Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla's remarks at a tourism marketing seminar on Wednesday, June 28, 2006, have drawn on onslaught of stern criticism from various circles, and an apology and clarification from the Nation's second highest executive.
The controversial comments by the Vice President and reported in the Jakarta Post, said he would not object if many Middle East tourists chose to visit the West Javanese hillside area of Puncak and made "short-term" marriage contracts with local widows and divorcees. Continuing with the theme, Kalla said it would be matter of little consequence if these temporary unions resulted in offspring; children, who according to the Vice President, would posses a better genetic heredity and the physical endowments needed to become successful TV and film actors.
A Torrent of Criticism
Two days after the Vice-President’s comments, on Friday, June 30, 2006, the Caucus of Women Parliamentarians for Human Rights joined eight other women's organizations in roundly condemning Kalla, saying his comments degraded and defiled Indonesian women.
According to Tunggal Pawestri, the Chief of Division for Women and Elections for Central Election Reform (Cetro), quoted in the Indonesian language Kompas: "As regards the protection of women, the statements by the Vice President are entirely inappropriate, and demonstrate a racialist strain because these suggest that genes and parentage should determine participation in television serials. He (the Vice President) does not have a thoughtful appreciation for the problems of poverty and its connection to causing women to become objects for sex-based tourism."
In a press conference called by the Caucus of Women Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Jusuf Kalla's remarks were claimed to have reduced the humanity of women, making them a commodity in an underhanded sexual transaction, acts specifically outlawed under the marriage laws of 1974.
The Caucus further crticized Kalla's statements, saying they were out of step with efforts by the House of Representatives (DPR) to formulate legislation to halt the illegal trade in women. According to the Caucus members speaking at the press conference, Indonesia is on the watch list for its poor record in preventing the commercial exploitation of women and children.
Indonesia is a signatory to an international treaty against transnational organized crime and the trade in humans.
Joining the Caucus of Women Parliamentarians for Human Rights in signing a statement condemning the Vice President's statement were 15 female members of the DPR representing three major parties.
Eva Sunardi, a Parliamentarian from the People Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said the she would reject those who suggest the Vice President's comments were merely a "joke." Sunardi commented: "This is not a joke, but defilement. How can the humanity of women become material for a joke when women are reduced to a mere commodity?"
The Vice President Responds
Responding the torrent of harsh criticism his comments evoked, Vice President Jusuf Kalla told the press that his "off-the-cuff" remarks were never meant to be taken seriously.
Quoted in the Jakarta Post, the VP said: "My message at that time was that we should seek other alternatives to lure Middle Eastern tourists to Bali, Yogyakarta and Sumatra by trying to change the way the image that Puncak is always a destination for them . . . I never said that I support the use of women (to attract Arab tourists). I am just trying to encourage the use of other ways of attracting tourists that what is practiced in Puncak."
Muchlish Hasyim, Media and Press Advisor to the Vice President, said the Vice President wished to apologize if his remarks offended anyone.
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