By Beh Lih Yi
JAKARTA, April 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One third of Indonesian women have faced physical or sexual violence, according to new government data, prompting calls by a United Nations agency for urgent action to protect women.
The government's first national survey on violence against women showed 33 percent of women aged between 15 and 64 - around 26 million people - said they have faced abuse in their lives.
Cases of violence are most common among women who have received higher education and those who live in urban area, according to the survey released in late March.
"The survey findings are sobering. It shows that violence against women occurs around us," Annette Robertson, head of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) in Indonesia told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The issue of violence against women hit the headlines in Indonesia last year after a schoolgirl was gang-raped and murdered, sparking public uproar and leading to the introduction of tougher punishments for sex offenders.
"Violence against women is a human rights violation and rooted in gender inequality. It deprives women and girls of the chance to enjoy a dignified life and present and future opportunities to live up to their full potential," Robertson said.
The government's survey has been welcomed by women's rights campaigners as a way to tackle and address the root causes of violence against women in Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous nation with 250 million people.
Women's groups in the country have long said a lack of comprehensive data hampered education and prevention of violence, making it harder to reflect the prevalence of the crime.
The government is due to release further findings and analysis of the survey in June.
Indonesia was ranked 88th out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2016 Gender Gap Index after scoring poorly on economic participation, education and political empowerment.
While Indonesia's economy has raced ahead over the past decade, critics say old-fashioned social attitudes persist and women are often subject to scrutiny about their behaviour.
The UNFPA, which has helped the government carry out the survey, urged action from authorities and communities, saying failure to act could cost the country, including through productivity losses.
Robertson cited a previous study in Vietnam which showed women survivors of violence earned 35 percent less than women who are not abused.
"Silence and non-action are not an option. The stakes are high," she said.
Globally, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence, according to the U.N. Women agency.
Women who have been physically or sexually abused are more likely to have an abortion, experience depression, or get HIV, the group said.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Belinda Goldsmtih; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)