The Fault in Traditional and Formal Approaches to Domestic Violence: A Call for Reform in West Sumatra

Ratih Lestarini, Dianwidhi Michelle Pranoto, Tirtaweng Tirtawening

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The number of domestic violence cases against women increases every year and is a constant occurrence in almost all of Indonesia’s provinces. Instead of being a ‘home sweet home’, the homes of domestically abused women become their realized nightmare. Domestic violence occurs not only in patrilineal societies, but also in societies that adopt a matrilineal system. This becomes a contradiction as it is expected that a matrilineal system would enable women to occupy a higher social and economic status than men, thus affording them more leverage in the domestic realm. In fact, data shows that domestic violence in West Sumatra, inhabited by the matrilineal Minangkabau society, is prevalent. Considering the dominance of customs (adat) in Minangkabau, this paper studies the resolution of domestic violence by focusing on the plurality of legal orders in West Sumatra, especially the Tanah Datar district. With prior knowledge on the co-existence of adat and State law, this research questions the roles that each system plays in providing protection and access to justice for women victims of domestic abuse, especially since the enactment of the national Law on the Eradication of Domestic Violence in 2004. The Minangkabau society is famous for having traditional institutions that are given the authority to deal with domestic problems and this autonomy has a big chance of jeopardizing women victims’ safety by inhibiting access to the legal assistance they need. Through a socio-legal studies research, this paper presents the findings of field research in Tanah Datar district involving adat, religion and State actors. This paper concludes that a major institutional reform is the necessary measure to take in order to provide women victims the safety, autonomy and justice they deserve.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-165
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of International Women's Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Customary institution
  • Domestic violence
  • Legal pluralism
  • West Sumatra
  • Women


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