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Irna Susrianti: Being a human rights defender for persons with disabilities, in Aceh Indonesia

Irna is a 35-year-old human rights defender from Aceh province of Indonesia - the only Indonesian province where Sharia Law governs many aspects of life. She works as the General Manager of a social enterprise that seeks to bring sustainability to coconut farming in Aceh. In her free time, she closely works with Communication Forum of Special Needs Community (CFSNC) and Young Women Unit (YWU) organisations as a Program Supervisor, supporting the rights of women and disabled people in Aceh.

Aceh is a region still suffering from the legacy of the war with Indonesia and the 2004 tsunami, which left many people with disabilities.

The challenge she is confronting in her work is that the organisations that support differently-abled individuals do not apply a gender perspective in their work. Women’s rights organisations, on the other hand, focus heavily on gender but do not integrate differently-abled individuals in their programs and advocacy activities. Many differently-abled people experience sexual violence, and their protection is neither covered by the organisations dealing with women’s rights nor those handling concerns of differently-abled individuals. Additionally, disabled individuals who experienced sexual violence do not usually come from families who have the power to bring their issues forward.

She is working to bridge this gap by implementing a provincial action plan that centers the accessibility for differently-abled women within the legal framework. She is taking no this challenge because access to justice is a basic human right and should be guaranteed for all not just in letter, but also in spirit. Irna is doing this with the support of SAHR and in solidarity with other organisations.


What motivates you?

It is very important for me to bring what we learn from international practices to the community, local people and local government. Only a minority of activists in Indonesia speak English and can attend international training and events. But many of these activists do not engage with persons of disabilities or activists in the community. This is one of several reasons for me to keep pushing local communities and women activists, so that they can learn from international best practices, even if they cannot speak English.

My nephew is studying for a law degree in Islamic law. He just finished his bachelor thesis on Shariah law on sexual violence and rape in Islamic courts. I read his research and I was surprised. It is interesting to see my own nephew discussing these things with me as men in Aceh do not study law to go down that path. Most people who study law want to be regular lawyers or judges, but they don’t want to make any difference. I am proud of him and I want to support on this path. This is the change I see which motivates me.

What is the main takeaway from your work?

When we support women’s rights, we need to engage with women’s rights activists and persons with disabilities activists. When we go to the government to advocate, we should go together and support the same issues. Then, the government becomes more agreeable to our suggestions. To make it easier for us, we need to do it with our other fellow activists.


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