A lack of legal protection — and a culture that excuses casual verbal and physical sexual abuse — makes obscene behavior an everyday experience for women on the streets and buses of Jakarta.
It was Friday noon when some ojek ( motorcycle taxi ) drivers and street vendors sat on the pavement near the Bendungan Hilir pedestrian bridge in Central Jakarta while eating lunch purchased from a middle-aged woman.
“Pssst! Where are you going, love?” one of the men said to a woman who was passing by, while another man gave her a wolf whistle.
Ida, the food seller, smiled as she watched the incident. She told The Jakarta Post that these men acted as any other man would.
The sexual harassment of women, such as rude sexual comments, or more threatening physical contact, such as groping, happens everyday on the streets of Jakarta. Even city law enforcement officials are alleged to have made such violations.
The Jakarta City Public Order Agency fired Monday two public order officers who allegedly extorted and groped visitors at the National Monument in Central Jakarta on Saturday.
Women who walk down any sidewalk or take any form of public transportation face sexual harassment everyday, but no one seems to care.
“I get a wolf whistle or a cat call at least once a day, everywhere I go in Jakarta,” said Devi, a banker who commutes everyday by taxi or busway from the south of Jakarta to Jl. Sudirman.
“It’s like a jungle out there,” Devi told the Post.
“Unfortunately both genders are too permissive and just let the incidents happen.”
Incidents of sexual harassment in the TransJakarta busway system have recently been made public.
Victims allege that men used the anonymity of crowded buses to grope their bodies.
Even worse is the experience of Margaretta, a secretary at a trading company in Petojo, Central Jakarta. “I was sitting in the back of a bus heading to ITC Roxy Mas mall in West Jakarta when a guy, who initially sat behind me, moved to the empty seat next to mine.”
“Suddenly, I realized that his hand was already on my thigh,” she said.
Lidya, a marketing executive in a company in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, had a similar story.
“One night as I exited a taxi, a man suddenly jumped in front me and squeezed my breast,” she said.
A car offers no immunity. Farah, who drives her own vehicle, said: “Some toll booths officers intentionally touch my hand or offer greetings with annoying gestures, often with winks, too”
Most women do nothing about the incidents, which reinforces the perception that there is nothing wrong with sexually harassing women in the street.
“Harassment happens all the time but we, women, can do nothing because we are too scared to scream,” Margaretta said, adding that she immediately chose to jump off the bus right when she was molested.
Lidya said she did nothing, despite her upset, because she thought that yelling at the offenders was
Offenders often think their behavior is harmless and that the public does not care.
“When I was at university some of my friends did it for fun because the women were beautiful. Now they feel ashamed,” Muhammad, who works in an oil and gas company on Jl. Sudirman, South Jakarta, said.
Others, including some educated men, keep harassing women on the street and at work.
“There is a 43-year-old man — an executive — in my office, who wolf whistles at any woman he sees in the office,” Muhammad said. He added that the man had told him that he had been doing it since young.
Women feel humiliated even though wolf whistles, cat calls and other sexual comments were not physical sexual harassment, said Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, National Commission on Violence against Women ( Komnas Perempuan ) chairwoman.
A culture of sexual harassment in Indonesia is nurtured by both genders, Yuniyanti said. “Patriarchal culture is not an excuse for both genders to justify such harassment,” she added.
“All humans should be respected. Culture can not justify the issue [of sexual harrassment],” Yunianti said.
Legal expert and activist Rita Serena Kolibonso said that there were no adequate laws against such offenses. “Our law is weak in relation to sexual harassment,” she said.
Offenders may only be cited for violating Article 335 of the Criminal Code for “unpleasant conduct” or Article 281 for obscenity, she added.
“We need a strong and binding law on sexual harassment, including those forms of small offenses like intimidating verbal gesture. We could propose an independent law or integrate sexual harassment into existing the Criminal Code, only if it explicitly specifies the offenses,” she said. ( ipa )