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Sisters doing it for themselves: The story behind 'Angka Jadi Suara'

Zacharias Szumer
Zacharias Szumer

Writer and musician currently living in Jakarta

Jakarta | Mon, June 12, 2017 | 01:19 pm

If you mainly stick to inner-city Jakarta, it’s easy to forget about the ring of vast industrial centers surrounding the capital with their massive armies of manual laborers. It’s even easier to forget with a mainstream media that covers the financial sector and macroeconomic reports with far greater regularity than it does with labor issues, such as working hours and conditions, wages and workplace harassment.

It is in this context that films such as Angka Jadi Suara (The Day the Voices Raised) are so important. 

The documentary, produced over the space of a year by the Inter Factory Laborers Federation (FBLP), documents a campaign to address sexual assault and harassment faced by female workers at an industrial estate in Cakung, East Jakarta. 

Over 22 minutes, the film follows various initiatives taken by the activists, from sessions bringing female workers together to talk about sexual abuse in their workplaces, to meetings with factory managers and officials from the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry to push for action on the issue.

They aim to establish a post, collaboratively run by unions and the police, for workers of the industrial estate to report sexual abuse, to educate workers about what kinds of behavior constitute sexual assault and to erect signs announcing that workplace sexual abuse will not be tolerated. 

The film illustrates the difficulties faced by their campaign, including the unwillingness of some victims to speak out due to fear they will lose their jobs. The documentary also shows how abuse is perpetuated by a culture of victim blaming (“But some of the clothes women wear, men can’t help themselves,” says a senior management member during a meeting) and ignorance of what constitutes sexual abuse (“Oh, catcalling, is that harassment?” says a male worker).  

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A screening of the film at Diskaz Labor House on May 24 was followed by a discussion in which director/FBLP secretary general Dian Septi Trisnanti and camera operator/ FBLP treasurer Atin Kurniati gave some of the context behind the film and talked about the results of the campaign. 

Both speakers emphasized the barriers hindering female factory workers from participating in political organizing. Many are obliged to do domestic work after returning from long hours at the factory and must ask permission from their husbands to leave these duties for a day.

Dian says that workers’ collectives must be sensitive to this reality if they want to achieve meaningful empowerment, especially in places like the Cakung industrial estate, where female workers make up the clear majority of garment workers. 

Activists also argue that existing laws did not provide sufficient punishment for all acts of sexual assault. Under Indonesia’s existing legislation, any type of sexual assault that does not involve penis-vaginal penetration is not considered rape, but falls under a lower category of crime.

Dian recalls a relevant case in which a mechanic put his hand through a hole in a female worker’s pants, touching her crotch while saying “Hey, you’ve got a hole in your pants!”

Read also: Granting Indonesian youth access to reproductive health rights

Activists say they hope a sexual assault bill currently being discussed at the House of Representatives will expand the legal definition of rape.  

On the up side, the campaign has already borne some fruit: the post for reporting sexual assault has been operating since February. However, Dian says that many women are still reluctant to visit the post and open up about their experiences. Because of this, they still have to actively search for cases of sexual assault among their networks of workers. 

One of the reasons for this is that the post’s assigned space functions as a security post most hours, only being used to take reports between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. As happens with many security posts in Indonesia, this one also functions as a hang-out spot for local men.

According to Dian and Atin, some of these men are not receptive to the activists’ aims, and have even acted aggressively toward women, or tried to flirt with them when they have come to report incidents. 

Angka Jadi Suara is currently on a promotional drive, and after a string of recent screenings across Indonesia, was shown at the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) on June 8.  

Although they say it was impossible to gauge the effect the film has had, Dian and Atin agree that more importantly, it was raising awareness and starting conversations about gender-based harassment in the workplace. They encourage any person or community that wishes to hold a screening to get in touch with them.

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