The Activist: An Interview with Vivi
“Wow, your tight body makes me horny”
These are just some of the many many unwanted comments that women had received while walking in the streets. Catcalls, winks, wolf-whistles, even physical touching, are also part of the menu! These objectification acts toward women are a situation that reduces women from “somebody” to “something”, a thing that these perpetrators assumed normal to harass. Well, the fact is…. this is NOT NORMAL, its WRONG and it is an act of violence against women that should be penalized.
In this issue, FreakMagz met Vivi, a member of the Hollaback! Movement, to know more about their advocacy to end street sexual harassment that has consume women’s independence to have the freedom to live in safety. Check out our chit-chat below.
1. Hello Vivi, can you share us the story of how you get into the Hollaback movement in the first place?
First of all, let me explain Hollaback! briefly. Hollaback! is a movement with the objective to end street and sexual harassment in public spaces. Hollaback! uses a website and a mobile application to raise awareness about this issue, and also to support those who experience it. Our website and application are available in more than sixty cities around the world.
The first time I heard about Hollaback! was from the internet, and I immediately empathized with the issue that they are advocating. As a woman in Indonesia, catcalls and harassment on the street are a daily occurrence, and it is very frustrating. What makes it more unbearable is the fact that as a victim, I could not find any support from my surroundings. Often there are moments when I shared my experience and people ask me accusatory questions such as: “what did you wear”, “why did you have to go out that late”, etc. The mistake of asking these sorts of questions is illustrated by the fact that my worst experience of harassment happened while I was wearing an oversized sweatshirt that covered me from head to toe.
Since then, I have become very interested in finding ways to contribute more to raise awareness on the issue, especially in educating society about the existence of rape culture that needs to be destroyed. With six other members of our core team and dozens of volunteers, we have been tirelessly publicizing this awareness since 2014, by various means, including: providing bystander-intervention training, a chalk-walk, and also as the co-initiator of the Women’s March Jakarta held in March 2017. Everyone can submit their experience (of street and sexual harassment), both as survivors or as a bystander, in our website.
2. How is your experience in the work of gender equality and justice here in Jakarta, what are the main challenges and most interesting parts you have encountered?
I have been working for more than seven years in the area of gender equality and justice, not only in Jakarta, but all over Indonesia. But even before that, as a woman who grew up in a small city, within a patriarchal family and cultural environment, I also experienced first hand inflictions to the inequality and injustices that women have to endure.
Regarding challenges, I feel that the hardest challenge is also the biggest: to change society’s mindset. Rape culture has become so pervasive in society that it leads to the normalization of the mistreatment of women, including street and sexual harassment. People think that catcalling is normal, but they are not aware that catcalling is harassment, is a power relation abuse, just like rape and other forms sexual harassment. Women should not have to feel like they are being consumed, or that they may be in physical danger every time they walk outside.
But personally, the most challenging thing that I have experienced during my years of working in these issues is the internalized misogyny from our fellow women itself. For instance: when women treat other women discriminatively, or when they victim-blame other women for what has happened to them. This type of actions created reluctance for women to take a stand on these issues. This kind of behavior can also make victims of rape, abuse, or harassment afraid to come forward, because they do not think anybody will believe them, or that they will be blamed for what had happened to them.
3. Based on your work around this activism, how is this issue perceived by your fellow Indonesian youth? And is the advocacy towards this issue progressing or not?
I think in general young people are more aware about the issue, especially with the internet and social media, access of information and the space to express opinion is just a click a way.
However, we also need to remember that young people are very diverse, and their living conditions and environment definitely contributes to their experiences, and thus the way they perceive the issues. I believe that youth who do not have the privilege to access information on complex, progressive ideas, are the most vulnerable ones, since most of them are not aware of the many complex cultural dimensions. So the challenge remains the same, that if we want to raise the consciousness of young people, we need to be able to translate our approach and ideals to their level of understanding.
The advocacy that we do is to create or change policy and/or regulations to be more friendly to women and other vulnerable groups. Indonesia is currently reviewing the Regulation of Anti Violence Against Women. This law will prosecute broader aspect of abuse and harassment, and we are part of the community working on a regulation that will value the victim’s perspective, unlike our current Criminal Law Regulation. The current law does not comprehensively prosecute all forms of abuse and violence that are often experienced by the victim. The law system also has a complicated verification system that disadvantaged the victim. If it is passed, as we hope it will, it will definitely grant more protection to women and contribute a lot to the fight towards gender equality.
However, we also need to raise social awareness in order to be able to push the policymakers to make the regulation happen. That is exactly where Hollaback! Jakarta plays a part. We want to show victims of harassment that there are people who care, people who support them, and who have their back. By doing so I believe they will be more comfortable to talk about what has happened to them.
Saying that, I believe that Hollaback! Jakarta and our partners have been creating progress in terms of awareness. As I talked about before, I believe that social media plays a big role in engaging with young people, and we see so many young people starting to be more vocal in expressing their concerns on the issue. We have received more story submissions in our website and we are very happy to be able to show them our support.
4. Our August theme is about youth and independence. From your experience as a young Indonesian woman, how do you define this independence? Has the term comprehensively embrace the reality you faced or not?
Independence for me is more than being free from colonization: it also means to be free from any kind of oppression.
But the reality is that women and other vulnerable groups still do not enjoy the full meaning of the word independence, since they do not enjoy equal freedom in accessing opportunities in education, employment, or simply feeling safe when they walk on the street.
I believe that we will only be able to say that Indonesia has achieved its independence when we are able to provide opportunities and protection to everyone, whoever they are.
5. On cases of sexual harassment and online harassment, what type of support system provided by Hollaback?
First of all, Hollaback! is not a reporting site. Our aim in providing platform to share our stories is to raise awareness that this problem exists and happens on a daily basis, and to let people know that whatever has happened to them, we believe them and we have their back. This is why, for example, we put “got your back” buttons for each story submitted to our website to let them know that we are here to support them.
In terms of developing a support system, we also do bystander-intervention training. This aims to teach people what to do when they see harassment happen. By teaching more people to intervene, I believe that we can create a wave of support within the society itself.
6. What type of support system provided by the state? What is lacking in our country to uphold gender justice and equality?
There are institutions like Komnas Perempuan that has support system up to the point in providing legal aid in protecting women as a victim of harassment and/or abuse. However, it will be nice if we can see more of that kind of institutions provided by the government. I hope since there are more cities adopting the concept of human rights city, this will eventually help in acknowledging the issue of gender justice and equality and to provide approaches to address it.
The awareness on the state of urgent need to foster equality for all is definitely lacking. Even though we see a large number of cases that should definitely ring the alarm to grant more protection to women, somehow policymakers still have not come to a consensus and passed the Regulation of Anti Violence Against Women.
The state also lacks ways of educating society about the causes of the problems. For example, instead of educating people that the problem lies in the perpetrators, not the victims, several government officials—thanks to internalized misogyny—have released statements that blame the victim instead. I believe this kind of behavior is very harmful to our efforts to advocating the issues, because when the government itself blames the victim instead of protecting them, it will be hard for women to speak up against harassment and abuse.
7. As we celebrate our 72nd years of independence and 18 years of celebrating the campaign to improve the situation of young people, what do you really want to see happening for youth in terms of independence, in relation to gender justice and equality?
I wanted to see more young people, especially young women to have more opportunity and freedom in expressing themselves, to have their own voice being acknowledged especially when it comes to making life decision. I wanted to see young people to learn to be more tolerant, to be more aware that sexism exist and it is disadvantaging women and other vulnerable group.
8. Do you have any suggestions for youth who would want to get involved in your activism, or like-minded activism?
My suggestion will be to educate yourself more to the issue that you are believe in, to learn that activism issue, especially on gender equality and justice is very intersectional, there are many aspects that connected to each other. Hence, you should open as many network as you can, volunteer more, write more, create a buzz so your voice can be heard.
Hollaback! Jakarta is open for anyone who wanted to get involved, you can visit our website at jakarta.ihollaback.org , available in both language (Indonesia and English) to learn more on the issue of harassment in public space. Or you can follow our social media @hollabackJkt in Facebook, IG or twitter, we always update our upcoming event through social media.