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Cablegate: West Aceh's Tight Pants Law Loosened Up

VZCZCXRO3179
PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHJA #0023 0080803
ZNR UUUUU ZZHQ
P 080803Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY JAKARTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4254
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS COLL
RUEHHE/AMEMBASSY HELSINKI 0969
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 3699
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 3495
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

UNCLAS JAKARTA 000023

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MTS, INR/EAP
DEPARTMENT PLEASE PASS AID
USAID FOR ANE/EAA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI ID
SUBJECT: WEST ACEH'S TIGHT PANTS LAW LOOSENED UP

REFERENCES: Jakarta 1569 and previous

1. (U) This cable is Sensitive but Unclassified. Please handle
accordingly. This message was coordinated with Embassy Jakarta.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: A local Shariah edict in West Aceh District
banning women from wearing pants which will go into effect in
February has been softened due to community pressure to relax the
controversial rule. In response to public outcry, West Aceh Regent
Ramli Mansur decided that loose pants are morally acceptable. While
the vast majority of West Acehnese found the current trend of
skintight pants offensive, many men and women objected to the
government dictating how women can dress. END SUMMARY.
3. (SBU) West Aceh District Regent Ramli Mansur made international
news in October when he announced that women in his backwater
coastal part of Aceh would be banned from wearing pants beginning in
January 2010. He told the media that Muslim women caught with their
pants on would be subject to detention by Shariah police. Police
would cut off the pants with scissors and issue long skirts. The
law does not apply to non-Muslims, although skimpy clothing remains
unacceptable for anyone, including men. As early as October,
religious police began setting up posts at all major roads into the
district capital of Meulaboh, warning women who wore pants.
Non-Muslim women wearing pants complained that they were being
turned away from government services, including hospitals.

4. (SBU) In Aceh, where women have traditionally worn the pants in
the family, this edict did not sit well. Since ancient times,
Acehnese women have had a proud history of fighting next to their
men and sitting on the throne of power. In some recent cases when
religious police pulled over motorcycles to warn women against
wearing pants, husbands or boyfriends pulled out machetes, daring
police to lay a finger on their partners.

5. (SBU) Mansur's motivation was a combination of his traditional
rural upbringing, pressure from a small minority of conservative
clerics, and political opportunism under the premise that moral
values win votes. However, soon after he issued the edict (qanun),
he began soft peddling it in the face of negative local, national
and international attention. In a November meeting with ConGen
Medan, he said loose pants might be acceptable and that pants would
not be cut off. He added that he did not feel that strongly about
pants himself but was getting heat from religious leaders. ConGen
told Mansur that the edict has given Aceh and Indonesia a very
unwelcoming name, and that the law will drive away not only
international tourists and investors but even those from other parts
of Indonesia, where most women wear pants.

6. (SBU) Discussions with men and women from all walks of life in
Meulaboh revealed that the pants law was on everyone's mind and that
feelings were ambivalent. Even young female university students and
women's rights activists told us that the style now sweeping
Indonesia of skintight, low-slung jeans was in bad taste. However,
many also said moral suasion would be more effective than
proscription. Young women said the law would make it difficult to
ride motorcycles, while young people joked about how girls would
need to hike up their skirts to mount motorcycles. Along with tight
pants, many had become concerned about widespread smooching on
public beaches before the current Regent began cracking down.

7. (SBU) In a talk with a hundred students at West Sumatra's only
university, questions focused on the U.S. reaction to the edict.
They nodded solemnly when ConGen told them about the negative impact
and how in the U.S. community values determine modes of fashion
rather than laws. Three sub-district heads who work directly under
Mansur were very concerned when we told them how the edict could
hurt the West Aceh economy. One whispered to our Indonesian
political assistant that he thought the edict was "stupid." They
pleaded with ConGen to tell Mansur that the edict was a bad idea.

8. (SBU) Public reservations were airedQ a December seminar to
solicit community input. As a result of this meeting, the law was
eased to allow women to wear loose pants provided they also wear a
long shirt which hides their feminine form. When the final proposed
law was announced in late December, negative public reaction was
minimal, media and activists told us. The local Parliament still
has to review and pass the law, which is expected to begin
implementation in February. The latest report from West Aceh is
that loose pants and skirts now prevail.

HUME

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