This is a story about the power of women, compassion, and human collective action.
Back in 2016, a 14-year-old girl (YY) was found dead in Bengkulu, Indonesia. YY was born to a poor family in Bengkulu province, Sumatra. She was a bright student, ranked in top 3 in her class. On April 2, she was brutally murdered after allegedly gang-raped by 14 men and boys on her way back from school. Her body was dumped at a local plantation and found two days later.
Police promptly arrested 12 of the 14 alleged perpetrators, which half of the suspects are aged 18 or younger. Two of the suspects were students from her school.
At first, this case was ignored by Indonesian mainstream media until Kartika Jahja of Kolektif Betina community (Indonesian feminist community) initiated a social media campaign. The campaign started with the hashtag #NyalauntukYY (light a candle for YY) – along with similar hashtags that came afterward such as #YYadalahKita (YY is us) and #SaveOurSister.
The hashtag gained popularity with Indonesian celebrities and even President Joko Widodo made a supportive statement on Twitter regarding the YY’s case. He tweeted “We all mourn the tragic departure of YY. Arrest and punish the perpetrators as severely as possible. Women and children have to be protected from violence.”
The hashtag even survived for nine hours as one of the popular topics on Twitter on Monday, May 3, 2016. The campaign is intended to put pressure on policy maker so that this case can be processed objectively.
Around this time, the national media published the story.
Sexual violence against women and children is an ongoing problem in Indonesia. According to the National Commission on Violence Against Women, there are 2.979 cases of sexual violence against women in 2017 alone. The number had a steep increase from 1.726 cases in 2015. Also, nearly 70% of violence against women cases are committed by family members or partners.
Cases of sexual assault in Indonesia is like an iceberg phenomenon. These cases often go unreported because of the stigma that sexual violence occurs because of the victim’s fault. The tendency of people to blame the victims of sexual harassment makes many women reluctant to report cases of sexual violence.
In the wake of YY’s case, women’s rights activists were the first to voice their concern followed by other members of the society. The campaign didn’t stop on social media as these activists also kicked off various offline activities as a form of solidarity. On May 4, they initiated “Ring the Warning Sign” meetup at the Indonesian Presidential Palace. The action was carried out as a form of solidarity by honking every possible instrument, from musical to wind chimes and whistle. The call to participate was disseminated through social media and had received positive feedbacks from people across Indonesia. On the afternoon of May 4, not only people from Jakarta participated in the campaign, but also people from Bengkulu, Jogjakarta, Makassar, and Semarang.
The phenomenon of the YY’s case sparked online participation that leads to offline solidarity – a concept known as participatory culture.
Participatory culture refers to a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and for sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices (Jenkins, 2006). Delwiche & Henderson (2013) also added that a participatory culture is also characterized by members who believe their contribution matter and feel some degree of social connections with one another. The concept of participatory culture emerged after social communities adapt to the new technology that allows users to share information in new ways.
If YY’s case happened in an era before the internet, Kartika Jahja and the women’s rights activists won’t be able to express their concern unless via a street demonstration or have mainstream media journalists picked up the story. Even worse, they may not have heard about YY in the first place.
Like a candlelight in the dark, YY’s case and the enormous support to #NyalauntukYY inspired several smaller-scale campaigns by different communities to raise awareness of sexual violence against women. In 2017, these communities agreed to join their activities into one national campaign – called #GerakBersama (literally means collaboration or act together).
The #GerakBersama campaign is distributed through various online platforms, such as Twitter, Campaign.com, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, change.org, Kitabisa.com, online news such as Kompas.com, Rappler.com, jurnaltimur.com, wartakota.tribunnews.com, majalahkartini.co.id, Magdalene.co, and various institutions’ / communities’ websites. Other than the online platforms, this joint campaign also has numerous offline activities.
At the end of the year, the #GerakBersama campaign is intensified as it coincides with 16 Days of Violence Against Women (16HAKTP), commemorated every year from November 25 to December 10, with December 10th coincides with the World Human Rights Day. 16 days is a symbolic effort to emphasize that violence against women is a human rights violation that often escapes attention. The main goal of this campaign is to push the legislation of the Elimination of Sexual Violence Bill.
Until late 2018, Indonesia hasn’t passed the bill yet.
A small number of sexual crimes definition are already included in Indonesia’s Criminal Code; however, this law tends to side with the perpetrators. While, the proposed bill has a broader definition of sexual violence, including sexual harassment, exploitation, torture, and sexual slavery. The bill also proposed the prevention and protection of the victims, especially during the recovery period.
Like a snowball rolling, the campaign gain traction in 2018. The National Commission on Violence Against Women, as one of the initiators #GerakBersama, collaborated with international partners to raise awareness in 16HAKTP. During these 16 days, activists and supporters poured on the streets and in social media voicing concern over the issue.
In 2018, at least two cases of sexual violence made it to national media, both happened in November. First, a university college student sexually assaulted by a fellow student during a community service project back in 2017. She gave permission to the university magazine to publish her story in November 2018, especially since the perpetrators are going to graduate soon. There is a lot of victims blaming statements, and the university stated they will handle this case internally.
Secondly, a female teacher was sentenced to jail after being accused of spreading an audio recording documenting unwanted sexual advances from her former boss. Both cases make the perfect examples of how sexual violence victims are reluctant to come forward.
Although still has many flaws, #GerakBersama, as a joint effort, is a start to raise awareness of sexual violence against women in Indonesia – also a good example of participatory culture. Henry Jenkins argued that participatory culture has several distinctive characteristics, such as the ease of self-expression and the feeling that the contribution made to the community is something significant (Jenkins et al., 2009). Therefore, people feel connected with others who have the same concern on a specific topic. The concern can be caused by various things, from being a victim, having a relative or friend who has been a victim, a feeling of empathy, to a strong desire to change the patriarchal culture.
Digital conversation is where participatory culture begins in the #GerakBersama campaign, where the initiators of this campaign began to provide a stimulus that matches the issue. However, most of shared content or hashtags are published by organizations and not individuals. So, digital conversations that happen are still one way from initiators to the public, and two-way engagement has not happened – except during the 16HAKTP period.
The fight is far from over. For the #GerakBersama campaign initiators, it is necessary to have a timeline for publications and year-round activities to elevate individual engagement. However, society’s participation to end violence against women is still very much needed.
Delwiche, A., & Henderson, J. J. (Eds.). (2013). The Participatory Cultures Handbook.New York: Routledge.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.NYU Press.
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Mit Press.
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A writer | researcher | lecturer who also a tech-addict and internet-junkie