Bandung in 1998 and believed that flattery would get her nowhere.

"If you have a great will to do something for others, then do it even if you are young or a woman," the 31-year-old woman told The Jakarta Post recently.

The absence of prominent figures in the foundation meant no parties allocated funding to the foundation. Valentina and her four colleagues knew well that without money they could not do much. They had anticipated that though, and focused only on activities viable to their status as students.

Valentina was just in her second year at Bandung-based Padjadjaran University's School of Law and at the Parahyangan Catholic University's School of Economy.

"We really tried to become a resource center by collecting data and providing analysis. All the money come from our own pockets," she said.

Six years later, they received small grants from independent bodies such as Mama Cash and Terre des Homes, both from the Netherlands.

Despite a shaky start, every assistance has helped the foundation to reach some of their goals.

Although she never claimed to be behind the success of a West Java 2005 bylaw on child protection, she acknowledged that the foundation "was among the first to fight for the elimination of women and child trafficking in West Java". Three years later, lawmakers agreed to pass a law on human trafficking.

Valentina and her friends also set up community-based groups across West Java to help prevent women and child trafficking as well as domestic violence.

"West Java is one of the provinces that send a huge number of female migrant workers. Some of them fall victim to human trafficking."

Valentina criticized the government for its tendency to see trafficking as a single problem. In fact it has many faces, which can be traced back to the government's own policies.

"There are villages being abandoned by their women who prefer to work in cities."

In fighting for the rights of women and children, Valentina opted to be a feminist, which she perceived as "unique compared to other ideologies as it has its bases of analysis on a women's own body".

The feminist mantra, "the personal is political", challenged every feminist to do what they think, said Valentina.

"It's about our person and we have to undress ourselves when we talk about feminism. It's not that we publicly declare that we are against violence but we do it at home."

Writing has become an escapism for Valentina and her friends since they are dealing with the hideosity of problems affecting women and children. Their habit has gone to a good cause as they periodically publish Her-Story, a journal where women can write everything about their struggle.

The eldest daughter with three brothers, Valentina has learned much about female stereotyping in a male-dominated family.

She said she had been exposed to serious issues such as women's and children's rights since she was in the St. Ursula Catholic High School in Jakarta. Only after the May 1998 riots -- where thousands of people were killed while hundreds of Chinese women were raped -- did she began to realize that injustices existed, especially for women.

"A women's body is a target of oppression. Sexual violence is a horrifying method. It repeatedly puts women to death," she said.

The biggest problem for Indonesian women and children was the state's negligence to recognize, protect and fulfill human rights.

Valentina said Indonesia had ratified international human rights instruments but lacks seriousness in fulfilling these rights.

"We can only talk about justice if basic human rights have been fulfilled, not the other way around."

The government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, five years after it was adopted by the UN. For Valentina, the ratification -- which was later on implemented in Law No.7/1984 -- was a setback.

"It stipulated that the implementation of the law must adjust to Indonesian culture. It's strange because the CEDAW is aimed to affirm women's rights and not adjust to any culture that might oppress women."

She slammed government policies such as the fuel price hike or gender-biased curriculum that do side with the people. It is a flat denial of human rights, she said.

On the issue of children's rights, Valentina said Indonesia had moved forward by amending the Constitution, which now contains valuable articles on children's rights.

But government policies are still based on the old child welfare paradigm -- which says the state is responsible for the welfare of poor people and abducted children.

"What really matters is not how to help poor children, but how to fulfill children's rights. It's not about distributing food for kids on streets during Ramadan or by forcibly putting street children into orphanages. It's about fulfilling their rights as human beings. The Constitution is very good but the logic of our government just doesn't follow."

Another fallacy regarding the fulfillment of children's rights is the ratification of the Children Rights Convention (CRC) only as a presidential decree, instead of as a law.

"All domestic legislation must comply with the convention as soon as it is ratified. But how can we refer to the convention if it is only a presidential decree?"

Indonesia still has problems with the substance of laws, the structure of law as well as its legal culture, Valentina said, who earned her master's degree in law at Padjadjaran University in 2006.

For Valentina, Indonesia's human rights movement is still in its early stages, demanding that the state recognize human rights in its laws and regulations.

However, she never loses hope in her fight for the rights of women and children.

"It's a pity that we make so many regulations and never really implement them. But we're happy that now more police officers, lawyers, attorneys and judges have a greater concern and sensitivity toward the rights of women and children."

Rotua Valentina Sagala
Born : Jakarta/Aug. 19, 1977
Books :
* Pelacur Versus His First Lady? (Prostitute versus his first Lady?), 2006
* Memberantas Trafiking Perempuan dan Anak (Fighting women and child trafficking), 2007
* Percakapan tentang Feminisme vs Neoliberalisme (conversation on feminism versus liberalism), 2007, with Arimbi Heroepoetri
* Pergulatan Feminisme dan HAM (Struggle of feminism and human rights), 2007, with Ellin Rozana
* Perlindungan Pekerja Rumah Tangga/Anak di Indonesia: Peta Arah Hukum (Protection of house maids and child workers in Indonesia: A map of the legal system), 2008

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