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March 19, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Women’s Rights in Urban Jakarta

“I feel unsafe and restless,” said my neighbor Fitri, referring to the explosion of rape cases against women on public transportation. “I used to travel at night, working overtime to earn some more money. But now, I have to think twice.”  

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, led by the Women’s Forum for Justice (FKP), a number of female activists launched campaigns — including “No Rape, Stop Rape” — in Jakarta last week. The activists rallied in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta, armed with banners, posters, and stickers. Their posters read, among others, “Stop harassment on public transportation” and “The problem is not that my skirt is mini, but that your brain is.”  

The Indonesian media have increasingly been reporting rape cases, not only on angkots and other modes of public transportation, but also at school by teachers and peers, and even at home by family members. The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) recorded 4,335 cases of sexual harassment in 2011, of which 2,937 occurred in public spaces, including public transportation.   

I remember when I was still in university, I freelanced and had no fear of taking the bus at night. My mother, a church activist, often traveled at night for meetings, and had no complaints either.   

Fast forward to today, women are worried about their safety while using public transportation. The changing face of Jakarta in the past ten or so years has played a vital role in today’s urban society. Problems such as traffic jams, water shortages, the population explosion, and, ultimately, violence, have contributed to such changes.  

From what I gathered through social media, I have read stories of women facing sexual harassment on trains. The increasing number of train passengers and the shortage of trains and lack of railway officers create situations in which female passengers don’t feel safe and are not protected in the carriage.   

Women in Jakarta have to anticipate lots of problems, not only the low quality infrastructure that most Jakartans tolerate everyday, but also harassment and violence on their way to work and back home. In many cases, women have to minimize commuting by renting a small room at a kost near their workplace. This might address their transportation concerns but they have to spend a significant amount of money.  As taxi fares have gone up, many working women and housewives just want to take an angkot or bus, the cheapest means of commuting within the city. Sometimes I wonder, do women have a choice if they are on a tight budget?   

The government has neglected to protect women’s rights and to provide welfare to women. To this date, there are no other safe and cheap ways for women to travel in urban Jakarta. In general, bad infrastructure and a lack of personal security, among others, are the two main problems plaguing Jakarta today, yet no significant progress has been made since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was reelected in 2009.  

FKP, as a forum, shares its concerns on the need for local government to protect women on public transportation. Local government must provide adequate and safe public transportation to its citizens, and women especially. Safety just can’t be ignored.   

As my friend Fitri said, she wants to feel secure on the street, to commute comfortably, and to travel safely at night. Such protection also serves as a fulfillment of women’s right to feel safe in their communities, in the neighborhood and in the city. Come to think of it, it’s also a part of basic human rights.  

We, the women of urban Jakarta, demand an end to violence against women in public spaces and say no to rape.  

Olin Monteiro is a writer & feminist living in Jakarta.


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