Skirting the Issues

Indonesian politicians in a flap is a common occurrence. Frequently, they work themselves into an oily lather over matters concerning morality that are most often connected with sex, or suggestions of the possibility of it.

For the most part, the ordinary Indonesian, it seems, is incapable of deflecting the shroud of lust and is thus in need of protection by the state. Like hormone-pulsating teenagers, people, goes the message, are not capable of controlling themselves.

In Aceh, where the morality police reign, a peculiar rule is attempting to make inroads into other parts of the country. There, on the northernmost part of the island of Sumatra, women are not allowed to wear short skirts; doing so is an offence and results in reprimands and the official allocation of leg-covering clothing that must be worn.

Following on politicians’ cries earlier this month that female lawmakers be banned from wearing miniskirts because they draw unwelcome male attention and Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo’s declaration last year that the fashion item was responsible for a series of rapes in minivans, women’s groups have increasingly had enough of this backward thinking.

Disturbingly, the religious affairs minister, Suryadharma Ali, said this week that any skirt above the knee should be deemed pornographic.

An official of the national commission on violence against women, Masruchah, said of the debacle: “This country keeps taking steps backward.” Indeed, it is difficult to see it otherwise.

The real problems besetting Indonesia are not to do with women’s hemlines. There is a catalogue of issues that is doing real harm to people right across the country, and it’s not connected with what others wear or watch on their computers. The authorities in Jakarta and elsewhere must begin to take a real interest in the still-endemic crisis of corruption, for instance, and effectively deal with those who are damaging the country.

Manufactured issues such as the length of women’s skirts are nothing but a shameless smokescreen to deflect public attention.

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