world council of churches
International Affairs, Peace & Human Security

Women to Women
A solidarity visit to Indonesia and East Timor
23 June - 1 July 1999

World Council of Churches (WCC) and
Christian Conference of Asia (CCA)

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Objectives of the visit
The context
The delegation
1. Actions by churches and women of the churches
2. Voice of the women's movement in Indonesia
1. Voices of refugees and displaced persons
2. The voice of the church
3. Voices of student leaders
4.Voices of Muslim women
5. Voices of women street vendors
6. Voices of community leaders
7. Our voices
East Timor
The context
The church
1. HAK
2. Voices of Catholic sisters
4. UN Assistance Mission in East Timor
5. Voices of Indonesians in East Timor
6. Other issues and concerns
Impact of conflicts on children
Jakarta: closing session
Appreciation and thanks
Timor, Timur, beautiful island
Women to women......

In those days Mary set out, and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb... and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women."

Mary's first instinct when she knows she is with child, is to run to the home of her elder sister to reveal what the angel has told her. Mary has the courage to share her startling news with another woman. And Elizabeth has the compassion to listen and to offer words of comfort. As sisters in a common struggle, they embrace, bonding with each other and so affirming the power of sisterhood.

This was the theological message that inspired our team, as we went to meet the women of Indonesia and East speak and listen to them, to feel with them and learn from their amazing stories of suffering and of deep courage. This is what binds us together as women of the world.

"Your story is my story, your story is our story" we repeated as we listened to our sisters' stories. It was the same phrase that the women chanted as they listened to their sisters' testimonies of violence during the Festival to mark the end of the Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-1998), held in Harare, Zimbabwe in November 1998.

Objectives of the visit:

Over the past few years, the WCC Women's Programme has organised several team visits to situations of war and conflict. The main aim was always to offer solidarity to the women in those situations who, as women, are often the targets of very specific forms of violence. Experience has taught us that such violence leaves deep scars, and that women often continue to live in contexts of intimidation and fear. It is only when they feel safe that they can speak out about what they have gone through. And women-to-women visits help create the kind of space where women do feel safe enough to speak.

A February 1999 WCC-CCA team visit to Indonesia reported:

"Jakarta's Volunteers Team for Humanity (VTH) reports that 152 Jakarta women were raped or sexually abused during the May 14 riots. Gang rapes in the victims' homes appear to have been the pattern, although a number of reports indicate abuse in public places. Of the total, 20 were reported killed, including nine who were raped and burned. Sixteen others were said to have been raped in Solo, Medan, Palembang and Surabaya, bringing the number of cases documented to 168. There could be more unreported cases considering the nature of the offense, the minority status of the victims and the strong taboos of Indonesian society."

Our June women-to-women team visit to Indonesia and East Timor was organised in cooperation with the Christian Conference of Asia and with the full support of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI). On the advice of the PGI, the visit was delayed until after the country's general elections (see section on context, below).

We went to offer international solidarity to the women, to listen to them, and to share their concerns as expressed in their own words, with the world. A report of our visit would, we hoped, provide the rationale for continuing support to the women as they begin the effort of healing and reconciliation, of reconstructing their own lives and those of their communities.

We share this report to draw attention to the situation in Indonesia and East Timor, urging international solidarity and support for the women and men of these countries in a difficult time of transition.

We call on the churches and related organisations to support the initiatives of women there to bring healing and reconciliation to their societies.

We call on governments and UN agencies to respond speedily to the persistent use of rape and violence to intimidate communities and its use as an instrument of war.

The context:

We were visiting Indonesia after long-awaited general elections for a democratically formed government. In spite of many fears, the elections were free and fair, as observed by international teams of monitors; only a very few incidents of election-related violence were reported. While the final results were not yet known at the time of our visit, partial results -with about 21% of the votes counted -showed that the ruling Golkar party had slowly inched into second place and that the main opposition party, the PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle), led by the charismatic Megawati Sukarnoputri, was leading with about 34% of the vote. There was some suspicion about why the vote-counting process was so slow and on the day we left Indonesia, three weeks after surprisingly peaceful elections, there was tension, indicating that people's patience was running out.

The issue being discussed everywhere was whether Megawati would be named president when that decision is taken in November this year. Opinion was divided within her party and outside. Fundamentalist Muslims were questioning whether a woman could lead the country. However women by and large saw the possibility of a woman president as a sign of hope for some major legal and other reforms favouring women. Other women, however, wondered whether any real change is possible, given that Indonesia is still under the firm control of the World Bank, the IMF and other international financial institutions. They also saw the implicit power of the army, which continues to wield control, even within Megawati's party.

The delegation:

Rev. Glynthea Finger, Ecumenical Chaplain, Griffith University, Brisbane. Formerly Secretary, Education Desk and Coordinator, Women's Concerns in the CCA.
Ms Margaret den Dulk Barens, Secretary of the Unit on Women in Church and Society, of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands.
Ms Law Piu Kwan, Joe, Assistant Executive Secretary, Hong Kong Women Christian Council.
Rev. Lolita Dais, General Secretary, Baptist Union of the Philippines Inc.
Ms Stien Jalil, PGI, Jakarta, Indonesia
Rev. Lies Mailoa-Marantika, Ambon, Coordinator, Working Group on Women of the PGI, Indonesia
Dr. Aruna Gnanadason, Coordinator, Women/Justice Peace and Creation Team, WCC, Geneva

After a day in Jakarta we divided into two teams. One team went to Ambon and the other to East Timor, meeting in both places with church leaders, church women, NGOs, women's organisations, student groups, Muslim and Catholic women, and orders of Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. We visited refugee camps and met with women survivors of the horrors of conflict. We are grateful to everyone we met for their willingness to share their understanding of the situation with us.


It was when we visited Jakarta's destroyed Chinatown and saw the ruins of one burned-down church that we were first able to sense the impact of the May 1998 riots. The ruins stood as a symbol of the clashes between Christians and Muslims in different parts of the islands, while the destruction in the Chinese Indonesian section of the city was symbolic of the ethnic clashes that had further compounded the crisis.

The riots and clashes followed massive protests by the Indonesian student movement in May last year, calling on Suharto to step down as president. Many students had been killed and efforts made to crush the spirit of their movement. But it had achieved its immediate goal. In many ways, May 1998 was a turning point in modern Indonesian history. It has liberated women and men to call more boldly for reform and change.

Our team recognised the complexity of the crisis. The collapse of the miracle economies of South-East Asia hit Indonesia hard last year. The student movement demanded an end to the 32-year rule of a president who survived so long thanks to the power of his brutal military regime. Women often bear the brunt of any economic crisis, and the women we met often described what happened when the Indoesian Rupiah fell to an all-time low.

We saw the bridge where 27 students were killed by military gunfire. 1198 people lost their lives; 400 shops were destroyed; cars and other vehicles were set ablaze before order could be restored. Sporadic incidents of rioting and religious and political conflicts are still occurring.

The days of the visit were calm but on 1 July, the day of our departure, there was a clash at the election commission office with demands that the Golkar party be disqualified.

1. Actions by the churches and women of the churches
We met some members of the PGI Executive Board and later the whole PGI Executive Committee. The PGI has been active since the May incidents. They see the elections as a new start for Indonesia, and would like to ensure that women can meaningfully participate.

  • The PGI Women's and Youth departments opened a crisis centre to support riot victims. They contributed to the distribution of food packets for 3-4 days to over 5000 students demonstrating on the streets of Jakarta.

  • The PGI Women's Desk, along with other church women's organisations, engaged in the interfaith women's movement. Muslim, Protestant and Catholic women, believing that the crisis was affecting all women regardless of their faith, formed a coalition. Today, the church women are working closely with Nahdatul Ulama, a traditional Muslim women's group which is taking the lead in bringing change. Every Friday, they meet in the centre of Jakarta in silent protest against violence against women, which they now see as a human rights issue.

  • The May incidents made this coalition realise the need to ensure legal and constitutional guarantees for women. Thus, it is now campaigning for a new bill to deal with marital violence. A joint secretariat has been established for the campaign.

  • 57% of the voters on the recent election rolls were women. With the assistance of the UN Development Programme, PGI women undertook voter education of women in twelve cities. They helped women understand that the election heralds a new era in Indonesian history, and encouraged them to vote for the party with the clearest reform agenda.

  • The PGI made two public statements, one pastoral and the other more general, on the elections. Focussing on the relation between religion and state, the statements call for a separation between the two.

  • A PGI training of trainers programme using materials developed in the Philippines and Australia, was welcomed by pastors. Training topics included: gender awareness; democracy and the political system; the relationship between religion and state; the importance of civic education for women.

2. Voice of the women's movement in Indonesia
a) Kalyanamitra:
Kalyanamitra is one of the largest women's NGOs in Indonesia. It has been working for many years on violence against women, particularly state-sponsored violence. In recent times, the organisation has focussed on human rights violations against women in the areas of Indonesia under severe attack -Aceh, East Timor, Jakarta and Irian Jaya. Kalyanamitra has created a cooperative with 6000 members, largely unemployed women. At the time of the riots, they too organised communal kitchens to feed the students. Kalyanamitra and other organisations like it have received death and kidnapping threats.

Kalyanmamitra secretary Ita Nadia shared some of her perceptions of what is happening in Indonesia with us. In the above-mentioned areas, women and children are the most vulnerable, she says. Stories of horrific violence against women -raping and killing, bullets in the vagina, destruction of reproductive organs, cutting off nipples -all have been well documented. The focus is on hurting women's reproductive capacity. The Indonesian security forces oppressed women as a way of repressing the whole society. When women emerge as leaders in a strike or dispute, they are violated in the most brutal ways. One well-known story is that of Morzinah, a labour leader, who was found dead in a field with a damaged womb.

Ita Nadia insists that domestic violence is related to state violence. There are no laws in Indonesia against marital violence. In addition, the use of drugs for population control which are banned in other countries, like Norplant and Depo Provera, is sponsored by the state. These drugs have been administered to girls as young as 11. Instead of making the necessary structural changes, this is the state's response to increasing poverty in the rural areas.

The rapes and violence against ethnic Chinese women in May 1998 must be seen in this context, Ita Nadia thinks. Muslim fundamentalists were used by the military to attack all those who resist. In order to frighten the community, its most vulnerable members -Chinese women -had to be violated. She said that among the women raped in Jakarta, a nine-year-old Chinese girl raped by eight men! It is said that religious slogans were shouted while the women were raped. Several women who were raped, have now given birth.

None of the women involved dared to complain about rape, let alone go to the police to seek justice. It has been left to NGOs and religious institutions to support them.

Ita Nadia told us that Indonesian women are tired of the TV and other media coverage. Nothing has really changed despite all the international coverage. She sees the value of bringing these issues to international fora, but her focus is on the local scene. She told us she had no faith in any of the political parties.

b) Solidaritas Perempuan
A chance meeting with Tati Krisnawaty proved to be very helpful. Her organisation, Solidaritas Perempuan (Women's Solidarity for Human Rights), has been working with Indonesian migrant workers in general, particularly in collaboration with other Asian migrant women's organisations. But recent events forced them to also focus on women and children.

Commenting on how the Chinese minority were terrorised, Tati Krisnawaty explained that 20% of Jakarta's population and 40% of Kalimantan's are Chinese. 7% of the wealthiest people in Indonesia are Chinese, and a few of them were known to belong to a corrupt conglomerate in collusion with government. But none of this legitimised terrorizing this community, Tati Krisnawaty said.

The Indonesian government denies that women were raped. While you can see riots, broken and burned down buildings, it is a lot harder to see that women have been raped. The extent of their trauma is yet to be measured. The child forced to watch her mother raped needs special trauma treatment; Tati Krisnawaty stressed the need for much more of this work. Her organisation has found several groups in the Philippines who have developed appropriate forms of trauma counselling.

She affirmed the role of the new coalition of women's groups dealing with violence against women and said that the women's struggle in most parts of Indonesia is against the military. As women have considerable conflict resolution skills, this coalition offers many possibilities. It plans to bring wives of army personnel and of resistance fighters together for dialogue. "The women will look at the values they bring together from their different religious traditions," she said. "They may not have great leadership skills, but they respond from the heart, with love".

An East Timor Commission on Peace and Stability brings together representatives of the military, the National Commission on Human Rights, pro-integration and pro-independence groups. It is an all-male group. When women questioned this, they were laughed at. No one wants to acknowledge that it is women who bear the brunt of the conflict, Tati Krisnawaty said.

She said that the situation and needs are similar in Aceh, Irian Jaya and East Timor. They need crisis centres for the women, attention for internally displaced/refugee women, and to get women's voices into political discussions on the future.

She then went on to speak about the Indonesian migrant workers living abroad which is her major concern. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have the largest numbers of Indonesian women working either as domestic workers or in the entertainment industry. 13 women were raped in Saudi Arabia in the last six months and all are now pregnant! Indonesian labour law explicitly excludes domestic workers. They are seen as "haddam" - slaves; the employer owns the woman. Even when a wife knows that her husband has raped a domestic worker, she will continue to make her work. When challenged about violence against women, the Saudi Arabian ulamas reply: "If you blame Saudi Arabia, you are blaming Islam. A domestic worker "released" from Saudi Arabia told us that many women put tomato ketchup on their vaginas as a menstruating woman will not be touched!

Nothing much can be done because contracts are between Indonesia, the receiving country and the agency. Contracts cover workers' duties, not their rights and protection. Women in these situations get little support from the receiving country's legal system. Women migrant workers in Hong Kong who appeal to the courts are blacklisted , repatriated and will not be allowed in again. In Malaysia, an Indonesian woman worker raped by three policemen appealed for support to the Indonesian consulate, but was sent back home to face humiliation. In March 1998, eight women died in Malaysia. When women's groups investigated, they were told that the women had died in a riot. Migrant women are not a priority between governments. For these governments, it is trade and political relations that matter.

Tati Krisnawaty also told us about Batam, a smaller island very close to Singapore that was declared a free-trade zone by President Habibie when he was in the Suharto government. Women workers going to Singapore and Malysia often transit through Batam, and are sometimes used as prostitutes for migrant workers who have left their families back on other islands. The PGI Women's Programme was the first NGO to set up a women's centre on Batam island.


Dark skies, pouring rain and a bumpy landing heralded our arrival in Ambon in the Mollucas (Malukus). Heavy rain, brooding skies and floods accompanied us throughout these few days, and the greyness seemed to permeate our being as we looked, listened, and tried to understand the Ambonese people's experiences during and after the riots that had shattered their lives and their community from January to March of this year.

The voices we listened to spoke of pain, suffering and great loss; of confusion and uncertainty as they recalled events and began to look ahead into the future. Until the recent riots, Ambon enjoyed a tradition where people -Christians and Muslims -live amicably side by side. So we heard many questions: "Why?" "What happened between us?" "What caused the clashes pitting neighbour against neighbour, community against community, the destruction of houses, the taking of lives?"

We viewed the burned down houses, churches and mosques. We listened to the voices describing those dreadful days. We heard of "rescued" families, of the "rehabilitation" processes , of plans for "reconciliation" between individuals and local communities, of efforts to restore the corporate life of the once manese -sweet -Ambon.

1. Voices of refugees and internally displaced persons
The refugee camps seemed to mirror the dark skies that accompanied us. We were appalled by the conditions in camps where 200-500 refugee and displaced persons' families waited to return home, or move to locations on land offered by other villages, or to completely new locations on other islands of the Molluccas.

Overcrowding was a serious problem and sanitary conditions were very poor. Individual families were attempting some privacy by putting up cardboard boxes and other items around their sleeping area; privacy while bathing or using the toilet was minimal Women told us of the lack of privacy in sleeping arrangements, their fear when bathing, not enough blankets... Clothing hung from walls and ceiling or on loosely erected clothelines, patches of dry ground or on boxes, because of the rain. Sometimes the drying clothes had to be removed so that our car could get into the camps!

Families were making do with almost nothing since most, if not all, had left their burning homes with only the clothes they were wearing. Kitchens in the camps were often lean-tos against the walls of living areas or in small outbuildings where the women had to wait their turn to cook for their families. Food was scarce, at times; although it was coming in, we were told that it was not always being distributed fairly amongst the various religious communities by local government.

The first camp we visited was filled with farmers from a remote village on the other side of Ambon island. They were attacked during the first riots in January, their houses and church completely burned to rubble. They had walked two-four nights over the mountains and through forests to reach safety. They told us that during the night they were guided by the sparkling eyes of small animals. This spoke to them of God's guidance.

The destruction of their church hit deep into the soul of this community. They have no wish to return and rebuild their village and their church in an area surrounded by Muslim communities. Yet relocation means leaving behind the lands of their ancestors. They felt that reconciliation might be possible in one or two generations, but not now.

Different worries were emphasized at different camps: loss of jobs, lack of money, no schooling for their children, lack of material goods -bankets, spectacles, vegetables, milk, food -fears for their own and their children's health and nutrition. There were always a multitude of worries flooding in to us via the translators.

2. The voice of the church
a) Protestant Church (GPM)
The team met with several groups associated with the Protestant Church of the Molluccas. (GPM). They told us about their experiences during the riots, their plans and continuing anxiety. Again we heard the voices of chaos, pain and suffering.

Women from The GPM women's group (Komisi Wanita), and NGOs called LSM Sofia and BPD Pirwati Maluku described their involvement in the camps, the problems -including stress-related wife abuse, child abuse and the need for trauma and pastoral counselling -and how they were trying to solve them. The PGI Women's programme has been involved in training programmes here.

Meetings organised by the Komisi Wanita helped us piece together the overall story of the riots and their aftermath, the situation in the camps, what is needed to promote reconciliation, and ongoing efforts to overcome the prevailing insecurity and fear.

We met the coordinator of the GPM's Rescue, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation (RRR) Programme of the GPM and the coordinator of the group for the Advocacy of Human Rights. The coordinator of the RRR Programme described the huge task of relocating displaced communities, given their fears about living again with Muslims, in spite of a history of peaceful cohabitation in the past. Scarcity of building materials, their cost, and fair distribution among the communities involved are other problems.

The coordinator and some lawyers from the GPM's Human Rights Advocacy group helped us to grasp this dimension of the aftermath of the riots and the work of reconciliation. They were struggling to ensure justice for those imprisoned by the military at the beginning of the riots in January. It was becoming clear that justice was going to be hard to achieve, given the fact that the system is biased.

b) Catholic women
Listening to members of the Catholic women's organisation, we discovered that in the midst of the atrocities and since then, they had been reflecting quite deeply on the situation. After a warm welcome and a beautifully sung prayer, the stories they shared were stories of hope and optimism.

One woman told us about a Catholic high school attended by children of all communities -Muslim, Protestant and Catholic. A teacher guaranteed all the children's safety and motivated the Christian students to support rather than attack, to love rather than hate.

Another woman told us that her community remained a "riot-free" zone due to the liaison work of a Catholic youth leader who forged an agreement with a Muslim youth leader that there would be no rioting in their community. It was quite a struggle, but they managed to make the agreement stick. At one point when tempers rose, the women called in a priest to pray with the youngsters. They brought glasses of water; after praying over the water, they gave it to the youngsters to drink and cool down their emotions!

A third woman told us that relationships between Christians and Muslims in her office had deteriorated since the rioting. The Christians were optimistic that everything would return to normal but the Muslims were more uncertain.

(Ita Nadia had also told us that some Muslims and Christians had prayed together both in Ambon and in West Kalimantan as a strategy to achieve harmony. This worked, she said, because they had lived together before, and believed in Pelagadong -a philosophy of living together as brother and sister. She said that the military's role in provoking ethnic tensions cannot be completely overlooked; a lot of violence was provoked by power conflicts within the ruling political party and the military.)

c) Local congregations:
On Sunday morning we worshipped in a local congregation led by a woman pastor, who was herself a refugee. The church we worshipped in had housed refugees before they were placed in the homes of relatives and others. After the service, the largely refugee and displaced persons' congregation shared their many experiences with us.

3. Voices of student leaders
We were pleasantly surprised to meet so many young people: 20 young men and three young women. Regrettably, due to communication problems, there was only one Muslim youth among them.

A Roman Catholic student told us that women suffered the most in the riots because they were not protected against the violence. He felt the media did not give a fair account of the events: what happened were clashes between the two communities, not massacres, as reported. He wondered why the army was sent in to quell the violence and not the police. The army used bullets, while tear gas and other less violent police means would have been sufficient. The families of those who died are crying out for revenge. It would take a whole generation to recover from the clashes, he said, and added that the government should take strong action against the smuggling of arms into the Molluccas.

A Student Christian Movement leader wondered where the riots had really started, although he thought that growing unhappiness with the last 32 years of government rule was a root cause. More than 75% of the rioters were under 25 years of age. Thus youth need to be involved in the reconciliation work. Youth organisations -Catholic, Protestant and Muslim -must together build a vision for the future, he said. Only when the truth comes out, with confessions of all those involved, can true peace be restored.

Two issues that need to be dealt with are injustice and gender, and loss of spirituality. Indonesian women have great skills and abilities, but are denied leadership positions. This must be changed, he stated.

The Muslim student apologised for the fact that more Muslims were not present to meet us. According to him, the riots were the result of the accumulation of economic and political power in the hands of an elite few who had abused this power. He felt it was important for government and religious leaders to work with students, and stressed that each should live according to the best values in his or her own religious doctrines.

A woman student said that the women in her village tried to stop the rioting, but their pleas were not heard. Now her anxiety continues because of the army's behaviour towards women. "They use their arrows to make us women surrender to them, like the American army in Vietnam." Women need psychiatric and counselling help now, she said. Referring to the prevailing prejudice against women taking on leadership positions, "God created men and women too," she said.

Another woman student described the sadistic treatment of women during the riots. Even now, her parents are afraid of letting her go out freely. An intense discussion developed on the possibilities of inter-religious marriages. This was the first meeting at which women spoke of their personal stories of suffering due to the riots.

4. Voices of Muslim women
We deeply valued our meeting with the Ambonese Muslim women's organization Wanita Alhidayah, which has been caring for and supporting women and children riot victims. A medical practitioner described the riots' effects on women's health; Wanita Alhidayah has also been providing physical, mental and social health care and counselling. She stressed that religious leaders are needed in the reconciliation process to help ease the anger and help people create a new situation together. Some young people find it hard to accept the reconciliation process, it was said.

Another woman doctor spoke of the riots' effects on children: malnutrition is rampant. Pregnant women are giving birth to premature babies due to the lack of proper nourishment and the tensions they have experienced. Muslim families, like Christian ones, are reluctant to go back to their homes for fear of retaliation and continuing violence.She felt that social justice is needed in the communities.

An example of Muslims and Christians working together on common projects was a May 14 effort at interreligious discussion. This was held up as a good sign for the future.

5. Voices of women street vendors:
We also met with about 100 women street vendors in one of the churches. They are members of a cooperative set up by church women to offer small loans to women to start their own small businesses. They repay the loans by daily installment, but with the economic crisis and the riots, their daily earnings are not enough for a decent standard of living.

The vendors shared their disappointment that without the necessary collateral, women are unable to get loans from banks. Some of the women also lost all they owned in the riots. But in these women, we discovered the amazing resilience and power of women when they work together.

6. Voices of community leaders
a) Governor of the Molluccas
Dr M.S. Latuconsina spent ample time reflecting on the riots with us. Their root cause, he said, was a combination of politics and economics. Reigion has always played a key role in ensuring people's development and has contributed to the spread of science and knowledge, although unfortunately, some schools foster religious fanaticism, he said.

Dr Latuconsina pointed to the gap between rich and poor, and said that the new order is focussed only on physical development. This is not enough; development should be directed towards the soul. Yet religious leaders should take some responsibility for not having focussed more on building a just society, for not having been "watchdogs of social control". He felt that churches and mosques destroyed during the riots were only symbols of religion; religion itself could not be destroyed.

Dr Latuconsina was also self-critical. The government did not foresee the riots and was not prepared to deal with them. He is determined to work with religious leaders on inter-religious dialogue in order to build a new Pelagadong philosophy, especially as new migrants have come to the Molluccas from other islands. The balance between Muslims and Christians was redressed, but many Muslims and Christians have said that they are scared to return to their homes. If they do not dare to go back, the government will relocate them to other islands. The refugees are to be relocated by September, but the government lacks the necessary resources -6000 houses are needed but they have the budget only for 1000!

As well as facilitating interreligious dialogue, the government is planning to organise counselling for those who have lost their houses or family members, assistance for people in finding new jobs, and support for teachers and doctors who are frightened to go into some areas of real need.

b) The leader of the Catholic Church
Bishop Petrus Manjadi expressed gratitude for our visit, which he saw as moral support to the Ambon community. He also felt that the conflict was not a religious one but had political and socioeconomic roots.

The Catholic Church is trying to bring different religious groups together to avoid more division. In a meeting with President Habibie, he had stressed that peace needs justice, that there is no peace without truth, and that the truth about corruption and collusion needs to come out.

Bishop Manjadi said that when the local government says it needs the help of religious leaders, that means it is unable to overcome the problems on its own. Local government is dependent on central government policy.

Bishop Manjadi was concerned about the way women are used as a commodity, in pornography, for instance, and about the secularisation of youth.

The following personal observations are based on our discussion and reflections together as a team.
a) The hidden voices of women:
We felt we had to peel many layers back to get to the heart of the problem of women in Ambon. This is something they themselves have only now begun to do. The community is obviously still reeling from the shock of what had happened to them over the past few months.

Women need to recover from the shock of the riots and the atrocities. Only then will they will be able to start a reconciliation process. "Why us, why this?" was the question we heard asked again and again. This need to get to the heart of the problem applies especially to the women who were direct victims. They have been traumatized by the burning and destruction of homes, churches, mosques, the killing of neighbours and friends, and the coming of the military.

It will take weeks, months, perhaps longer before the women are able to peel back the layers of trauma and reach the centre where their personal stories are hidden. For their personal healing and for community and national reconciliation, their experiences must be uncovered, named and told. The silence can only be broken by trauma counselling. It will not be easy. Breaking the silence on violence against women never is.

b) Voice of patriarchy
Women's voices are further silenced by patriarchal structures in Indonesian society. In our visits to the camps, men's voices often overpowered those of women, reducing the latter to silence. But we could feel their pain and suffering in their partially told stories... and in their eyes.

c) A theology of sacrifice:
The women's silence is reinforced by a theological perspective that their suffering was part of God's will and that the riots were a "testing by God". In such a theological environment, how is it possible for women to break through the barriers to tell what happened to them personally? Would it not be as if they were speaking against God?

These women need to reclaim their own understanding of God, their own experience of this new violence, and the silencing of their own voices. An Indonesian woman theologian who spoke to us on the last day of our visit made a lot of sense. Rev. Septemmy Lakawa said that Indonesian women are still reeling and need a new image of themselves and their understanding of what happened to them. They need to discover a new voice, she suggested.

d) Strong women:
Looking back on what we had seen and heard, we felt that wherever there was strong leadership -in camps, churches or local congregations - a hopeful atmosphere prevailed. Even in a pathetic situation, people were filled with courage and fresh hope.

East Timor

The context:

East Timor was in the hands of the Portuguese for over 400 years till 1974. In 1975 a civil war broke out and Indonesia, apprehensive of the Timorese Democratic Union's communist leanings, with the support of the USA and Australia, occupied the territory. 200,000 people were killed in the process and, in May 1976, after a so-called act of self-determination, East Timor was declared a province of Indonesia.

From earlier conversations we knew that, in spite of Habibie's surprise agreement (in January 1999) to a referendum to determine whether East Timor will have autonomy or total independence, the military is not quite so keen to give up control. To keep their power intact they have recruited and trained a militia -many of them Timorese young people who have been made drug-and alcohol-dependent -and use this force to maintain control. In order to cut supplies to the resistance groups, villagers were forced out of their homes into camps controlled by the army. Villages were burned, men killed, and countless women raped in the process.

As we landed in East Timor, we were struck by the beauty of the island -white beaches, clean blue untouched sea, the vegetation, the hills and the people. But we had come to discover the violence beneath paradise. From our first to our last meeting, it was the wounds of this island paradise that we heard of, the fears and uncertainty for the future. But we also encountered a small but determined group of people of tremendous courage and endurance, people filled with compassion and hope, convinced that peace and justice will come to this island with its long history of political, economic and military control.

The church:

The GKTT was independently formed by East Timorese evangelists. During the time of Portuguese rule, the latter forced Roman Catholicism on the island. We were told that Protestants who preached were put in jail. Today, 85% of East Timor's Christians are Roman Catholic. It was only after 1974, when the Portuguese left, that the GKTT could really grow. It is the only WCC member church in East Timor, and the largest Protestant Church on the island.

We were met at the airport by the GKTT general secretary Rev. Pas de Consuelos. An airport banner put up by the military announced: "If you love East Timor, you must love both those who are for integration and those for independence!" This set the tone for our visit in many ways!

As all the hotels have been taken over by the UNAMET personnel, we were accommodated in a local church parsonage. Rev. Luis Andre Pinto and his family warmly welcomed us into their simple home. They have five children of their own, and have three teenage nephews and a sister-in-law staying with them. The family did all in their power to ensure our comfort; we were overwhelmed by their generosity.

On sunday we worhipped at, and preached in two local congregations. There were about 400 worshippers at the Indonesian service and about 100 at the worship in Tetun, the language of the East Timorese. Aftrer the service, two men gave their personal testimonies of the violence and harassment they had experienced in the hands of the militia.

1. HAK (Foundation on Law, Human Rights and Justice)

A dynamic young lawyer, Aneceto Guitteraz Lopez, gave us the following information: HAK was set up in 1976 after the Santa Cruz massacre by army personnel at the funeral of an East Timorese leader. It began by doing legal aid work. But 23 years of killing, torture and rape convinced a joint committee in Jakarta (including the PGI, the Catholic Bishops Conference and human rights NGOs) and the churches of the need for a humanitarian movement. Thus in 1992, HAK began to work on human rights in East Timor.

After the May 1999 riots in Jakarta and Suharto's departure from power, there were marginal changes. But in fact since September 1998, human rights violations have increased. Beneath the apparent calm, particularly in Dili, there is real fear and tension. Incidents of intimidation, midnight kidnappings and disappearances continue. Particularly in the western part of East Timor human rights violations are severe. There is the problem of mass internal displacement and a desperate need for humanitarian assistance.

The greatest sufferers are women and children. Many whose husbands were killed or escaped into the mountains live on their own in the villages.They then become targets of militia harassment. They are questioned about their husbands' whereabouts. Very often they are raped. Women in refugee camps particularly are targets of sexual violence and are used as the guarantors for their husbands' return. For the last 23 years, young girls have been abducted by the militia and many children have been forced into Islam. The transmigration policy has displaced many Timorese workers. Malnutrition is rampant among the children, who have long been deprived of education and health care.

East Timor is considered a war zone by the Indonesian army and militia. With the resulting total collapse of law and order, anything goes. Their claim that there is peace is negated by the presence of so much intimidation, fear and lack of security. Men cannot return to their homes because of the insecurity.

For Aneceto Guitteraz Lopez, the only solution to East Timor's problems is political and the referendum is one step in that process. "Do people really have a choice in a context of intimidation?" we asked. His answer was that the Timorese have endured a long struggle and know what is best. They will choose freedom. Roughly 50% East Timorese and 50% settlers will have the right to vote. The resistance movement has been very disciplined. After the referendum pro-integrationists will have to learn how to live peaceably with those for freedom. Strong feelings of revenge are inevitable, but must be controlled by the rule of law and order. "This is what democracy is about," Lopez said. Organisations like HAK will play a renewed and important role in the new East Timor, particularly in the area of reconciliation, which depends on achieving truth, justice and peace.

2. Voices of Catholic sisters

We met with nuns from two Roman Catholic orders working closely with refugees. Their work in East Timor is impressive. They are operating in remote villages and also also in the refugee camps. We were told that there are over 4500 women and children in these camps. The men have run away into the mountains to escape the army and militia, and the women are left to fend for themselves and their children. We could not visit the camps because they are under militia control; the latter do not want the story of the conditions in the camps to be told outside.

The nuns visit the camps twice a week. They feel unable really to help the women to deal with the trauma or to establish a deeper relationship with them because the militia keep them under constant surveillance. In spite of this some women have told them about having been raped.

A woman from the troubled area of Liquisa was brought to the sisters for protection by UN officials. Hers is the story of many women. Her husband ran into the jungle to escape the militia's wrath for his pro-independence stand. They came to rape her daughter to force her to tell them where her husband was hiding. She pleaded with them to spare her daughter and take her instead, which they did, in front of her daughter. She escaped in disguise, and was brought to the sisters for safety.

We met a group of women who had been raped, only one of whom -the wife of the village headman with three children -was able to speak to us. Her story too was all too familiar. The militia had taken everything in their house and then set fire to it. The villagers ran to the church for safety, but the militia pursued them into the church and killed many. The army and the police were also involved. She actually saw the slaughter. Her pro-independence husband was tortured by the militia in front of her and her children. When he could, he ran away into the hills.

They came back looking for him a few weeks later. When she pleaded that she didn't know where he was, they accused her of lying and threatened to rape one of her daughters. She begged them not to so they raped her repeatedly in front of her children. She went to the commandant's office to protest and was threatened and told to keep silent or they would all be killed. She escaped to her sister's home with only her children and a bundle of clothes. Her house has been burned down. Fortunately her husband understands that it was not her fault. He told her that they all face risks for the sake of freedom, and that she too, as a woman, needs to face risks.

What she said sounded like a theological statement:

This experience has given me a new perception of my womanhood and my power. I know that almost every other woman in my village has had a similar experience of violence. I am determined to fight for the life of other women. Men may fight with guns, but as a woman I will fight with the power that I have gained out of my suffering, by raising my voice.

"Such events have been happening for 23 years, but it is only now that the world is paying attention to us. You have come 23 years too late!" she added.

The nuns mentioned other cases. One woman had four children, each fathered by a different militiaman! Another woman we met had given information to the resistance fighters about military movements and was jailed for five years and raped.

The nuns estimate that rape has been used systematically to intimidate the community. One nun said that sex-specific forms of torture are also used. We had also heard in Jakarta that the militia were using women for prostitution, and had set up "comfort women" camps like those for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The sisters said that though they had not actually seen the camps, they had also heard about their existence. More commonly, militia men would come to a village in the evening and force the women to come with them for a "party". A woman who now lives in Dili told us that she has eight young women living with her who escaped from their village for this reason.

The nuns were particularly concerned that there were no crisis centres or trauma counselling facilities. They are beginning some efforts, but they need help from the Philippines and Australia, where some efforts are made to prepare women to work with victims of trauma in conflict situations. Many women are becoming mental wrecks because of the trauma, the sisters told us.

They are also concerned that other issues will be neglected because of the present crisis. Domestic violence is rampant in East Timor. Arranged marriages are still the way of the people here, and women are often seen as men's property. Incest is common in many areas. Many teachers are leaving and children's education is suffering, particularly for girls, who need to build up self-confidence in a very patriarchal society. Many doctors are also leaving and military doctors are taking their place. People are afraid to go to these doctors because of past experience of forced sterilisation and the use of contraceptives banned in other countries.

Fortunately, AIDS is not yet a problem in East Timor. A sister who has been working in the medical field told us that they had encountered only one case so far. But the militia are bringing in prostitutes from other islands, so this may be a problem in the future.

The nuns fear bloodshed after the referendum, and hope the UN will stay. The militia and army are not going to give up power easily, they said.


This group of overworked women have given strong support group to women survivors of the violence. They have recorded stories of many women victims of violence. They have also done voter education. It was in the Fokupers offices that we were able to speak to women survivors of rape and violence. This NGO is a sign of hope!

4. UN Assistance Mission in East Timor: UNAMET

Mr Jaoquin Bernado, a senior officer in UNAMET's election office, told us that 400 personnel have arrived so far. Many are on contract just for the election period. They have set up eight district offices and hope to open up more. It is difficult to find accomodation in remote areas, but they plan to reach as many as possible.

There were more men than women monitors. We expressed concern for their safety and were told that this has been taken into consideration. Each election office will have UN police officers to maintain peace. UNAMET welcomes non-partisan observers to support their work. They need more resources and workers to be achieve their objectives, Bernardo said.

UNAMET is presently working on a Code of Conduct to be signed by all parties to ensure smooth functioning of the elections. Of course it would help if there was disarmament all round. NGOs and others are asking for a "neutral zone" to be set up. But this is a political decision, which, hopefully, will be taken by the politicians.

UNAMET will leave behind a peace-keeping force, and hope there will be no bloodshed after the referendum. They are aware of the many efforts to discredit the UN presence. When they arrived in one village, for instance, the militia had given arms to all the villagers, telling them that the UN had come to take away their rights.

All those who welcomed the UN presence were unsure how far into the interior it will go. The nuns were unsure how long they and the UN monitors, will be safe as the militia and army are so brutal; the militia men are often drugged and not even aware of what they are doing.

5. Voices of Indonesians in East Timor

When Indonesia took over East Timor in 1975, a policy of transmigration forced many Indonesians to move there. Many came as civil servants. Some wealthy Indonesians came to buy property and take up high-ranking jobs. But the majority are middle-class and struggling to survive. Many now feel threatened and are leaving. Schools and hospitals are hard hit, as teachers and doctors leave for safety and security. Even pastors are leaving. Indonesian church women told us that an anti-integration demonstration in Dili last year demanded that Indonesians "go home". Some Indonesian women have also been threatened with rape and violence. Fear was written in their eyes, "This is home to us, we do not want to leave. We want to live in harmony with the East Timorese," a woman said.

a) Woman pastor in Liquisa
Liquisa is a small town some 37 km. from Dili where provocative pamphlets have been distributed since January. After Easter this year, a militia-provoked clash erupted between pro-integrationist and pro-independence groups. When the shooting began, the people ran to the church for safety. Officially it was announced that five people were killed, but the Catholic parish priest put the numbers at 25.

There is a refugee camp in Liquisa for 54 internally displaced families, under the control of the militia. It is one of the camps where acts of violence took place.

The woman pastor here is Indonesian. The violence has frightened many of the Indonesians away. Before the April incident, there were 90 families in her congregation whereas now there are only 20. As a pastor of the church, she finds it difficult to speak openly. She will take a neutral position and offer prayers for her people to strengthen their faith in God. When we asked her why she decided to stay, she said: "How can a shepherd leave her sheep?" If independence is achieved, "If it is my personal decision, I will stay. But my husband is a civil servant and the decision will depend on him," she added.

Her anxiety was echoed by the other East Timorese Indonesians to whom we spoke.

b) Voices of GKKT church women
Some 20, mainly Indonesian, women leaders from various Dili congregations came to meet us at the GKKT headquarters. It was difficult to open the discussion and encourage the women to tell us what they really feel in the present situation. They talked a lot about poverty and how this affects all their work.

There are few women in positions of authority in the GKKT Synod and it has never discussed gender issues. They do have an income generation programme for rural women, who are poor because they depend on only one crop a year, have limited skills, because families spend too much on traditional practices such as marriage feasts and death and other traditional celebrations. The GKKT church women will need to focus on encouraging poor women to be part of the church, helping community members to accept one another, and attempting to bridge the many divisions among women.

It was only at the very end of the meeting that some of the church women leaders voiced their own fears and concerns. Many Indonesians are leaving the country. "How can we leave our sisters and brothers alone to face the future? This is our country and we have the right to stay," one woman said.

Two women who came to the airport to see us off obviously also wanted to talk to us. They told us that Indonesian women also face constant harassment. A demonstration last year in Dili called for the settlers to leave East Timor and this caused a big exodus.

A journalist we met highlighted the dichotomy between the Indonesian settlers and East Timorese. We also heard strong concern that some GKKT members, rather than serve all their members, focus only on the independence issue. In many districts, congregations feel quite alone and people are leaving. In the resulting vaccuum, some women have taken on leadership roles.

6. Other issues and concerns

Many people ask questions about the future. How can there be healing and reconciliation after the referendum? How can people live together in harmony? What of the militia, who have been trained to be brutal? What kind of a reconciliation process do they look for? Aneceto Guiterraz Lopez of HAK saw the referendum as only one step in a long process. "Democratisation and reconciliation require truth, justice and peace. The issue is not only to deal with the past but to move forward in an environment where past mistakes can never happen again."

Monsignor Albrecht, an advisor to [Roman Catholic] Archbishop Belo on the refugee situation, expressed the same sentiment. His concern was that decisions taken at the top level of government, with military and resistance leaders do not trickle down to the lower levels. Even good decisions taken in Jakarta will be of no use if the militia at the lowest level is not informed. Commenting on militia brutality, he said that even if food is sent into the camps, the militia use it to control votes. He doubted that people would be allowed to exercise free choice, and recollected what happened in Irian Jaya, even under UN supervision. Monsignor Albrecht was concerned that the Indonesian army has been systematically trained in the US to deal with subversion and counter-subversion.

Impact of the conflicts on children

Our visit was also intended to look at the impact of the conflict on children. We were told that at least there were no child soldiers in this conflict. This is something to be happy about. But of course children, do bear the consequences of the war and conflict. Everywhere we went, we were told about malnutrition -the food scarcity affects children most. Their education has also been interrupted. In the places where there have been ethnic clashes, as in Ambon, schools have been closed down, or parents are too afraid to send the children to school. In East Timor, where Indonesians are leaving the island, many children have been forced to stay home as there are not enough schools.

Perhaps the worst consequence is the trauma caused by having actually witnessed and experienced violence. In some places, for instance, children were forced to watch their father being tortured or their mother being raped. That memory will be hard to erase. Children need trauma counselling too.

But children experience the war in other ways as well. "Gang-wars" among teenage groups, often ignited by political parties, are increasing. More and more children are moving onto the streets of Jakarta and other cities. And as we have indicated earlier, 60% of people directly involved in the conflict are young people.

JAKARTA: Closing session with church and NGO women

Our final meeting in Jakarta was with a group of women from a cross-section of church-related Jakarta groups and NGOs invited by the PGI Women's Programme. After a prayer by one of the first women to be ordained in Jakarta, we shared our preliminary thoughts about our visits to Ambon, East Timor, and Jakarta.

Septemmy Lakawa, an Indonesian woman theologian said women were still in shock and feel helpless. She said that what is needed is a new theological metaphor for women, a new image of women and of the female body. When a woman says, "I am ready to be raped, ready to kill him, so long as my daughter is not touched", does not this question the Christian principle that killing is a sin? The silence of the church and of government makes things even more difficult for us as women. We do not yet have a language to express what we feel and understand about what happened to us. We don't know how to name the situation. We must educate women that we have a right to live, a right to build for ourselves a new metaphor for women.

We heard that many raped women are in a bad state because of lack of counselling. Some of them have given birth, but the government has chosen to ignore them, and denies that rapes took place during the riots!

We heard about a crisis centre in Jakarta called Sabahat Peduli, (Friends who care).It was set up by an interfaith coalition of women's groups. The psychology department of the University has also set up a support structure for women victims of violence. They provide a hotline service for victims of rape, prostitution and also of domestic violence. They play an advocacy role and provide counselling services. These efforts are important because they go beyond any one religious group. Aware of the urgent need to train counsellors, the University is undertaking this. They work closely with the church women's network and other religious groups. This coalition needs to be strengthened and church women should network with other NGOS locally, nationally, regionally and internationally in order to work for reconciliation.

One woman said that after 33 years of state violence against people, there seems to be a shift to people-to-people violence. This is more difficult to tackle. The church must be more articulate in defence of human rights and needs to take a bolder political position.

It was recognised that although Christian women are a minority, Muslim women also suffer. In Aceh, religious leaders and the army blocked access to the Muslim women. It is here that work with inter-faith groups such as Sabahat Peduli becomes important. Christian women need to recognise that their story is our story too.

They also said that the present crisis must not divert attention from other concerns. Among other issues raised were:

  • the very patriarchal state, family and social structures
  • the economic crisis, which continues to place tremendous burdens on women, and which sparked off much of the trouble last year
  • "tawuran pelajar" (gang wars) between student groups, provoked by political groups
  • -an increasing number of street children
  • the plight of Indonesian migrant women in other Asian and Middle Eastern countries, and the exploitation of women on Batam Island
  • domestic violence
  • -the challenge of the Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women and the many issues that remain.


1. We call on the WCC, the CCA, member churches, agencies and all concerned to continue to support the PGI, its member churches and Christians in Indonesia and East Timor, who are struggling to respond to the complex situation in which they find themselves. They need our solidarity, and resources, to continue thir work.

2. We call on the WCC, the CCA, member churches and all concerned to continue their support to the refugees and internally displaced people in different parts of Indonesia and East Timor. We urge that special attention be paid to the plight of women and children, who bear the main brunt of the crisis and its aftermath.

3. We call on the WCC and the CCA to continue to challenge governments, through the UN and related bodies, to condemn state-sponsored violence against women, and particularly the use of rape as a weapon in war and conflict. We saw how rape is used as a form of intimidation to suppress and silence whole communities. This must be roundly condemned, and stopped.

4. We call on the WCC, the CCA and churches to provide resources and facilities for trauma counselling, by supporting crisis centres; pastoral counselling centres, inter-faith counselling and training, in particular of women survivors of the violence.

5. We call on support for the PGI Women's Programme which has initiated excellent work in many troubled parts of Jakarta, Ambon, East Timor and other parts of the islands, to provide training for women for empowerment, and for reconciliation and justice. We commend the work of the PGI Women's Committee in providing shelter, counselling and support to women survivors of the violence.

6. We call on the world community to join us in prayer for the women and children and men of these troubled islands. A worship order for the World Day of Prayer 2000 has been prepared by Indonesian women under the theme Talitha Cumi -Young Woman Arise.The women of Indonesia urge us as we pray to remember them in this time of struggle, and not to forget them after the year 2000.

Appreciation and thanks

Our special thanks go to the general secretary of the PGI, Rev. Dr Joseph Pattiasina, to the programme executive of the PGI Women's Programme, Rev. Lily Danes, and to Ms Stien Jalil of the PGI for their careful planning of our programme in Jakarta, Ambon and East Timor. We also express our thanks to the GKTT in East Timor and the GPM in Ambon for their support.

As a team, we are grateful to everyone we met and spoke to for their willingness to share their understanding of what is going on with us. We thank all the women who courageously told us their stories of violence and pain, and gave us their perspectives on what is happening.

We came to Indonesia and East Timor to listen, to show the women there that we care. As a team, we left deeply moved by our experience, and strongly committed to transmitting the stories we had heard to anyone and everyone who cares to listen and respond.

As reported by the women-to-women team
1 July 1999


Timor Timur,
Beautiful island
Deeply wounded soul!
Your mountains, your forests woven with horrendous memories,
Your sparkling white shores, strewn with the sounds of pain,
Timor Timur
Beautiful island, symbol of abundant life
Speak to us!

Dina, Amina, Mery, Ilda
Beautiful wanita*
Deeply wounded souls!
Your bodies, your hearts woven with unthinkable and brutal scars,
Your voices, your eyes, strewn with tears, pools of fear,
Dina, Amina, Mery, Ilda
Beautiful women of the distant hills,
Speak to us!

Marlene, Bernadette, Clara, Clementine
Beautiful wanita,
Amazingly brave souls,
Your selfless service woven with compassion for the helpless,
Your commitment to the people strewn with passion and hope,
Marlene, Bernadette, Clara, Clementine,
Beautiful women of these great islands,
Share with us your capacity to love!

Ita, Dika, Tati, Maya,
Beautiful wanita,
Amazingly brave souls,
Your soft, strong voices woven with strands of courage,
Your determined resistance strewn with gentle fire,
Ita, Dika, Tati, Maya,
Beautiful women of these great islands,
Share with us your power!

Aruna Gnanadason
29 June 1999

*wanita -woman

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© 1999 world council of churches remarks to webeditor