Sexual harassment is a global epidemic that affects millions of people every single day. In countries such as Indonesia, where systemic sexism encourages society to adhere to patriarchal values, women have learned to accept and even expect the daily harassment they are forced to endure.
One woman, Tunggal Pawestri, spoke of an incident that took place on a public bus 20 years ago when she was just 14. Pawestri had been on her way to high school in Jakarta, Indonesia when she felt a man gyrating his genitals against her from behind. At the time of the assault, she had become used to the sexually suggestive looks and comments men directed at her on her daily commute. This incident, however, was unlike any of Pawestri’s prior experiences. “I froze,” she told The New York Times. “I didn’t know what to do — I didn’t even know that I should have screamed.”
Pawestri now works with Hivos Southeast Asia, an organization devoted to evoking social change. She, and a multitude of other activists, are stepping forward to expose the street harassment problem that plagues the Indonesian population. “Unfortunately, at the moment, Indonesia has no legal protection for sexual harassment,” said Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, Vice President of The National Commission on Violence Against Women.
The women’s commission reports that in the past year, only 268 reports of street harassment were filed with the police, non-governmental organizations, or the commision itself. Comparatively, over 200 incidents in just the country’s capital have been reported to the Hollaback! Jakarta website in the past 12 months due to the unfriendly nature of law enforcement officials toward sexual harassment allegations. Consequently, victims are discouraged from voicing their experiences. Activists estimate that millions of incidents go unreported every year.
Angie Killbane, an American high school teacher working in Indonesia, founded the Jakarta chapter of Hollaback!, a global movement that aims to expose street harassment by creating communities of resistance, in response to her own personal experience with the issue. Killbane’s chapter organizes discussions and workshops focused on combating and preventing street harassment. The Hollaback! website provides victims with a safe space to share their stories, providing them with validation and connecting them to others who have had experiences similar trauma.
Kate Walton, an Australian writer based in Jakarta, wrote that she had been harassed a total of 13 times in a span of 35 minutes. Hollaback! co-hosted a discussion with Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group that was inspired by Walton’s piece. “The more stories people see, the more brave and willing they are to come forward,” she said.
Activists are gaining ground in the movement toward ending street harassment, but there is still a long way to go before the issue will be resolved.
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