Day Seven | Epidemic of Violence against Transgender Women in Indonesia: When the Government Fails to Protect its Vulnerable Citizens

photo credit: 2018 Women’s March Jakarta

Written by Firmansyah Sarbini and Naila Rizqi Zakiah

The rise of anti-LGBT sentiment in Indonesia has led to the exclusion of LGBT groups from society, which has caused their persecution. More and more cases are emerging of banning academic discussions, discrimination in the workplace and educational institutions, through to efforts of criminalisation through courts and legislation.

In 2016, the Support Group & Resource Center on Sexuality Studies Universitas Indonesia became the centre of a media storm in Indonesia. The organisation was launching an LGBT Peer Support Network, a project-based collaboration with the LGBT online forum melela.org. Since then, an unexpected wave of bigotry hit Indonesia.  The Love Family Alliance (ALIA), a conservative group in Indonesia, has requested the Constitutional Court to change the definitions of adultery and child molestation in the criminal code which would criminalise homosexual sex.  By a margin of five to four judges, the Constitutional Court ruled against the effort to revise the country’s criminal code on the grounds that such a move was the responsibility of parliament. But this statement only inspired the conservative group to lobby lawmakers for the changes.

LGBT people are a marginalised segment of Indonesian society.  In a survey of 1,520 respondents, conducted by the Wahid Foundation and Lembaga Survey Indonesia during March-April 2016 the LGBT group was the most disliked (26.1%), compared to other groups like Communists (16.7%) and Jewish people (10.6%). This was reinforced by the findings of Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting (SMRC) during November 2016, which showed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (16.6%) were more hated than Communists and Jews, and second only to ISIS (25.5%). LGBT rights in Indonesia have also been politicised in every election campaign since Indonesia’s 2014 presidential election, when Musdah Mulia, an Indonesian Islamic theologist and research professor at the Ministry of Religious Affairs who irked many conservative Muslims with her LGBT-friendly perspective, was in the team of experts of now president Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi). Many politicians endorse the rising hatred against LGBT people and often give biased statements and opinions about the LGBT community to gain majority votes, as well as promote anti-LGBT laws and bylaws. In early November 2018, a so-called ‘war against LGBT communities’ was started by Hidayat Nurwahid from Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), who demanded President Jokowi issue an anti-LGBT law. The 2019 presidential election will be yet another battleground for politicians against the LGBT community; it is highly likely that most affected group in this war will be already vulnerable transwomen.

 In Silence: Violence against Transwomen in Indonesia

Throughout 2017, based on the data collected by LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid), there were 973 individuals who were victims of stigma, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expressions outside the heteronormative binary. Based on their observations, transwomen ranked first as victims of violence at a rate of 715 out of 973 people. The vulnerability of transgender groups is caused by the visibility of their gender expression, making them more identifiable to society and the public at large. For transgender people who are evicted from their homes, these risks are amplified due to not only their loss of housing, but also their loss of support groups, be it family or friends.

From LBH Masyarakat’s observations, throughout 2017 there were at least three incidents of murder of transwomen. A transwoman in Bone, South Sulawesi, was murdered by two men who pretended to befriend her. When she was asleep, they murdered and robbed her. This modus operandi of larceny also happened in Semarang, Central Java, where after dating a transwoman, the perpetrator murdered her and took off with her belongings. The third incident happened in South Lampung, Sumatra. This time there was no robbery, but there was the same pattern where the perpetrator had sexual relations with the transwoman and then killed the victim. These killings, targeting transwomen, follow a similar pattern to murders targeting women, also known as femicide. They are done merely on the basis that the victim is a woman or a transwoman, by perpetrators who view women as weak and gullible, and transwomen particularly so.

Additionally, in 2018 transwomen have been identified as the most frequent victims of police violence in Indonesia. At the start of 2018, police in the province of Aceh detained 12 transwomen, shaving or cutting their long hair with the justification that they were teaching them how to act like “real men”. In November 2018, three transwomen were subjected to a raid by Satpol PP (a regional police force concerned with morals and order) in Lampung province. In this raid, the three transwomen were brought to the Satpol PP office and hosed down with water at the firefighter building. Adding insult to injury, a Satpol PP officer also proudly recorded and shared the torture and humiliation on social media.

Despite the fact that transwomen have become the most vulnerable group in Indonesia, the government tends to deny the violence against transwomen happens. It is also difficult to document the violence against transwomen because victims are often intimidated and oppressed, both by law enforcement agencies and society at large when they try to report their cases. Violence continues, justice is delayed.

The violence experienced by transwomen and LGBT groups in general is caused by rising intolerance and the lack of understanding of gender and sexuality in society. Widespread discrimination seems to be here to stay in the long-run. Most worryingly, many academics, politicians, and even governmental authorities have stated that they support legal discrimination of LGBT people in Indonesia. LGBT people’s basic civil rights are, at the end of the day, just unfulfilled promises. Their requests are simple: equal access and an opportunity to live. However, the government seems adamant to deny that wish.

Firmansyah Sarbini (SGRC Indonesia) and Naila Rizkqi Zakiah (LBH Masyarakat) are the Australian Human Rights Institute’s first Visiting Human Rights Defenders.

Day Six |“Bad Girls”, Everyday Sexism and Activist Campaigns in Millennial India

photo credit: ‘A Bad Girl’ poster, created by Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology’s students, is a satirical take on a classic ‘80s poster, depicting the ideal habits of good girls and boys. It went viral on social media a few years ago.

Written by Radhika Govinda

This blog post is about the agentic and sexually confident ‘bad girls’ of post-liberalisation India, ushered in with the ‘new economies of desire’: the cell-phone revolution, the Internet, and the consumer revolution, of which the nightclubs, pubs and multiplexes are emblematic (Nigam and Menon 2007). The girls are defying normative gender beliefs everywhere – online and offline, on campus, off-campus, on buses, in trains. Through activist campaigns, they claim the answer to the public safety dilemma is not to cage women but to enable them to freely and fearlessly access and occupy public spaces. In a blog-a-thon to mark 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, these ‘bad girls’ and their activist campaigns deserve a place of prominence. They compel us to ask whether we are seeing a renewal of feminist politics in India, at a time when much of the scholarship on Indian feminism is still lamenting the ‘ageing’ and fragmentation of the women’s movement (Menon 2004; Roy 2011) and sections of the international media are portraying Indian women in disturbingly neo-colonial and non-agentic ways (e.g. Purves 2012).

To address this question, I take a closer look at key protests and campaigns in 21st century India, the most prominent of which were the anti-rape protests triggered by the brutal gang-rape of a young woman in a moving bus in December 2012 in Delhi. Whilst mainstream feminist women’s groups were an important presence at the protests, neither the protests nor the protestors’ demands were led by an organised action on their part. Instead, social media enabled vast numbers of ordinary people to conduct these protests as a decentralised, leaderless movement, so much so that they were hailed as India’s Arab Spring and as marking the rise of ‘public feminism’ (Kurian 2017).

Whilst these protests were the first time there was such a massive outpouring of people online and in the streets against sexual violence, online spaces were used for non-mainstream activism on this issue, years prior. The Pink Chaddi campaign, for instance, was launched online in protest against Hindu nationalist outfit Sri Ram Sene’s attack on women at a pub in Mangalore in January 2009. The women were accused of desecrating ‘Indian culture’ by wearing Western clothes and consuming alcohol (Susan 2009). Subsequently, the Sene pledged to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations. The Pink Chaddi campaign enlisted 50,000 online members in a matter of days and coordinated a national collection of 2500 chaddis (underwear) which were delivered to the Sene headquarters on Valentine’s Day! This campaign was defiantly sexualised and in sharp contrast to the mainstream women’s movement, which had carefully avoided ‘expressions of sexuality as affirmative and pleasurable’, and had advocated on sexual violence primarily by seeking legislative and legal recourse to ‘protect’ women (Gupta 2016, Kapur 2015).

Campaigns since the 2012 anti-rape protests too deserve discussion. In particular, Pinjra Tod, which emerged in 2015 with hostel women protesting sexist curfews, was similar in mode of resistance and discursive register to earlier campaigns like Pink Chaddi whilst also being iterative in that it tried to address the criticisms made about the earlier campaigns’ and mainstream women’s movement’s own lack of inclusivity. Pinjra Tod has, over the years, challenged the authority of not only women’s hostels but also parents, caste-based village courts and Hindu nationalist outfits.

In today’s context, no discussion on Indian feminism is complete without addressing the List posted on Facebook by Raya Sarkar on 24 October 2017. Coming in the wake of the #MeToo movement globally, the List went viral. Within hours of it being published, 14 Delhi-based feminists issued a Statement, asking for it to be withdrawn and urging the List makers to avail of due process instead of ‘naming and shaming’ the accused. Let me be clear: my aim is not to take sides here but to argue that even though the List was not as carefully planned and executed as the other campaigns, it was similar in its DIY grammar – in not wanting to wait for the state and the mainstream women’s movement to take action. Through its use of the Internet and social media, the campaign exposed to the public eye the problem of sexual harassment. In doing so, it also exposed longstanding fissures within Indian feminism along generational, caste and class lines.

Taken together, with their call for freely and fearlessly performing their sexuality and accessing and occupying public spaces, the younger generation of feminists or the so-called ‘bad girls’ of post-liberalisation India and their campaigns have introduced new modes, sites and content of Indian feminism. Whilst none of these can be naively and uncritically celebrated, they must not be summarily dismissed as ‘coopted’ by neoliberalism (Roy 2015). It is time to acknowledge what they have to offer – a renewal of feminist politics, however messy, impure and incomplete it might be.

Dr. Radhika Govinda is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She has a keen interest in identity politics, intersectionality, and gender and development, and is the UK Lead on an ongoing North-South, UGC-UKIERI-funded research and teaching collaboration, Teaching Feminisms, Transforming Lives: Questions of Identity, Pedagogy, and Violence in India and the UK.

Day Five | #Hear Me Too: A celebration of children and young people’s activism to end gender-based violence

photo credit: Everyday Heroes

Written by Claire Houghton

Today dozens of children and young people are leading an event at the Scottish parliament that honours and amplifies the voices and activism of young people, including young survivors of gender-based violence. They are meeting and talking with parliamentarians, ministers and national leaders in justice, police, education, health, and social work responses. Today is a celebration of the strength, resistance and power of young survivors. It is also a call to action, and young people are presenting their priorities for action to address gender-based violence and gender inequality.

The event is testament to two consistent trends in Scottish government and politics since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as part of the UK devolution settlement: first, a demonstrable commitment to wider inclusion and participation; and second, the prioritisation of policies to address domestic abuse and gender-based violence (Mackay 2010). In part, these twin features are the result of the mobilisation of organised women’s and feminist groups in the run up to devolution and their efforts to build equality ‘in with the bricks’ of the new institutions.

Over the last few years, children and young people have also been increasingly included in political spaces and processes, through innovative programmes (Houghton 2018), the latest of which is the Everyday Heroes Participation Programme. The Scottish Government established a participation partnership to ensure that children and young people, especially young survivors of gender-based violence, participated in their plan of action ‘The Equally Safe Delivery Plan’. The Everyday Heroes programme asked children and young people about their priorities for government action around the questions:

  • What would improve the journeys of young abuse survivors through services and the justice system?
  • What could help improve societal attitudes and people’s lives in relation to gender equality?

At this year’s #HearMeToo debate in Scottish Parliament, the Everyday Heroes programme was widely referred to. Minister Christina McKelvie said, “Voices of children are important, Everyday Heroes made sure we listened to them in our Delivery Plan, looking forward to meeting them…”

Creative mediums and the arts were key to the engagement sessions undertaken with skilled support workers known and trusted by the young participants, ensuring participation was part of their therapeutic process (Houghton 2015). Young and adult experts, partners in a wonderful collaboration between feminist and children’s rights organisations, created ways to safely explore the ‘stepping stones’ young survivors take through services and the justice system, the ‘inside out’ emotions felt in their journeys, the light bulb ideas they have for change. Detailed recommendations have been crafted for improvements in service delivery, the response of the justice system, and ways to tackle harmful gender stereotypes and norms.

Stories told through the Everyday Heroes programme tell us that silence and stigma not only allows violence against women to escalate but the abuse of children to go unnoticed. The status of being a child, on top of being an unacknowledged victim of gender-based violence, silences the young survivor. They are sometimes terrified of speaking out, fearing that their age is a key deciding factor in adults believing them. The default position of many professionals, furthermore, is to notify the parents, even when the child has disclosed abuse from their father; or to panic when a child discloses sexual abuse. The child’s voice gets lost, the child’s abuse often continues and escalates, the child’s story remains untold.  Many, many years later some amazing young survivors have told their stories of consequence, resistance and anger, often with the support of specialist organisations – but far, far later than needed.

“I spoke to a police officer when I was six. But they dropped it. The police thought I was too young to know any of that…”

Impunity is something which frustrates young survivors; that even when they report and seek legal redress, the abuser is often free to further abuse them. Abuse can continue through proceedings – for example in court and in car parks, and through outcomes – poor sentences or being ordered to have unsafe contact with an abusive father.  Young victim and survivors have been further traumatised, felt ‘recovery’ was delayed hugely and that they have been made to feel culpable (along with their mothers in domestic abuse contact cases) so argue for quicker, safer, more child-friendly access to justice.

“I got a screen in court to protect me from him as I’m scared of him but now I have to fight to not have contact with him, why?”

Today’s event in Parliament continues Scotland’s tradition of dialogue between young survivor/activists and policymakers and underlines that such dialogue needs to be sustained and meaningful (Houghton 2018). Bringing children’s and young people’s stories to light challenges an often adult-centric discourse surrounding domestic and sexual abuse and violence.  The programme reaffirms feminist challenges to the heteronormative male power. And it promotes an intersectional approach to gender equality and gender-based violence, and the effects of gender norms on boys as well as girls, and on non-binary young people. It is an appeal to us all to be both women and children’s human rights defenders.

https://everydayheroes.sps.ed.ac.uk

Dr Claire Houghton is the Everyday Heroes Programme Coordinator working alongside young and adult expert partners from the University of Edinburgh IMPACT project, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. The programme was funded by the Scottish Government to inform and influence the Equally Safe Delivery Plan. Celebrating Everyday Heroes follows a Parliamentary Debate (27th November 201) on #Hear Me Too and is part of many 16 Days activities to promote the voices of women, children and young people.

Day Four | Tackling Gender-Based Violence in Indigenous Communities

Written by Dixie Link-Gordon



I see you, I hear, I feel you

sisters in so much quietness,

all reaching to break the code of silence bearing us down,

with almost no relief,

Our voices whisper across land and sea seeking to be free of shame and pain.

Dixie Link-Gordon


On a beautiful winter day in Sydney in August 2018 we moved as one up the Grand Parade of UNSW. With nothing but the sound of our clap sticks (traditional instrument) Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander Fiji, Maori, Tongan and Cook Islander women brought our stories through our language of resilience, sharing with our sisters and supported hand in hand by the UNSW Gender Violence Research Network.

Layers of oppressive legal policies and processes that directly impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have prevented so many practices, including the trading of information and resources about family, domestic and sexual violence with our Pacific sisters.

Silences

Authority

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters were silenced as children from sharing the most intimate of violations. Many of us were stolen from our families. We were placed in homes, orphanages, hospitals or schools. We were not allowed to talk to each other about what was happening to us. We learnt very quickly to block our emotions. We played down our injuries and were outcast by dominant society. We were policed and silenced.

Family

Women from childhood have been silenced by our families. As women in relationships we, of course, knew of rape and understood the pain. But to articulate and say what had happened to us was another thing. It is the same for domestic and family violence. We had no knowledge of where to seek appropriate support, and became lost in fear. Being empowered to have a safe living family is something so many of us work towards for our future generations. This issue always comes up when we are sharing with each other and, at times, with professionals and cultural healing groups.

Religion

We were told to go to church to engage spiritually in a safe place. There were things you just didn’t talk about.  If you were sexually abused, you had no pathway to enable you to disclose. We practised silent prayers of hope and change.

Community

There are layers of oppression in Indigenous communities, too. For a long time, it has seemed that all other matters of injustice are more important than issues of  rape and domestic violence in our communities.

Breaking Silent Codes across Australia and the Pacific allows us as women to rediscover long-ago practices and trade stories, bringing us into an era of re-engagement and speaking as a movement of Indigenous women. We speak of the multiple atrocities that have sadly played out both in wider society and in our intimate relationships; sexual assault and domestic and family violence. It is the acts of sexual abuse that remain some of most heinous.

Breaking Silent Codes is a unique and aspirational project, and possibly the first time that Indigenous women across the Asia Pacific have gathered to discuss their stories of surviving sexual and domestic violence and collectively celebrate their resilience and strength.

Sharing and continuing this work is crucial and provides the potential for all people affected by sexual and domestic violence to realise the importance of sharing their experiences and benefiting from the support of others.

By taking our voices to the University of NSW, we created a whole community approach to share the rebuilding our cultural ties to the Pacific and each other.

We have now started work on:

  • The preparation and publication of a hardcover book offering a collection of stories and art depicting women’s narratives of survival.
  • A presentation about Breaking Silent Codes at the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide International Indigenous Gathering in Sydney from 26-29 November 2018.
  • Generating much needed support for Breaking Silent Codes events in Aboriginal communities across Australia and the Pacific. Events will be led by the women who attended the Breaking Silent Codes forum at UNSW in August 2018, to continue conversations about sexual assault and domestic and family violence started at the forum.
  • Consolidating links between Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander women and the UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network
  • Developing a safe online space for Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander women to continue to Break Silent Codes, sharing stories and triumphs of cultural and spiritual responses to the issue of family and domestic violence and sexual assault in communities across Australia and the Pacific.

Many thanks to UNSW Staff including Professor Megan Davis, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indigenous Associate Professor Jan Breckenridge, Mailin Suchting, and Kat Armstrong from the Gender Violence Research Network.

Dixie Link-Gordon is a community educator with the UNSW government.

Day Three | Taking Transformative Action on Sexual Violence in Universities

photo credit: Illinois Springfield 2017 UIS Commencements via photopin <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc

Written by Anna Hush

In 2017, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released the results of a landmark survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities. The results were staggering – the Commission found that one in ten women had experienced sexual assault while studying in the past two years, with roughly a quarter of these assaults occurring in a university setting. Queer, trans, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and students with disabilities were all found to be at particular risk of experiencing sexual violence. With 1.4 million students currently enrolled in higher education in Australia, this translates to thirty students a day, every day, experiencing sexual assault within a university setting.

This is not a new issue by any means. The Red Zone Report, released by national advocacy group End Rape on Campus (EROC) Australia in early 2018, showed that feminists at the University of Sydney have been speaking out about this issue since at least 1977. The stories of survivors have been particularly important in highlighting the devastating impacts of sexual violence, and the sense of institutional betrayal experienced when universities fail to respond with sensitivity and compassion.

Since the release of the AHRC report, universities have taken some steps towards developing stronger policies around sexual violence and improving the support offered to survivors on campus. But why has it taken them so long to act, when there have been consistent demands from students for many decades? This is particularly vexing when we compare Australia’s action on this issue to that of the United States. The first federal complaint against a university for engendering a ‘sexually hostile environment’ was filed in the US in 2011; by 2013, the United States Congress had passed legislation mandating that federally-funded universities undertake evidence-based primary prevention programs for sexual violence.

In contrast, Australia is lagging behind. We are only now seeing Australian universities begin to roll out consent modules for their students, many of which have been criticised by experts as ineffective, and called ‘unrealistic’ and ‘tokenistic’ by students. Australian universities also continue to miss the mark in their public responses to sexual violence; in September this year, the University of New South Wales sent an email to all staff and students in the aftermath of a sexual assault on campus, encouraging them to ‘walk with purpose and confidence’ and ‘maintain awareness of [their] situation’. Students and staff were acrimonious, pointing out the disjunct between the university’s victim-blaming language and their stated ‘zero tolerance’ approach to sexual assault.

Part of the problem in Australia in addressing campus-related sexual violence is the lack of an effective federal body for overseeing the sector’s approach. When universities in the US fail to respond adequately to complaints of sexual violence, students can file complaints with the Office for Civil Rights using the Title IX statute, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally-funded university. This has been a critical tool for US survivors and advocates to hold universities to account. In contrast, when students in Australia are dissatisfied with their universities’ responses to sexual violence, there are scarce options for taking their complaints further. Complaints made to universities can take months or even years to resolve, during which time student-survivors are forced to attend classes or share residences with perpetrators. This is in breach of federal standards stipulating that universities must promote a safe environment, have clear and timely structures in place for investigating complaints, and provide support, advocacy, and confidentiality for complainants.

There is one federal body in Australia that may be equivalent to the Title IX mechanism in the United States. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) is responsible for overseeing universities’ compliance with federal standards – so in theory, TEQSA could sanction universities for mishandling sexual violence complaints with fines or even deregistration.

In 2017, End Rape on Campus Australia filed the first complaint with TEQSA related to an instance of sexual violence. The 17-page complaint, supported by 112 pages of documentation, argued that one Australian university was in breach of its own policies by allowing a man convicted of child sex offences and placed on the sex offender register to continue studying, after being made aware of the risk this student posed to others. Over a year later, however, EROC Australia is yet to receive any notification of the findings of the investigation. Sharna Bremner, founder and director of EROC Australia, notes that “TEQSA did not have clear or accessible procedures for filing a complaint – it’s not set up for students to lodge grievances in the same way as Title IX. Filing a complaint with TEQSA typically requires a student to have first utilised their university’s internal complaints mechanism and then taking their grievances to an external body, such as the state ombudsman, before a complaint can be lodged with TEQSA.“

“Pursuing our TEQSA complaint has taken approximately 350 hours over the course of thirteen months, and on a number of occasions, we have had to escalate our questions to senior management in order to receive a response. When TEQSA’s investigations had been completed, we learned that the university that is the subject of the complaint determines what, if any, information we receive about the findings,” Bremner commented.

This points to the need for stronger oversight in how universities respond to sexual violence. Advocacy groups have called for a federal taskforce to coordinate the sector’s response, but as yet this has not been put into place. As it stands, universities have been left to determine their own responses to sexual violence, which have largely been ad hoc and reactive. As I have argued elsewhere, their prevention efforts have been particularly disappointing. Many university administrators have failed to engage with the expertise of academic staff in disciplines like gender and cultural studies, criminology, and social work, which should be some of their key resources in developing prevention and response strategies.

We are now at a point where we have a clear sense of the problem. We also have good evidence about what needs to be done; for example, the good practice guide developed by academic researchers at the UNSW Australian Human Rights Institute. But to genuinely transform cultures of violence in higher education, it will take a coordinated approach from the sector, and accountability mechanisms for when universities fail. When universities have shied away from public scrutiny in this area for so long, transparency and accountability will be the key to creating genuine change.

Anna Hush is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, researching how student activists have responded to sexual violence at Australian universities. Anna is also a Director of End Rape on Campus Australia, a national advocacy group working towards an end to sexual violence in university communities.