Paving the way for sexual rights

Sexual rights: Transsexuals join a rally to protest against the Pornography Law in Jakarta. JP/Arief Suhardiman
Sexual rights: Transsexuals join a rally to protest against the Pornography Law in Jakarta. JP/Arief Suhardiman

In a Semarang court in Central Java, a prosecutor groped a transgender woman charged with running away as well as having sex with a teenage girl, and said: “You have breasts, you’re a woman”.

Before the trial, the teenage girl’s family had beaten the transgender woman.

The court sentenced her to five years in prison. Soka Handinah Katjasungkana from the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice (LBH APIK) Semarang, who advised her in her last trial, said that despite the transgender woman’s obvious violation of the children’s protection law, she had been discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.

In the country’s rural areas, parents continue to encourage their teenage daughters to marry young. But, because the charged person had defied cultural and religious norms by having same-sex relations, she was reported to the police by the girl’s parents. “Compare that to teenage girls being wed off to middle-aged men as their second or third wives,” Handinah said.

In Indonesia, where heterosexual relationships are considered the norm, discrimination and violence against people with different sexual orientations and gender identities is widespread.

However, a movement to bring equal rights irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity by researchers and activists in Asia is gaining ground.

Handinah presented the convicted transgender’s case study at an International Policy Dialogue on sexuality last week in Yogyakarta. The three-day workshop, held at Gadjah Mada University’s Center for Population and Policy Studies (CPPS), and attended by 45 researchers and activists from India, Brazil, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Syria, Egypt, and the Philippines, discussed issues under the theme “Bridging the gap between sexuality research and advocacy for sexual rights”.

Organized by an Asian research network for women/gender studies, Kartini Asia, and the Amsterdam-based SEPHIS (The South-South exchange program for research on the history of development), it was the first international meeting to discuss sexuality, including the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual (LGBT) individuals, after the failed International Gay and Lesbian Association conference held in March in Surabaya that was stopped by hard-line religious groups.

In the opening speech, Muhadjir Darwin, the head of CPPS, set the tone for the rest of the conference: “[Human] sexuality is not a dichotomy, either black or white, male or female. It’s created. God created diversity. It is against humanity, against human rights, and against god’s will to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Muhadjir’s statement was still a far cry from the mainstream view in Indonesian society, Asia and around the world. According to a 2010 ILGA study, it is a crime to be gay in 76 countries.

Last year, Indonesia’s westernmost province Aceh released a bylaw criminalizing homosexuality and stipulating adulterers should be stoned to death. The controversial pornography law also criminalizes homosexuality.

But while intimidation and discrimination against LGBT still exists in Indonesia, it is also the place where the first international principles on the application of International Human Rights Law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, the Yogyakarta principles, were signed.

Outlined in Yogyakarta, the principles were drawn up at a meeting between the International Commission of Jurists and human rights experts from around the world at Gadjah Mada University in November 2006. The first principle states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human beings of all sexual orientations and gender identities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights.”

In its third decade, Indonesia’s LGBT advocacy movement has come a long way since the 1980s when gay men, transgender and lesbian women networked exclusively through the first and — at that time — only gay magazine, GAYa Nusantara. Since then, more LGBT rights groups have emerged — such as Arus Pelangi and Ardhanary Institute — and fought for the right of sexual orientation to be acknowledged as part of Indonesia’s universal human rights.

But as the LGBT movement seeks more space in the public arena, hard-line minority groups are showing resistance through violence and intimidation, instilling public fear, said Soe Tjen Marching, the founder of two publications on sexuality.

Legal practitioners advocating sexual rights have warned that LGBT groups’ increasing advocacy work might end up being counterproductive for the LGBT movement, suggesting they should focus on winning people’s hearts first.

Ratna Batara Munti, who headed the Network of the Pro-Women’s National Legislation Program (JKP3) — an association of various NGOs, including the Women’s Health Foundation (YKP) and LBH Apik — explained that while the association was fighting for universal access to reproductive health care in the revised Health Law, a book titled Indahnya Perkawinan Sesama Jenis (The Beauty of Same Sex Marriage) was released.

Legislators shocked by the contents of the book felt compelled to push through Article 72 in the revised Health Law, stating that “Everyone has the right to a healthy and safe reproductive and sexual life, free from force and/or violence, with his or her lawful spouse”. In other words, the Health Law they passed only protects legally married couples, according to Ratna.

“Legal advocacy runs the risk of being counterproductive. There should be more advocacy work at the socio-cultural level. [Starting with] the space they [LGBT] have, in which they can work, socialize, and in some cases have relationships without being harassed — let these spaces be wider first,” Handinah said.

To address this gap at the socio-cultural level — and widen the public’s openness to different sexual orientations and gender identities, Soe Tjen runs two publications: Bhineka, a free magazine on pluralism issues and Jurnal Gandrung, a journal on critical sexuality studies.

Jurnal Gandrung, the first journal on sexuality in Indonesia, launched its first edition in June. The journal’s first essay, written by progressive Islam scholar Siti Musdah Mulia, focuses on Islam and homosexuality, calling for a reinterpretation of Islam’s understanding of homosexuality.

Kartini Asia coordinator and human rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana also pointed out that the issue of sexual rights was not limited to discrimination against LGBTs. The problems with violence against women stems from the issue of sexuality as well, she said.

There is a need to link research findings and activism, Nursyahbani went on. Many studies on sexuality can be used by advocacy groups, but the problems disseminating research findings to advocacy groups hamper the exchange.

For example, bringing together researchers from different countries could create an exchange and dialogue on sexual rights issues in their respective countries.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Wed, August 25 2010

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana: A new perspective on sex

JP/Prodita Sabarini
JP/Prodita Sabarini

Sex remains a taboo subject in Indonesia, causing discomfort and a sense of panic when discussed in the public domain.

Lawyer and human rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana is dead set on changing this state of affairs by carrying out research and policy advocacy.

In Yogyakarta last week, the former house member from the National Awakening Party (PKB) talked to The Jakarta Post on her way to Gadjah Mada University where she was scheduled to speak at the International Policy Dialogue on gender and sexuality.

The dialogue, organized by women’s/gender studies research network Kartini Asia and Amsterdam-base SEPHIS (South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development), was part of Nursyahbani’s endeavor to build a movement on sexual rights in Indonesia. It brought together Indonesian and international researchers as well as activists in the field of sexuality to find better strategies when carrying out advocacy work.

Soft-spoken, with intelligent and warm eyes behind her black-rimmed glasses, Nursyahbani explained why examining sexuality was crucial when defending human rights.

“Sexuality is not only about having sex. It controls human’s behaviors when they interact with each other. It encompasses people’s sexual orientation. Homosexuals, heterosexuals and bisexuals are within a continuum line in which the pendulum can lean either to the left or right,” she said. The control over women’s bodies in a patriarchal society also stems from a fear of women’s sexuality.”

In 2003, she co-founded Kartini Asia, a research network focusing on women and gender studies in Asia that aims to create synergies between women’s/gender studies and feminist activism in the region.

In 1990, she said, she had the harrowing experience of putting her six-month-old daughter under the knife for the Islamic tradition of female genital mutilation.

“The first time I saw clearly how female sexuality was oppressed was in the case of my own daughter. I knew that female circumcision was not compulsory – that it was a means to control women’s bodies and their sexuality. I read several hadith – which might be weak – that it [female circumcision] existed to control women so they would not be promiscuous, and have affairs.”

Nursyahbani and her sisters also underwent female genital mutilation as babies, she recalled.

“My mother, through my sister, kept pressuring me into continuing this practice. Both would always ask whether my daughter had been circumcised yet. I gave in after six months.”

Her mother who comes from a traditional Betawi community said it would be a sin not to carry out the circumcision.

“Finally, after six months, I brought my daughter to the doctor. I remember I had goose bumps walking into the hospital. My daughter was taken by the midwife and nurse inside, and I heard her screaming. When she came out, her diaper was covered in blood.”

Medical practitioners in big cities like Jakarta carried out the procedure until the mid 1990s. Nursyahbani said a doctor had performed the procedure on the baby of one of her fellow feminist scholars when she came to give birth in a prominent hospital in Jakarta, without obtaining her consent. Only in 2006 did the Health Ministry release a circular to end the practice of female genital mutilation.

Nursyahbani said she deeply regretted agreeing to her daughter having her female genitalia cut. As her daughter reached maturity, Nursyahbani told her about the genital mutilation and her own experience.

“That was my first experience — of seeing female sexuality shaped by a social construct and women perceived merely as sexual creatures. The regional bylaws on obscenity depicting women as obscene humans and the cause of rape stem from that way of thinking,” she said.

Her work as defending female workers and pregnant teenagers finally strengthened her conviction that sexuality and sexual rights had to be addressed as human rights issues.

She added that researchers and activists needed to keep collaborating to work on policy advocacy. Changing society’s perception on sexuality issues and eventually behavior will take a long time, Nursyahbani went on.

Nursyahbani, a renowned advocate for legal justice and the protection of human rights for Indonesian women, co-founded the Indonesian Women Association for Justice and became the first secretary general for Indonesia Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy.

“It took us seven years to pass the Domestic Violence Law,” she said. “Seven years,” she repeated in a whisper.

“Change does not come easily.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Mon, August 16 2010

Youth still in the dark about their sexuality

rwan Martua Hidayana, the University of Indonesia’s sexuality and gender expert, said when he reached puberty, he was at a loss at who to ask questions about his wet dreams. The only sources were his peers, who were as unknowing as him.

That was more than 30 years ago. Recently he asked his male students during class on gender and sexuality about who they turned to talk about their coming-of-age wet dream experiences.

“Did they ask their father, mother or another adult?”

They didn’t. They said they only talked to their friends. It’s amazing that after more than 30 years, there has been no change,” he said. “They experienced the same thing as I did.”

Information on sexuality is lacking for young people in Indonesia, Irwan said. While children in Indonesia can easily access pornography through DVDs, access to sex education is lacking.

According to Lisa Poniman, a 17-year-old high school graduate, children do learn about reproductive organs in biology and physical education class.

“But a thorough sex education is very important. As we grow, our curiosity grows as well. As teenagers, it’s normal to want to know more about our sexuality,” she said. “It’s not possible to hide the realities of life.”

In the aftermath of the sex videos scandal that involves Indonesia’s top celebrities,  National Education Minister Muhammad Nuh reportedly said students do not need formal sex education in schools.

Human rights and gender activist Firliana Purwanti said people should not think that sex education meant a lesson in sexual intercourse. “Sex education and a sex lesson are different things,” she said.

One institution, the National AIDS Commission, recently filled the gap in information by launching Wednesday an interactive sex education website ( which it says aims to connect teens and young adults with health experts who can provide them with accurate information on sex.

Irwan said the issue of female sexuality was also important to discuss as double standards usually existed. “For example, men are tolerated to be sexual and have sexual experiences before marriage.

Women, however, have to keep their virginity,” he said.

Arranti (not her real name), 17, said that it was important for her to remain a virgin. She said that while she made out with her boyfriend, she would never cross the line by having sex.

“If I lose it, it would ruin my future. I can’t imagine if I lost my virginity before marriage. And for a woman there’s a stigma.

“So, unless you’re married, I think you should keep it.”

Arranti, however, said she would not mind if her future partner was sexually experienced.

“If I really care about him, it would not matter,” she said.

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Wed, July 07 2010

Indonesia’s way of embracing sexuality

Ancient teaching: A relief at Sukuh Temple near Surakarta. The 15-century Hindu-Buddhist temple depicts reliefs on life before birth, having sexual education as its main theme. JP/Ani Suswantoro
Ancient teaching: A relief at Sukuh Temple near Surakarta. The 15-century Hindu-Buddhist temple depicts reliefs on life before birth, having sexual education as its main theme. JP/Ani Suswantoro

Sex is a big part of Indonesians’ daily lives. Everyday people laugh at dirty jokes. Open flirting is common, even between work colleagues, which some may view as verging on sexual harassment.

Watching pornographic films has long been an “educational” past time for school children curious about sex.

In the workplace, it’s not rare to see several people with their eyes glued to a computer screen playing pornographic movies. And sex workers never have quiet nights except maybe during fasting months.

However, Indonesians relaxed attitude toward sex is ambiguous. In a way, Indonesian society is permissive in laughing at the jokes, in its knowledge of the steamy stories in the two volumes of the book Jakarta Undercover, open flirting, of having mistresses in unregistered marriages, and living side by side with the many sex brothels across the country.

In another way, its sexuality is repressed, with society quick to condemn anyone who engages in sexual activities outside a heterosexual marriage.

So come the stories of raids on unmarried couples living under the same roof, of transvestites being chased by public order officers and of the hard-line religious groups intimidating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The recent love story of Alterina Hofman, who suffers from Klinefelter’s syndrome — a rare case where a male has an extra X chromosome — and Jane Hadipoespito, is another case of sexual repression.

Jane’s parents denounced the couple’s marriage and filed a lawsuit against Alterina for document
fraud because he previously declared he was a woman on his identity cards. Police then took Alterina to prison, ignoring the latest report from a doctor that confirmed he was a man.

People, of course, are still in tune with the sex-video scandal that befell pop band Peterpan vocalist, Nazril “Ariel” Ilham. The 28-year-old divorced father of one, famed for his guttural singing, is now in police custody, charged under the controversial 2008 Pornography Law for allegedly featuring in the sex video with his girlfriend actress Luna Maya and another video with presenter Cut Tari.

In short: You can joke about it. You can even do it. But, if you are not heterosexual and unmarried, do not get caught doing it.

An expert on gender and sexuality from the University of Indonesia, Irwan Martua Hidayana, said  the issue of sexuality in Indonesia was largely influenced by religious and cultural norms. “People see sex in the frame of marriage,” he said at his office on the Depok campus.

“So, when you’re not married, either men or women, ideally, normatively, should not have sex,” he said.

“When there are unmarried people who are sexually active, they will get a social sanction. They will be condemned from a moral point of view as deviant and decadent,” he said.

For Firliana Purwanti, a human rights and gender activist, and author of The “O” Project, a social sanction may be acceptable but criminalization by the state is not.

In light of Ariel’s case, Firli wrote an opinion piece in Koran Tempo daily, stating that instead of arresting Ariel, the police should arrest the person who uploaded the videos on the Internet and the people who were distributing DVDs.

“When I decided to write about Ariel’s case, I was fed up. I’m fed up with all the hypocrisy in this country,” she said.

“This is a matter of human rights. It can happen to any of us. The most relevant area that was touched in this case is the right to privacy,” she said.

“Your privacy is yours, although, the private domain can be political as well. The limitations to your freedom in your private space are three things — violence, discrimination and force,” she said.

Firli said that even the Pornography Law, a controversial piece of  “legislation due to a vague definition on pornography that polarized the nation between moralists and liberals, acknowledged the right to privacy.”

Ariel would be the first celebrity charged under the Pornography Law, passed in 2008 after years of heated debate on whether such a law was needed.

Police say he is also charged for violating another controversial law on electronic information and transactions, which punishes those who spread indecent images, and for violating the Criminal Code.

The pornography law stipulates anyone who produces, makes, copies, circulates, broadcasts, offers, trades, loans or provides porn content can face up to 12 years in prison.

National Police chief detective Comr. Gen. Ito Sumardi said detectives had collected enough evidence to charge him.

According to Irwan, the Pornography Law is a way for the state to control its citizens. “Any country will try to control its citizens. One way is by controlling their sexuality and bodies,” he said.

It is not the first time the state has attempted to control its citizens’ personal lives, Irwan said. “The family planning program for instance; that was an example of how the state controls the bodies of its citizens, especially female bodies,” he said.

Within the state, he says, lay ideologies. “Formally, we have the ideology of Pancasila. But for feminists, they may say a patriarchy ideology exists, which puts men before women,” he said.

As a secular country with millions of religious people, most adhering to Islam, moral standards of those religions feature as well, he said.

These moral standards, associated with sexuality, Irwan says, evolve with changes in society.

At the time Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in Java ruled, society had a more open attitude toward sexuality, evident in the reliefs at the Sukuh Temple near Surakarta that depict sexuality openly. Irwan also mentioned the Centini scripture that discusses sexuality openly.

“Changes always happen in culture. There used to be acceptance of different genders and sexual activities, such as homosexual acts between warok and gemblak in Ponorogo,” he said.

Warok is the leader in the Reog Ponorogo dance, who was prohibited from having sexual intercourse with women, making them have gemblak, or young boys as sexual partners.

The Bugis people in Makassar, Irwan said,  acknowledge five types of gender: female, male, calalai (masculine female), calabai (feminine male) and bissu (androgyny).

The entering of major world religions such as Islam and Christianity, and modern western views of monogamy, has slowly changed how Indonesians view sexuality. Now, he says, moral control becomes stronger and limited to heterosexuality. With moral control, sexuality becomes a taboo topic because it is viewed in a negative light, Irwan said.

This results in moral panic when cases of sexual activity outside the accepted norm surfaced, Irwan said,  such as Ariel’s case, with media sensationalizing and condemning it simultaneously, and two ministers rejecting the importance of sex education.

Irwan said the sex videos scandal could actually be momentum to develop a sex education program for students.

“Because people see sex in a negative light if it occurs outside the marriage framework, moral panic always results” he said.

“If people have knowledge about sexuality, they can be more responsible in protecting themselves.”

Idy Muzayyad, former Nahdlatul Ulama youth-wing activist and member of the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI), says in their activities people should take into account the norms in the society they live in.

“In France a minister can have a baby without being married, and people would be OK with that. Here, that’s not possible, because we have different values.”

He emphasizes, however, that while society can give social sanctions, the state should not inter-
fere in the private domain of its citizens.

“There’s a way to heaven and the way to hell, and even God gives humans the choice,” he said.

Firli said legislative processes in Indonesia were prone to bias. “We’re used to making policies that are heterosexist and patriarchal,” she said, giving the health law as an example as it regulates access to reproductive health for married couples.

“That’s unrealistic. Because our policies have always been religiously biased, it has never been effective in solving problems in the field. So many people don’t follow religion strictly anyway. And with a secular country, why [is the government] introducing religious values in policies.”

Many studies since the 1980s and 1990s show that the younger generation is sexually active, Irwan said.

“I think our politicians should accept that this is what’s happening in society. They should not be in denial.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Wed, July 07 2010