In Indonesia, women face harassment every day

In Jakarta, Indonesia, street harassment impacts women’s lives every day. Like many countries, in Indonesia there is no legal regulation against street harassment, perpetrators claim they think they are doing women no harm, and women have been conditioned to stay silent about it. Combined, it means street harassment makes life hell for women when they’re on the streets, taking public transportation, and driving their own cars.

Two experts quoted for the  Jakarta Post give more insight into the problem and share their opinions about what needs to change:

“Women feel humiliated even though wolf whistles, cat calls and other sexual comments were not physical sexual harassment, said Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) chairwoman.

A culture of sexual harassment in Indonesia is nurtured by both genders, Yuniyanti said. ‘Patriarchal culture is not an excuse for both genders to justify such harassment,’ she added…

Legal expert and activist Rita Serena Kolibonso said that there were no adequate laws against such offenses. ‘Our law is weak in relation to sexual harassment,’ she said…

‘We need a strong and binding law on sexual harassment, including those forms of small offenses like intimidating verbal gesture. We could propose an independent law or integrate sexual harassment into existing the Criminal Code, only if it explicitly specifies the offenses,’  she said.”

Two thoughts jumped at me after reading these quotes.

First, Chuzaifah makes an interesting point that while gender-based street harassers are primarily men, both women and men can contribute to its occurrence. It’s clear how men do – by engaging in harassment and not stopping other men from doing it – but what about women?

There are a few ways. Some women argue that it’s complimentary when men say inappropriate comments to them. Others slut-shame and say, “What do women expect with their low cut tops?” Others don’t speak out when their sons or brothers or uncles or male friends harass women. And some women do great damage by telling girls and other women that the harassment is their fault, demand they cover up, or admonish them to learn to take a compliment. None of those opinions or behaviors will ever help end street harassment.

Second, I hope activists and lawmakers will work to incorporate sexual harassment in current criminal laws in Indonesia, as Kolibonso suggests. The more often people talk about it and say there’s a need for it, the more likely it is that change will occur. That’s what’s been happening in Egypt, and maybe one day that’s what will happen in the US, too.

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