Writer of Coming Out and a lecturer of gender and sexuality studies
Not long after the commemoration of the birthday of Kartini, a heroine for women’s empowerment, reports emerged of a bruised corpse of a girl who was found on April 4 in Bengkulu province.
On her way home from school, this 14-year-old was raped by 14 drunken boys including six junior high school students. She was then murdered; 12 of the boys have been arrested, reports said.
Sexual harassment and violence is still a pervasive problem for women in Indonesia. On Kartini Day on April 21, Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama launched the operation of several all-female Transjakarta pink buses, which he said would make women passengers feel more comfortable.
This sex-segregation policy responds to reports of sexual harassment on public transportation, but it does not really address the root of the problem for Indonesian women.
Similar to the case in Bengkulu, the sociologist CJ Pascoe showed in her field research in an American high school that to assure their masculinity and heterosexuality, boys show dominance over girls bodies by “rituals of getting girls” ( or having a girlfriend ), “rituals of touch” ( ranging from flirtation to assault-like interactions ) and “sex-talk” ( sharing stories about their sexual adventures and exercising dominance over girls’ bodies to confirm their masculinity ).
According to last year’s national annual report of violence against women, sexual violence ranked highest ( 61 percent ) including 1,657 cases of rape and over 1,000 cases of sexual molestation.
Apart from Jakarta’s pink buses, the government has also been pursuing some initiatives to combat sexual violence against children. Last year the policy of chemical castration was announced to punish rapists of children, leading to controversy as some consider the penalty a human rights violation itself. Other initiatives include calls for a law against sexual violence, and stepping up rehabilitation and crisis centers for the victims.
Sexual violence refers to sexual activity without consent and comprises rape, unwanted sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and coercion, unwanted sexual attention, as well as non-contact unwanted sexual experiences – experienced by both men and women, boys and girls.
Although strong government policies are urgently needed, transformation of power and gender relations, which results in behavior and mindset change, is also crucial to address sexual harassment regardless of an individual’s gender and sexuality. Sexual violence stems from the hierarchy of gender relations based on traditional norms.
The current biological assumption produces two mutually-exclusive biological sexes: female and male. Gender is polarized and performed based on these biological categories: male with masculinity and female with femininity and the associated power relations.
Masculinity is deemed more superior than femininity — associated with women, domestication and “powerlessness”.
Thus in patriarchal cultures men often uphold the cult of masculinity by performing aggressive behavior or committing sexual assault or coercion against women or men who are considered “un-masculine”.
The shocking gang rape and murder case in Bengkulu reminds us once again of the urgency of comprehensive sexuality education to promote behavior change among young adolescents and future generations. This education is a powerful medium to educate the young generation to understand gender equality and to promote safer behavior among youth.
Last year’s Global Review on Emerging Evidence, Lesson, and Practice in Comprehensive Sexuality Education by UNESCO highlighted that the period when children were between 10 and 14 years marked a significant transition period for young adolescents. One that determines attitudes and behaviors according to the gender-related norms which influence them.
Starting effective sexuality education from an early age would help children to understand their bodies, to develop healthy and respectful attitudes toward others and to encourage them to report inappropriate attitudes that they encounter.
Yet in Indonesia, many people still misunderstand sexuality education and conflate it with teaching and promoting pre-marital sex or “free sex”. Sexuality education here is not mandatory and only partially reflects the international standards, not to mention the absence of a national comprehensive sexuality education policy.
Therefore, in addition to specific policies to combat sexual violence and support victims, changing convictions that males and “masculinity” are superior to females and “femininity”, and the behavior and attitudes based on these beliefs, is vital for sustainable social change. And again, education can make it all possible.
The author, who obtained his Master’s in public policy from the National University of Singapore, is the writer of Coming Out and a lecturer of gender and sexuality studies.
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