Going by the mainstream media, you might imagine than #MeToo is not seen as a big issue in Indonesia. While the icons of Hollywood are being decimated and the British parliament is revealed as a hotbed of sexism, discrimination and booze-driven sexual assault, not so much has been said about the safety of women in Indonesian society. But turn to social media and the story is very different. The group Sisters in Danger stated that “3 women become victims of sexual violence EVERY 2 hours in Indonesia” – citing figures from the National Commission on Women’s Rights (Komnas Perempuan) and promoted campaigns such as #Song of Resistance. And of course there were the flippant comments such as PT ARBG Indonesia, who tweeted that “30 years ago a rich, female, film producer didn’t rape me and I’m still angry about it.”
Unlike the US, Britain and elsewhere, there have been no specific accusations. Women have stated they were abused but have seldom if ever named names. The only male to put his foot deeply into the mire was National Police chief Tito Karnavian, whose comments, described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as ‘shocking’, were in fact sparked by the mainstream media. His revelation in an interview with BBC Indonesia that officers routinely ask ‘sensitive’ questions of women who report sexual assault provoked widespread disgust. “Police sometimes have to ask the victim if they felt fine after being raped. Questions like these are very important. If I was raped, how did I feel during the rape? Was I comfortable? If I was comfortable, it’s not a rape,” he told the broadcaster.
Tito’s public ratings have taken a battering but his comments – which express the reality for victims of sexual crimes in Indonesia – reflect a far wider problem in which women are treated as second-class citizens by the country’s own institutions. And despite all the fuss, absolutely no-one in authority has spoken out to condemn sexism in society or demand that something be done about it.
But how would I know? I’m a man, albeit one who grew up in a Western cultural environment where it was essential to be SNAG – a sensitive New Age guy. I don’t subscribe to the attitude that if you can get away with something, why not do it. I have four daughters and am very aware of their right to security. Even so, just as no human being knows for sure what another human experiences, introducing gender difference into the equation makes it so much more difficult to fully understand another person’s experience. We assume other people experience the world like we do, but we can never be sure about that. We can never enter another person’s persona to understand their experience of ‘reality’.
So I asked a friend. Hera Diani is managing editor and co-founder of Magdalene, which describes itself as an Indonesia-based socially and politically progressive webmagazine. The situation, she says, is bad, indeed very bad. “It is pervasive, it is entrenched in the society, and it is worsened by the increasing religious conservatism. It penetrates every level of society regardless the financial status, and it is especially toxic in highly masculine institutions like the military and the police. We have a pervasive rape culture,” she states.
Magdalene, along with #MulaiBicara, conducted a survey to study the Komnas Perempuan finding on the incidence of sexual assault and found similar results. “The survey also showed that 93% of rape survivors don’t report their case to the police,” said Hera, adding that “you probably can guess why.” Being asked “were you comfortable?” is clearly one reason. “The root of the problem is patriarchal culture. Sexism can start at home, with clear division of gender roles between parents and among children. And then at school where teachers impose discrimination and sexism,” said Hera.
That means the problem is entrenched in society as a whole. Small wonder that women are so afraid when virtually every authority figure they know is infected with the virus of patriarchy, where a lack of respect for women is virtually second nature. The result is a succession of heinous crimes. Mass rapes and often murder of innocent girls are not uncommon. Foul as such crimes are, they are merely the visible tip of an iceberg of cases of cruelty to women simply because they are women.
What business can do Quite obviously, business has a responsibility to make sure that sexual abuse does not occur in the workplace. That rule has to be made common knowledge to all employees and any infringements need to be dealt with rapidly and without exception. Achieving a secure workplace for women will not however be easy. Security in its widest sense should mean that women also have equal opportunity to promotion within a company. Achieving a level playing field within a company will not mean that women can compete equally. If they have children, they will have to take the leading role in arranging domestic help, child care and all the myriad issues that arise for mothers, making it tough to be tough enough to muster the energy to fight inter-office wars as well.
It’s hard to see the situation anywhere in the world becoming perfect in terms of gender equality simply because of reproductive roles. But the stresses that this role imposes does not have to be maximized by male chauvinism, either in the home, the office or anywhere. At the least, the revelations that began with the accusations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein have snowballed, sparking a debate that the self-centered egos of men cannot entirely ignore and hopefully reflect on.
Far be it for a man to suggest solutions, at the least the government must do more. The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection is no doubt doing as much as it can, but the patriarchal society in which it operates limits its role. What is needed for the leaders of society – the president, vice president, ministers, senior officials, judges, military and police chiefs – to speak out and rid their fiefdoms of sexual harassment and discrimination. President Joko Widodo – or any aspiring candidate – might do well to act if it means winning over a full 50% of the voting public.