In a given year, one out of every million women in Indonesia is murdered, more often than not by a man they already knew at the time of their death. It's this jarring statistic that drove Australian researcher/ activist, to spend two years compiling instances of violence against women in Indonesia with a team of like-minded researchers.
Walton, who also contributes to VICE, spoke with us about how she compiled these figures, how they are likely only the tip of the iceberg, and how the media is falling short when it comes to giving this issue the attention it deserves.
VICE: What was the reason this research? Tell me how you found all this data.
Kate Walton: I started the Menghitung Pembunuhan Perempuan (MPP) project in early 2016. At the time, I was working for an international donor program that wanted to make a sub-program on violence against women. Then I got an idea to do the same because Indonesia still lacks data on violence against women cases. It wasn’t complicated actually. I didn’t work with police or other agencies. Me and other activists browsed the internet through Google News by using keywords like "pembunuhan perempuan," "perempuan tewas," "cewek tewas," et cetera.
It was surprising that most of these women, an estimated 50 percent, were killed by someone close to them.
Most of the murderers are family or friends of the victim. It can even be their husbands or boyfriends. I wasn’t surprised that it also happened in Indonesia. The reason varies, but the most basic reason is jealousy.
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Aside from jealousy, what else contributes to these deaths? Money problems? Psychological issues?
Indeed, those factors can influence someone to commit murder. But in these cases, misogyny and discrimination against women play a big role here.
How does misogyny play a role here?
One out of three women experiences abuse by her intimate partner in her lifetime. This includes physical, psychological, financial, and verbal abuse. This is dangerous because their intimate partners will try to overcome their insecurity by controlling them—by forbidding them to go out, for example, or not giving them money, or by being violent.
You found reports for more than 160 murders in a single year. Do you feel like you recorded all of deaths out there, or is this just a small sampling of what exists?
I’m absolutely sure that the MPP data is just the tip of the iceberg, not only because there are so many unreported cases, but also because cases that are reported rarely get covered by the news, or followed-up by the police due to lack of evidence or suspects, among other reasons. This is just a glimpse of violence against women in Indonesia.
And you found that when these murders actually hit the press, journalists often use sexist language in their reporting, like headlines that read, "pretty girl found dead."
It's such a shame. Media in Indonesia, but also all over the world, often covers murder cases with sexist or misogynistic language, especially in the headlines. They do that to attract readers. Words like, “pretty,” “sexy,” or “sweet” are often used, but it gets worse when the media (and the police and the government) blame the victims. This reflects how patriarchy is so ingrained in Indonesia.
How were most of these women killed?
The most common killing method is stabbing with sharp objects like knives, or scissors, or machetes. Forty-two percent of victims in 2017 were killed with this method. From this information we can tell that majority of murders aren’t premeditated, but ones that happen suddenly, usually a result of an argument or dispute.
What can government institutions, NGOs, and everyday people do to prevent these kinds of killings?
If what you meant is to change the culture that triggers killings of women, we still have a lot of homework. The simplest yet is for men to respect women like the humans they are. Women have the rights to live peacefully and safely, just like men. There shouldn’t be one gender more dominant in life, we all should help and complement each other. In a relationship, it means men and women should be open and willing to find the balance that works for them. So that nobody feels oppressed or disrespected.