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A colorful bunch: A woman displays condoms of various colors during a commemoration of World AIDS Day at the University of Indonesia’s Medicine School. JP/Nurhayati
Inna learned the hard way that inadequate knowledge about reproductive health can lead to bitter consequences.
The founder of Samsara – an organization “committed to bringing a comprehensive view of sexuality, reproductive health and rights, gender equality, culture, spirituality and beliefs” – tells of her experience with unsafe abortion practices on her website.
She became pregnant when she was still a university student in Yogyakarta, and underwent an abortion without proper consultation.
“For about three years, I struggled with depression due to a painful abortion. Many things have changed in my daily life, physically and emotionally. My decline was closely related to the trauma of having an unsafe abortion. It affected me financially, as well as causing me to experience continuous pain due to the unsafe abortion,” Inna writes on her website.
Samsara, the organization she founded, provides pre- and post-abortion counseling, a “Listening and Strengthening to Each Other” (LSTEO) Forum, and various workshops on sexuality and reproductive health. She also started a hotline where women experiencing unwanted pregnancies can receive comprehensive counseling regarding their choices.
Inna’s website includes information about “blacklisted” names claiming to provide safe abortions.
“Samsara carries out workshops in the community and schools. We also conduct an education program called ‘School for Sexuality and Reproductive Health’. The overarching theme of our education program is the authority of the body, in which every person understands their body and has authority over their body, so that everyone can make responsible decisions.” Inna said in an email to The Jakarta Post.
According to her, unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are the most common problems among women who turn to Samsara for help.
These problems often surface due to the lack of knowledge regarding reproductive health and myths surrounding the matter.
“Myths about sexuality and reproduction persist and therefore influence teenager’s minds. For example, [the myth about] having sex once without a condom will not cause pregnancy,” Inna said.
Aside from Samsara, several other local organizations have been known to provide education about sexual and reproductive health.
The Indonesian Family Planning Association (PKBI)’s programs include Youth Centers, where young people can receive information regarding sexual rights and reproductive health. The organization currently has 28 centers in 26 provinces.
PKBI also conducts education programs for pre-school aged children, partly to prevent them from experiencing molestation. “We teach them to recognize their own body parts, and to know the difference between touching that is OK, and touching that is not OK, because harassment often comes from those closest to them,” Frenia Nababan from PKBI said.
The program used to be called Sexual and Reproductive Health Education for Young Children. However, the name was apparently considered too controversial by some and was changed to Social Skills Education Program, she said.
Recently, volunteers from the PKBI’s Jakarta youth reproductive health program Centra Mitra Muda (CMM) held a Dance4Life program in a junior high school in North Jakarta. This is part of a global movement to empower youths against the HIV/AIDS phenomenon
The subjects explained to the dozens of students inside a multimedia room included reproductive organ health, HIV/AIDS and how to negotiate against sexual demands from one’s partner.
Presentations on those subjects are lined to humor and interact with the students, who at times still giggled or joked about sexual matters. When asked about what HIV was, one of the students replied, “because you do it with different people.”
Naila Assegaf, the program manager of CMM, said that the program also involved reaching out to non-student teenagers, such as those who work or hang out in traditional markets and the streets, as well as those who are sex workers.
The volunteers and staff conduct training and capacity building for the teenagers and refer them to the PKBI Youth Clinic for medical issues.
Sometimes one can partake in the effort to increase their peers’ knowledge about sexual health without having to be part of a certain organization. Mita, a crafter, often hides messages about these subjects in her work.
When women buy her home-made goods, they sometimes receive, along with the goods, a piece of colorful paper with a menstrual calendar printed on it, or a telephone number for Samsara’s hotline. “Sometimes we also stick the papers with the telephone numbers on places such as traffic lights and pedestrian bridges,” Mita said.
Such public places often become a haunt for street children – a group she considers to be vulnerable to risks involving unsafe sex, particularly after socializing with those that frequent a particular area in West Jakarta. “I used to hang out there and talk to them. Their jokes and conversations can be highly sexual,” Mita said.
— Dina Indrasafitri