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In late 2011, epidemiologist, writer and adventurer Elizabeth Pisani granted herself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country she has wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. She was on the road and the high seas for a year, covering dozens of islands in 27 provinces. This site records photos and musings from that journey and beyond. See more about the project


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Hiking skirts, not prices: diversion for Indonesian politicians

Indonesian ministers pose with mini-skirted golf caddies

Who should we arrest? Indonesian ministers pose with golf caddies in soon-to-be-illegal mini-skirts (Photo: Rakya Merdeka)

Indonesians think about sex, or at least search for it on the internet, more than most: Indonesian was the number one language for Google searches on sex last year, and the country ranked 6th overall in sex searches (the good fellow Moslems of Pakistan led the pack for the umpteenth year; indeed seven out of the top 10 sex-searchers are Moslem-majority nations). If the legislator caught with a long-lens camera watching porn in Indonesia’s national parliament is in any way representative, politicians are not immune from this obsession.

Indonesia’s government has reacted to the uncomfortable clash between its prudish self-image and its lascivious reality in the way that it deals with most of this culturally scattered nation’s manifold contradictions: legislate, then fail to enforce. The controversial anti-pornography bill was first passed in 2008. Many people, especially women who could be prosecuted under the law for exposing undefined body parts, were furious. The law was put on hold while civil rights groups argued in the country’s highest court that it was unconstitutional, in part because pornography was not clearly defined. Would the temple carvings of central Java and Bali have to be dismantled because they qualify as “erotic art works”, prohibited by the law for example? The constitutional court in 2010 ruled that the definition of pornography in the bill was just fine, and that the law should be enacted.

Ok, so now we’ve got the law, we can get on and ignore it. But earlier this month President Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono (SBY) put the controversy firmly back on the agenda, establishing an anti-porn task force to clarify the definition of porn (yes, the same definition ruled clear enough by the constitutional court) and implement the law. Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali has jumped in to the fray, saying that the task force will tell women how to dress, probably prohibiting them from wearing skirts above the knee. It is hard not to agree with House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Pramono Anung, who protested at a ban on mini skirts: “What we need to take care of are mini-brains and mini-morals,” he said. It’s worth noting that the legislator caught watching porn was from the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), which was one of the motors behind the drafting of the anti-pornography bill and which wastes no opportunity to preach to the nation about the importance of morality.

It seems more than likely that SBY resurrected this issue now because he is trying to distract attention from a (quite sensible but wildly unpopular) move to cut subsidies on fuel, as well as an ongoing corruption soap opera involving his own party.

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