Domestic violence has long been an adversity, which many women have to endure and even accept, especially in places where patriarchy reigns. Unlike other forms of violence against women, domestic violence is particularly special because of its private and sensitive nature. In the island of Rote in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, domestic violence is a serious social and cultural issue. People in Rote continue to practice their customary laws despite formal state laws that offer better justice for victims, at least from the perspective of women’s rights and feminism. This article elaborates on customary laws used to settle domestic violence cases in Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. The research is structured into three parts. The first part discusses the existing formal state laws and analyzes its norms against the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the second part highlights the culture and domestic violence in Rote Island, and the third part explores the three choices of laws used in Rote Island to resolve cases of domestic violence, within it also the discussion of how these laws coexist in that regard. Stories of these settlements were gained through qualitative research in Rote. Semi-structured interviews were conducted towards women, church leaders, maneleo (the head of clan who acts as a medium for parties in dispute), and adat (traditional cultural group) members. Focus Group Discussions (FGD) were conducted prior to the interviews to gain general knowledge of the customary practices on the island. It was found that the belis (dowry system) in Rote implies that women are required to obey the men because by belis the men have “bought” the women. The belis strengthens the patriarchal culture in East Nusa Tenggara in general and in Rote Island. The findings of this paper also show that customary law and church law are the communities’ first option when it comes to resolving cases of domestic violence, although the formal state law normatively offers better protection and justice for victims.

Author Biography

Ratih Lestarini is a lecturer in Department of Law, Society and Development, Faculty of Law, Universitas Indonesia. Her research includes matters of access to justice regarding violence against women and children within the framework of Indonesia’s national and customary laws across different cities including Malang, Padang, Kupang, Atambua, Waingapu, Rote, and Bajawa; the legal protection for women environmental activists in urban areas; and the settlement of land disputes, to name a few.

Herdis Herdiansyah is a lecturer in School of Environmental Science, Universitas Indonesia. His research focuses on the environment and social science, systems of thinking, social conflict and environment, community engagement, and environment and human interaction.

Tirtawening Tirtawening is a lecturer in Department of Law, Society and Development Faculty of Law, Universitas Indonesia. She has conducted numerous researches since 2007, especially on access to justice issues regarding violence against women (on domestic violence in poor communities, on marriages, and on sexual violence in education institutions) and women workers (on flight attendants of Garuda, Indonesia, and on domestic migrant workers in United Arab Emirates).

Dianwidhi Michelle Pranoto is a student of Faculty of Law, Universitas Indonesia. Michelle, as she is known, is active in advocacy for the indigenous community of Indonesia and has volunteered for the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago. She has done several researches concerning the Indonesian indigenous community, especially regarding constitutional law from the perspective of indigenous customary law. She has written several papers on agrarian conflicts involving indigenous groups, access to justice for indigenous peoples, and the implications of the Village Act to indigenous communities.