At Women's March Jakarta, a Thousand Reasons to Fight

Last weekend, people from different walks of life marched the streets of Jakarta to fight against every injustice, from violence against women to homophobia.
March 5, 2018, 1:00pm
At Women's March Jakarta, a Thousand Reasons to Fight
All photos by Firman Dicho

On Saturday, over a thousand people gathered in Central Jakarta to march for equality. That morning, people came bearing colorful and clever signs, and many of them are responses to the proposed revision of the Indonesia's Criminal Code.

Several articles in the Criminal Code could potentially criminalize rape victims and the country's already repressed LGBT community. Fortunately, the controversial proposal failed to pass at the House of Representatives meeting last month. But still, the threat to freedom and equality of Indonesia's minority groups still looms. As a nationwide campaign, Women's March in Indonesia has eight main demands, including an end to discrimination that is based on gender, sexuality, and disability. The march was organized in 13 cities in Indonesia, from Jakarta to Sumba.


VICE went to the streets of Jakarta to find out the various reasons why people showed up to the march, and what can Indonesians do to achieve true equality.

Sianawati Sunarto (66) and Nina Hidayat (29)


VICE: Hi Sianawati, how does it feel to be a woman in Indonesia in 2018?
Sianawati: Since when I was young, there have been big changes. But the pressure is bigger, too. Now [women] realize that we can do more things we couldn't do before, but men aren’t exactly supportive of that because they feel threatened. They feel like their masculinity is attacked. But that’s not what we meant. I mean, we can just cooperate.

What about you, Nina?
Nina: I am more privileged because I grew up in a family with a lot of "girl power." From my mother’s side of family, all of her siblings are women, and all of the are independent. I’ve seen those examples since I was a kid. So I knew that we could be whoever we want. At the workplace, because I work at an urban media company, the sexism isn’t very blatant. Unlike in the streets. Maybe because I’m of Chinese descent, I get catcalled a lot. I've been groped on the streets, too. And this is something I keep experiencing since I was a kid.

How do you think we should overcome it?
The first time I overcame the issue was when I started to speak up about street harassment. When I was in university, there’s an NGO that visited my campus that asked us to tell our stories as women. It was the first time I talked about street harassment, and that’s what helped me recover from the trauma I experienced in the past 10 years.

Dea Satira (25)


VICE: Can you tell me about your outfit? What does it mean?
Dea: This is my way to say that feminism doesn’t come from the West, it’s been here since a long time ago. The values that put women as noble, as a leader, fighter, queen, have been here all along. So don’t say that feminism comes from the West. The term might be coined in the West, but the values are here. For example, the person who coined the slogan bhinneka tunggal ika, is a woman. Her name is Gayatri Rajapatni. If you dig deeper, what she talked about has to do with intersectional feminism, feminism that include all women from all backgrounds. So it’s been here all along.

Neno (29)


VICE: Hi Neno! What’s your take on the revised Criminal Code?
Neno: I want the Criminal Code to protect women. Because if you look at the draft, it’s obvious that it puts women in a vulnerable position. It encourages persecution. Let's take a victim of rape as an example. The victim carries a psychological burden, and if the law doesn’t help, the rapist could freely walk away. The law doesn’t protect victims of sexual assaults. For example, if someone is threatened, she reports it to the police. But then the police doesn’t take the report seriously. When in fact a threat of sexual assault is not very different from rape. So there has to be a more comprehensive law to protect women.

Sisi (32)


VICE: Hi, can you explain to me what you’d like to say with your sign?
Sisi: We want sex workers in Indonesia to be treated fairly, like the ones in United States, for example. In the US, sex workers are given the chance to get health screenings. Meanwhile here sex workers are seen as sinners. So their rights, especially when it comes to health, are overlooked… And the pimps are asshole. These pimps show up at villages, lend money to a girl’s parents and then in return the daughter has to work for it. The interest is big, so these girls have to work at hotels. They work hard, and after all the cuts they only bring home about Rp 50,000 [$3.63 USD]. We hope people will support the rights of our sex workers, to see their job as any other. They have the rights to be healthy. I hope we can create awareness by coming here.

Uti (31) and Dimmi (29)


VICE: I haven’t seen anyone getting specific about hijab issues until I see your sign. Can you elaborate?
Uti: People love to tell women how to dress. For example, people don’t tell men not to rape but they tell women how to dress, to cover up, to look modest. When in fact women should hold authority over their own bodies. They should be free to express what they want. So I think the state and people don’t have the right to regulate women’s bodies. And then people also like to differentiate those who wear hijab and those who don’t. What we wear is a part of our identity, but it’s not a tool to judge other people.

How do you explain your values and stance to your family?
Uti: It's really hard. People believe that teaching your own family is the hardest. My approach to religion is to each their own. So I think when it comes to these issues, we should just explain to people, we don’t have to argue. Discussion is important and we don’t always have to agree in the end. But the point is not to understand each other, but more about accepting each other’s decision.

Noval (20) and Fajar (26)


VICE: Hi there! What's your sign about?
Fajar: The most important issue right now is the revised Criminal Code. It’s the most pressing issue for us. That’s the number one demand that we’re trying to get through from this march, because it involves everyone’s life. If it passes the law, everyone will definitely go to jail.

Noval: Especially for vulnerable people like us.


The members of the House of Representatives who discussed about the Criminal Code rarely invited the very groups they want to control, especially for the LGBT community. What’s your opinion on it?
Fajar: I think it always happens in every government. For example, in the US, politicians who create laws that affect all women are men, and they're mostly white. We know how the government works, and I think it’s hard to change it. For me, this Women’s March shows that we as Indonesians should take real action if we want change.

Noval: The House of Representatives is no longer the people’s representatives.

If the revised Criminal Code is passed, what would you do?
Fajar: We're gonna keep on fighting. Maybe with a judicial review? There are ways to fight against it. The LGBT community in Indonesia is afraid about this Criminal Code, and some may flee to other countries. But how about those who can’t do that? What if they like living here? When the LGBT community fight for their rights, it’s not all about marriage. We just want to have the freedom to live.

Alce Makanuay (38)


VICE: What made you come here?
Alce: I work in a public health center in Jayapura. We take care of women and children who are victims of abuse. It’s kind of difficult for us because of the existing customs. When a woman marries, her family is given money by the man's parents. So the husband has full power on the wife. He can do whatever he wants to the woman.

Another problem is that women are economically dependent on men. So when a case of abuse is being processed by the police, they will cancel the report. They'll think, "What would happen to them if their husband is in jail? What will happen to the children?" Another reason why it's difficult to stop violence against women is that we think it’s a shame to talk about it. So women keep it to themselves and they reach out to others.

How bad is the violence against women and children in Jayapura?
Well, there is physical violence, but mostly it's verbal. People think that it’s normal, but it’s not. For children, the case of sexual violence is very high here. Parents also beat their children. There are also pregnant women who still have to work, while the husband does nothing at home. There are so many cases like that in Papua.

How many reports do you get a month?
It varies at the health center. Sometimes 10, sometimes 15. There are more who are afraid to report it. It’s like an iceberg.