The lead International Women’s Day banner, which read: “The Joint Women’s Movement Demand the Space to Live a Life That is Democratic, Prosperous, Equal and Free from Violence”. Photo by Gavin Height.


To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, up to a thousand people marched through Central Jakarta. They demanded the government act on violence and harassment of women.


Marchers expressed frustration about stalled deliberations in the legislature on the draft law on the elimination of sexual violence (RUU PKS). They are concerned that negotiations will have to start over when a new group of legislators are installed following the 17 April elections, further delaying the bill.


A broad range of groups and organisations participated in the march, including trade unions, organisations focused on sexual harassment and violence, sexual and gender minority groups, a church group, and many individuals who were marching for the first time.


One of them was Wuwun Widiawati, a former journalist and now an activist with Friends of Women and Children (SAPA) Indonesia.


First-time marcher Wuwun, in front of a police blockade that initially prevented the march from reaching the Presidential Palace. Police eventually stood aside and allowed the march to continue. Photo copyright Wuwun Widiawati.


“I am taking part in the IWD march because I feel that there is a lot of violence and injustice toward women and children in this country, such as the high number of underage or child marriages,” Wuwun said.


“I hope to add my voice to those demanding more action on these issues, so that the government follows up on the Constitutional Court’s recent decision and amends the 1974 Law on Marriage to make the minimum marriageable age 18 years for both men and women, and the legislature enacts the proposed draft law on the elimination of sexual violence.”


Jumisih, centre, with other union members. Photo by Gavin Height.


One of the IWD 2019 march organising committee members, Jumisih, who is also head of the Federation of Factory Workers (FBLP) and vice president of the Confederation of All-Indonesian Workers Unions (KSPSI), said it was important for FBLP to be involved, as most of its members are women and workplace harassment is a pervasive problem.


Labour union members had a variety of demands, including improved rights for female workers, strengthened protection of female migrant workers and their families, elimination of contract work and outsourcing and eradication of violence and discrimination towards female workers. Photo by Gavin Height.


Magdalena Sitorus, a commissioner at the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), said that existing laws do not adequately address sexual violence, and it was important to have specific legislation on the issue. Magdalena said that the Commission’s 2019 Annual Report showed that the highest numbers of cases of sexual violence occurred in the domestic sphere. It was vital the RUU PKS bill be passed in its current form, she said, to be able to address domestic violence.


National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) commissioner Magdalena Sitorus said sexual violence in Indonesia was “an emergency” and the bill on the eradication of sexual violence was urgently needed to address the issue. Photo by Gavin Height.


Some conservative Muslims and Islam-based political parties, such as the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), have rejected the bill and taken issue with its use of the term “power relations”, claiming it could be mistaken for “husband and wife relations”. Prominent conservative preacher Tengku Zulkarnain has been one of the most vocal opponents of the bill. He recently recanted part of his criticism of the bill over its apparent promotion of contraceptives to young people – after reading the bill in detail he acknowledged there were no such articles in the bill. However, he incensed gender activists again when he defended marital rape in a televised interview.


Both presidential candidates and their parties support the bill, but it remains to be seen if the impasse in the legislature will be resolved with the bill intact.


In addition to the IWD march, the now-annual Women’s March, organised in part by the social media-based collective Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group, will be held after the elections. Although the 2018 Women’s March was organised to coincide with International Women’s Day, organisers decided to postpone the march this year until after the elections, “to prevent it being politicised”. It will now be held on 27 April, Kartini Day.


Organisers said they wanted to reclaim Kartini Day, as it has become known for cooking and traditional clothes instead of its more political feminist message. Organisers said they also hoped that having multiple marches would build momentum to pressure legislators to pass the RUU PKS.


Vivi from anti-harassment group Hollaback Jakarta, and Ryan from LGBTI-rights focused organisation Arus Pelangi both commented that the benefits of street marches were that they brought diverse groups together in intersectional solidarity and were effective at attracting media attention.


“Our gender identity is not to be used for politics”. Photo by Gavin Height.


Once the march reached its final location of the “Park of Aspiration” in front of the Presidential Palace, activities included musical performances, poetry reading, and speeches about specific injustices against women.


Along with speeches and poetry readings, the IWD 2019 event also included musical performances. Photo by Gavin Height.


The Centre for Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Indonesia held a pop-up exhibition titled “At that time I…” (Saat Itu Aku…). The exhibition featured the clothing worn by sexual violence survivors when they were assaulted, along with their stories. Nadira from the centre said the exhibition was a visually powerful way to communicate survivors’ stories and a way to dispel the common myth that most assaults happen to girls and women wearing revealing clothing.


Nadira from the Centre of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University Indonesia with a piece from the ‘At that time I…’ (Saat Itu Aku…) exhibition. The exhibition featured the stories of survivors of sexual violence alongside the clothing they were wearing at the time of assault, such as this primary school uniform. A larger exhibition is being planned. Photo by Gavin Height.


Neqy from PerEMPUan (Women), an organisation focused on sexual harassment on public transport, said she believed recent increases in numbers of cases of public harassment were due to more women coming forward and speaking up. She added that passing the RUU PKS bill was vital to be able to address these cases adequately.


Meanwhile, Vivi from Hollaback Jakarta, said she thought although the government had largely failed to act, growing public discussions on sexual harassment and violence was leading to some positive change. For example, the soon-to-be-opened Jakarta MRT has engaged Hollaback to train its staff in how to handle incidents and reports of harassment on the MRT network.


The next group of legislators are set to take up their seats in the DPR on 1 October 2019. That means existing legislators will have less than six months after the election to pass the RUU PKS bill. Time is running out if legislators are to heed the marchers’ calls.


This article is based on Dr Monika Winarnita’s Humanities and Social Sciences ECR grant, “Indonesian women, online media and digital activism”. 


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