Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world with over 80% of its 255 million citizen are Muslims. Despite this, Indonesia maintains its status as a secular country and acknowledges six different religions.
Aceh, the northernmost Province of Indonesia, a province once troubled with separatism and struck with the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, is a region of special autonomy. It is also one of the few regions in Indonesia where Islamic sharia law is enforced among its citizens.
Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights defines the obligations of States parties in connection with the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections, and have equal access to public service positions.
In Aceh this resolution is implemented with participation of women in public service to enforce the local regulations, the sharia law. A women squad of sharia law police, Wilayatul Hisbah, was founded in 2005; this squad patrols the city of Banda Aceh everyday to make sure the Islamic sharia law is conformed by its citizen. In their daily trips the squad of 10 women watches out for common violations, such as gambling, drinking alcohol, sitting to close with an opposite sex who is not a spouse, wearing tight clothing or to the worst ones, adultery. Violations can inflict punishments in a form of public whipping or canning. To drink alcohol or get drunk is punishable to 40 whippings while the toll for adultery is up to 100 whippings.
During the whipping executions it was the women that suffer the most, not from physical pain but embarrassment. In such public executions a crowd of hundreds gathered in a front yard of a mosque to watch. Most of the male lawbreakers were casual during the execution and people were cheering away. The case when the women were whipped, the crowd becomes more aggressive in words, very intimidating. Most of the women fainted due to embarrassment.
For the women squad it was during the Friday’s prayer tour their task become more challenging. “Because we face directly with men,” told Yusra, one of the senior member of the squad. On Friday, the women squad has to make sure restaurants, cafes and business premises close down during the Friday’s prayer. And despite their effort and persuasions there are places that are still open. When confronted most of the men, who are still eating or refusing to go to the mosque to pray, simply ignored them. Despite being tasked to do the Friday’s prayer tour could not do much either since the sharia law restrict to touch an opposite sex and for the women squad to force the men and taking them into custody would mean be a violation of the sharia law itself.
The Sharia law is a form of the special autonomy given by the Indonesian government to Acehnese to rule their region. For activist of human rights and gender equality, the sharia law is associated as a form of oppression to human rights, and more over women rights.