The capital of Indonesia’s Aceh province has imposed a partial curfew for women that it says will reduce sexual violence but which critics say is discriminatory.
Internet cafes, tourist sites, sports facilities and entertainment venues have been instructed to refuse service to women after 11pm unless they are accompanied by a husband or male family member.
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If the intention of the Aceh government is to provide protection for women, it must instead educate the public and men to respect women or provide security at the nightspots.
Women will also be barred from working in such businesses after the cut-off time.
Aceh, alone among Indonesia provinces, implements Islamic law and makes homosexuality, gambling, and drinking alcohol punishable by caning.
Banda Aceh mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal said employing women until late at night constitutes exploitation and makes them vulnerable to sexual harassment.
“We have studied the matter thoroughly and this is in line with the labour laws,” Djamal said. “Our aim is to protect women employees, especially those working at entertainment spots.”
Women who break the rules would be reprimanded but businesses that insisted on making their female employees work beyond the curfew risked losing their licence.
The chief of Indonesia’s national commission on anti-violence against women said the measure would only restrict women’s freedom and threaten their livelihoods.
“The government should stop meddling in women’s affairs,” said Azriana, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.
“If the intention of the Aceh government is to provide protection for women, it must instead educate the public and men to respect women or provide security at the nightspots.”
Azriana said the regulation would likely see Aceh’s morality police nabbing any women out after 11pm and not just those in specific sectors.
Riri Khariroh, another commissioner for the organisation, told Al Jazeera that the curfew not only violated women’s basic rights to have a job, it offered no guarantees that women caught in a banned venue after 11pm would be safe.
“It may lead to sexual harassment or sexual violence because of the widespread stigma that the women who are still around until midnight are not good women, so they … deserve to be treated in bad ways,” Khariroh said.
“This curfew policy is not matched with the data of the cases of violence against women in Aceh in which most of the cases occurred in private areas (domestic violence) and was done by their husbands and families.”
While Djamal said the new curfews would take effect from 11pm, Khariroh said it was her understanding that women would be refused service from 10pm and could not work after 11pm.
The decision comes just a month after unmarried men and women were banned from riding together on motorbikes in one of Aceh’s districts.
Under 2013 legislation, women passengers behind a male driver were forbidden to straddle motorbikes and forced to ride side-saddle instead.