Activists want virginity tests and religious discrimination to lead the agenda when President Barack Obama meets with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday in Washington, D.C.
But Obama, who spent some of his childhood in Indonesia’s capital city, plans to talk mostly about trade, defense and climate cooperation. It’s Joko’s first trip to the White House since he won office in 2014, though the leaders met in Beijing shortly after the Indonesian president’s election.
Women are forced to strip naked and undergo a “virginity test” if they want to join the military or marry a soldier. Activists want Obama to urge Joko to stop the examinations.
“President Jokowi isn’t responsible for the flurry of regulations harming women’s rights, but he is now best positioned to do something about it,” John Sifton, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, referring to the Indonesian president by his nickname. “President Obama should stress the importance of tackling Indonesia’s restrictions and discrimination against women and girls before it gets worse.”
The World Health Organization has said there is “no scientific validity” to so-called virginity tests, which are also known as “two-finger” tests.
The test — during which an examiner inserts two fingers into the woman’s vagina to check whether the hymen is unbroken — violates several international human rights agreements meant to stop degrading practices, according to Human Rights Watch. They point to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Indonesia has ratified.
Radical Islamic groups also pose a threat in the Muslim-majority nation.
Extremists wielding machetes destroyed at least two Christian churches in northern Indonesia earlier this week, forcing soldiers and police to defend parishioners as they mourned their places of worship.
Attacks on religious minorities are less frequent under Joko, according to Human Rights Watch. But the president hasn’t helped re-open or rebuild churches that were closed or demolished before he was elected.
The group wants Joko to eliminate a 2006 regulation that effectively forces religious minorities to ask the Sunni-Muslim majority for permission to build a new church or mosque.
The rule has only clipped the rights of religious minorities, according to activists.