She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
Nursyahbani Katjasungkana (born 1956) is a feminist lawyer and advocate of women’s human rights. In 1995, she founded the Women’s Association for Justice (APIK) and established the Women’s Legal Aid institution in Jakarta, the members of which were initially recruited from among former clients and survivors and trained as paralegals. During the 1998 reformation, along with several other women activists, Nursyahbani founded the Indonesian Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy, the first mass-based women’s organization in the country since 1965, and was elected its first Secretary General.
She says: “Strengthening and empowering the community is the key to change”. (1000peacewomen 1/2).
Nursyahbani Katjasungkana – Indonesia
She works as member for Kemitraan, for Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia, and for Women’s Association for Justice APIK respectively Women’s Legal Aid (LBH) of APIK.
When Nursyahbani began her career as a lawyer and director of the Jakarta Legal Aid in 1987, “women’s rights”, “feminism” and “violence against women” were unfamiliar words in Indonesian legal discourse. Such words were considered irrelevant. Impoverished men and women were both seen as victims of the authoritarian state and its developmental approach, and identifying women as an oppressed group would only undermine the overall goal of establishing democracy and alleviating poverty.
NGOs were only starting to emerge in Indonesia, and only two NGOs were working on women’s issues. But Nursyahbani’s close links with women who were concerned about women’s specific situation, as well as her own sharp awareness of the discrimination that women experience, led her to advocate “women’s human rights.” The term has since become more and more accepted in the Indonesian context.
Even when human rights groups began to rise in Indonesia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nursyahbani’s human rights colleagues did not share her notion of gender equality. Violence against women, for instance, was not considered a human rights violation, but a crime in the private sphere. As a human rights defender and feminist activist, Nursyahbani considered violence against women in the private sphere to be a human rights violation when the state does not take action to prevent or remedy it. Her views were quite progressive compared to the traditional human rights discourse in Indonesia during that period. “Violence against women is a human rights violation when it is condoned by the state,” Nursyahbani asserted.
In 1990, when there were few women’s groups in Indonesia, Nursyahbani founded the Women’s Solidarity Foundation. During her term as its director (1993-1995), the foundation transformed into an association, an organizational structure whichwas more democratic, compared to the top-down structure of a foundation.
1995 marked the rise of awareness among lawyers of gender equality, when Nursyahbani and other women lawyers founded the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice, better known as APIK. This association established LBH APIK [www.lbh-apik.or.id], a legal aid office exclusively for women. Nursyahbani served as its director in 1995.
LBH APIK provides direct legal advocacy to women victims of violence and discrimination as well as legal literacy training and research. It was founded on the principle that legal reform should be achieved through community empowerment. This way, Nursyahbani believes, “an alternative legal system that is bottom up” can be created.
LBH APIK’s services are founded on the fundamental principle of “community-based legal aid”, where ex-clients and survivors are trained to be paralegals who in turn are expected to transfer their skills and knowledge to their community. Nursyahbani explains, “LBH APIK uses legal cases as an entry point to see how existing laws serve women. If it is found that it is not responsive (to the needs of women), then we will carry out policy advocacy to change the law.”
She adds that they use these cases as a ‘radar’ to monitor how the system works.
Nursyahbani admits that running a legal aid institution is not easy. Getting lawyers to devote their career to it is a persistent problem. Due to financial incapacity and other reasons, “We have lost some of our top lawyers, and to train new ones is not easy.”
Nursyahbani believes that capacity-building among women lawyers plays an important role in legal reform. She says that in order to strengthen the network among the associations within APIK, the members should set up a federation of Indonesian women lawyers whose membership includes other lawyers’ organizations.
With several NGOs, she formed the Women’s NGO Network to Monitor the Indonesian Government’s Implementation of the Convention in the Elimination of Discrimination and Violence Against Women, or CEDAW. This network compiled the first shadow report to the government’s report to the United Nations on the implementation of CEDAW.
Nursyahbani represented the NGOs of Indonesia at the UN CEDAW conference in New York in 1998, where she presented the main findings of the shadow report. She always reminds the Government of Indonesia that as a consequence of ratifying CEDAW, the government should consistently promote the legal status of women.
Nursyahbani is also noted for her involvement, with a number of other women activists, in the fall of the Suharto regime and the reformation. She defended three women activists who were tried for their participation in a demonstration by Suara Ibu Peduli (Voice of Concerned Mothers) [www.suaraibupeduli.org], which was followed by student demonstrations leading to the reformation in 1998. In the same year, in the aftermath of the 1998 May riots where Chinese-Indonesian women were brutally raped, Nursyahbani was named a commissioner (1998-2003) of the National Commission on Violence Against Women established by Presidential Decree.
She was a member of the People’s Consultative Assembly from 1999 to 2004, and in 2004, she was elected to Parliament. Despite the general concern that being part of government would weaken her dedication, Nursyahbani has proven that her commitment to women and democracy cannot be compromised.
As an activist, Nursyahbani is recognized for her ability to lobby with government officials in order to influence policy. Her engagement in Parliament did not come as a surprise, and she is one of the few women activists who hold positions in the government. She has earned the respect of both government officials and grassroots communities, as proven by her election in 1998 as the first Secretary General of Indonesia’s Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy [http://go.to/koalsip], the first women’s mass organization established after the fall of the Suharto regime.
As a human rights defender, Nursyahbani was involved in the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in East Timor (1999-2000) and the Joint Fact Finding Team for the May Riots (1998), where she looked into the human rights violations suffered by women in situations of conflict and political upheavals.
She has gained international recognition and has served as member of several international organizations, among them, Women, Law and Development International in Washington (as board member), Women’s Human Rights Task Force of the Asia Pacific Women Law and Development (member), Gender Issues of the International Criminal Justice Institute in Washington (advisory board member), and the Kartini Women’s Studies and Gender Networks in Asia (steering committee member).
Nursyahbani’s most important contribution to peace is her 15 years of tireless work to link human rights, women’s rights and legal rights at the national and regional levels, working within the government structure and community groups in the regions. She is one of the first lawyers to introduce feminist legal theory to Indonesia’s human’s rights discourse through her writings in various media, training courses for lawyers and direct legal advocacy.
For more than a decade, she has represented women in legal cases. Now many of her peers have embraced the equality of women before the law. Because of Nursyahbani, many young women lawyers in Indonesia have been encouraged to work on women’s issues and violence against women. Her consistent work in women’s human rights has opened the eyes of human rights activists and lawyers throughout Indonesia to the fact that violence against women is as important as any other human rights issue, and that that state violence against women must not be tolerated.
Nursyahbani has taken women’s issues to the center of Indonesia’s human rights discourse and has clearly changed how women’s legal rights and violence against women are viewed in Indonesia. Through her dedication and activism she has shown that only by taking the rights of women into account can the path to true democracy and justice be attained. (1000peacewomen 2/2).
Akibatnya, kata Nursyahbani, banyak distorsi dari hukum positif itu. Dia mencontohkan pelaksanaan UU Perkawinan 1974, yang menyebutkan bahwa laki-laki yang ingin menikahi lebih dari satu perempuan harus melalui persetujuan pengadilan. “Yang menjadi permasalahan, dalam kenyataannya, ketentuan persetujuan pengadilan ini tidak pernah terjadi. Orang banyak berpoligami tanpa melalui persetujuan pengadilan terlebih dahulu” … (full text).