Counselling ‘silent’ men to stop beating their wives: A case study from Yogyakarta, Indonesia


Author: Rifka Annisa, Yogyakarta, Indonesia*

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women or UN Women.

Yogyakarta, Indonesia – To understand why violence against women is so widespread in Yogyakarta, you have to understand the psychology of men in traditional Javanese culture.

The culture accords men a privileged status and greater freedom of action relative to women. For example, men feel justified to leave their wives and family duties behind when it is time to hang out with their friends. But men also feel they must meet cultural norms and social expectations about what it is to be a real Javanese man. They are supposed to be strong and always able to deal with difficult circumstances without crying or getting help from other people. The result is that many of them deal with psychological pressures and disputes with partners by lashing out in verbal or physical violence.

These are the men who benefit from the psychological counselling given by Agung Wisnubroto, a volunteer with the Rifka Annisa Women’s Crisis Centre, an NGO supported by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Agung works out of the local police station in Gunungkidul district, a poor area in the southeastern part of Yogyakarta Province, counselling the men whose wives have lodged formal complaints against at the station.

Agung has many stories to tell of men whose marriages had failed. Some neglected their expected “duties” as husbands and paid no attention to their wives and children. Or they had financial problems and could not provide for their family’s needs. Agung says that when faced with such problems, the men tended not to tell anyone about them because they believe that they should be able to overcome their domestic problems by themselves. Telling others would degrade their sense of manhood. Some of these men could not stop themselves from hitting their wives when they got angry, Agung says. But Agung believes that change is possible, even for abusive men.

Agung Wisnubroto, left, counsels a man at the police station in Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta. Photo: Rifka Annisa/Defirentia One

A United Nations multi-country study published in 2013, Why Do Some Men Use Violence against Women and How We Can Stop It, revealed the extent of physical or sexual violence against women in Indonesia. In the study, 25.7 per cent of men in rural areas and 30.6 per cent in urban areas admitted that they had inflicted physical and/or sexual violence against women. In Papua, it was 60.2 per cent.

In Yogyakarta, Rifka Annisa Women’s Crisis Centre documented 1,582 cases of violence against women during 2009-2014; 71.4 per cent of these cases involved violence against wives.

But to eliminate this violence, we can’t just focus on empowering women. We have to involve men and try to persuade them to change their patriarchal attitudes and behaviours.

Another challenge Rifka Annisa has found is that most of the abused women return to their partners even though they know they may suffer more violence. Many women who file complaints with the police later withdraw their complaints. That’s because they want to keep the family together, or do it for the sake of their children, or there is property involved. Some women who divorce and re-marry suffer violence from their new partners.

The counseling program for men is one of several initiatives in Rifka Annisa’s Integrated Response for Women Survivors of Violence. It urges men to take more responsibility on their behaviour. In fact, the Domestic Violence Act No. 23/2004 requires perpetrators to join an intervention program to help them change their behaviours. This provision has not been well implemented, however, because many women withdraw their complaints.

Rusnaini, a female officer at the police’s Women and Children’s Services Unit, says that since most domestic violence cases never reach the stage where they are ruled on by a court, the husband is never held responsible for his actions. “But after we ask the husband to attend mandatory counseling, at least we help the woman to achieve her rights, as well as help men to change their behaviour,” Rusnaini says.

Previously, law enforcement agencies, particularly the police, were not able to provide optimal protection and support for victims, even though they are mandated to implement the domestic violence act. Instead of using legal approaches, many police officers who handled domestic violence cases mediated between the perpetrator and the victim. That is another reason many domestic violence cases did not go to prosecution. Nor did the police take any steps to deter the offenders from committing further violence after the mediation. And they did not adequately inform victims of their rights.

Men accused of violence are required to undergo counselling if a court rules on the complaint against them. But it is also important to authorize police stations in every district to require men who are the subject of complaints to join a counselling program.

Rifka Annisa has organized workshops for police officers and religious judges who handle domestic violence cases. After attending such a workshop, in 2014 the head of the police department in Gunungkidul district signed an agreement with Rifka Annisa to provide counseling services for men whose wives file complaints against at the station. That encouraged the police station in Kulonprogo district, in the western part of Yogyakarta Province, to sign a similar agreement in 2015. Now two members of Rifka Annisa provide counseling at the stations, trying to get “the silent majority” to stop inflicting violence against women.

Through the agreements, Rifka Annisa is reaching more and more men. In 2013, 20 men joined counselling provided at Rifka Annisa’s office. In 2014, a total of 25 men joined counselling at the office and at the police station in Gunungkidul. In 2015, a total of 36 men joined counselling at the office and at the Gunungkidul and Kulonprogo police stations.

Counselors Agung and Haryo and police officers meet to deal with cases of sexual violence against children. Photo: Rifka Annisa/Defirentia One


About the Project

Rifka Annisa throught the support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women seeks to engage the religious courts and their judges as key partners in the fight against violence against women and promotes prevention by challenging gender stereotypes that fuel violence.

Throughout the 3.5 years’ project, Rifka Annisa, a women’s organization with national reach, employed a variety of strategies including structural interventions to improve service delivery to survivors, training of court officials and judges, and community mobilization in four provinces focused on cultural change. It also engaged men as advocates and support community organizations to develop “gender-responsive societies” through training and discussions around gender issues, sexuality and reproductive health for women and men of different ages.

For further information, please contact:

Rifka Annisa

Defirentia One
Email: [ Click to reveal ] | FB Rifka Annisa WCC | Twitter @RAWCC

UN Trust Fund Focal Point for UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Nuntana Tangwinit
E-mail: [ Click to reveal ]
FB UN Women Asia and the Pacific | Twitter @UNWOMENASIA