Indonesian mayor adamant on imposing curfew policy for women

Women in the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh have been banned from venues like cafes and sports halls after dark for their own "protection", the city's mayor said.

Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal has reiterated that the local administration's recent policy to impose a partial curfew for local women is necessary to ensure their safety and prevent exploitation.

Illiza, the first woman mayor of Aceh's capital city, issued last week a formal instruction ordering owners of local venues, including cafes, Internet cafes and entertainment centres, to not allow women to work in their venues after 11 p.m.

The instruction also ordered such venues to not serve women after 11 p.m. unless they were accompanied by their husbands or other male family members.

Illiza, however, denied that the work restriction was discriminatory and would pose a threat to women's freedom.

"We actually emphasise this rule to business owners who employ women so that they do not ask them to work until late," she said on Wednesday.

"In my personal view, such a regulation cannot be considered as a curfew [policy]. Instead, it is intended to limit the activities of women employees who usually work until late in cafes or other entertainment venues."

Illiza said the policy had been issued as a follow-up to a similar instruction circulated earlier by Aceh's governor to the province's 23 regional administration heads.

The Aceh governor's instruction on the curbing of cafes and Internet services, which was referred to by Illiza, orders business owners to obey several rules, including temporarily stopping their operations before maghrib (dusk prayer), advising their customers to perform prayers and not allowing women employees to stay after 9 p.m.

Cafe owners are also not allowed to use dim lighting in their venues as a way to prevent sexual misconduct.

Illiza said the local administration would revoke the business permits of venues that violated the instruction.

"We are trying to protect women employees so they are not exploited by business owners," she said.

Aceh is the country's only province that implements Islamic law. The central government granted the province the right to implement its version of sharia in 2006 as part of a peace deal to end a long-standing separatist war.

Fitri, a female employee from Banda Aceh, supported the mayor's policy.

"Women should not work until late since it will make them vulnerable to becoming victims of crime," she said.

Fitri, however, urged the local administration to detail the specific jobs that were subject to the new regulation.

"It is needed to make sure that not all women are banned from working at night since certain jobs have their own nature," she said.

Local researcher Saiful from Syiah Kuala University's Center for Gender Studies, meanwhile, criticised the instruction, saying that the local administration must come up with an integrated policy to improve women's safety in Banda Aceh, one of the province's largest and busiest cities.

"The administration, for example, must require business owners to provide supporting facilities for their women employees, particularly those who work night shifts," he said.

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