Kamala Chandrakirana (born 1960) became involved in the women’s movement when she joined a volunteer group established to respond to the May 1998 riots. That same year, she became Secretary General of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, set up by the government under pressure from the women’s movement. The commission is engaged in policy and legal reform at national level to ensure state responsibility for the elimination of violence against women. Having been Secretary General from 1998-2003, Kamala is currently the Chairperson of the Commission.
In 1998, following the brutal rape of Chinese-Indonesian women during the May riots, a group of women activists met with Indonesian President B.J. Habibie to demand state responsibility for the violence against women that had occurred in a number of cities. Kamala Chandrakirana, who was present at that historic event, recalls: "This meeting was set following the President’s statement that saving Indonesia’s economy was more important than the fate of the 100 women raped." So she was quite astonished that, "After listening to the testimonies of several of the victims’ counselors, the President was convinced that his leadership was needed by women and that he should take a firm stand concerning the violence against women which occurred in the May tragedy by condemning what happened." The women also demanded that an investigation into the violence against women during the riots be part of the mandate of the official investigating team appointed by the President. Finally, they demanded that the President take proactive measures to respond to all forms of violence against women throughout the country. "The National Commission on Violence Against Women was established for the latter," explains Kamala who was appointed the first Secretary General of the Commission. She recalls the long negotiations between the women and Habibie about the independence of the Commission, its name, position and membership. And the women won the day. In the end, the President compromised. The Commission was established as an independent body with independent membership. As Chairperson of the Commission, Kamala is recognized for her ability to strengthen networks with local groups and increase solidarity among women’s rights and human rights activists. She has inspired the new generation of women activists and has become a role model for tireless commitment and dedication.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women