Indonesia, Learning To Talk About Sexual Violence

A brutal gang rape in Sumatra has sparked street demonstrations, candlelight vigils and calls for stricter punishment for sexual predators. Grassroots groups, in the meantime, are focusing on survivors, helping them live with the trauma, not just ingore i

May 4 demonstration in Jakarta to protest violence against women
May 4 demonstration in Jakarta to protest violence against women
Nicole Curby


JAKARTA â€" It's Saturday afternoon here in Jakarta and I've come to check out an unusual writing workshop, one that's geared not just toward women, but to women who travel alone.

Traveling solo is one reason used to blame women for rape and sexual violence. But here, through writing, women are encouraged to notice details and changes in their environment, and to feel safe and confident when venturing off alone.

The workshop is part of a creative campaign â€" using diverse approaches and tools â€" to start a conversation around sexual violence, a pressing topic here in Indonesia, especially in light of the high-profile gang rape in April of a 14-year-old girl in Sumatra.

From Acroyoga to travel writing, the workshops are aimed at increasing self-awareness, encouraging women to acknowledge personal boundaries, and to talk about issues surrounding sexual violence.

"It wasn't my fault"

Sophia Hage, a survivor of sexual violence, is a co-founder of Lentera Sintas, the Jakarta-based organization facilitating these workshops and responsible for the #mulaibicara (let's talk) campaign. The workshops double as fundraising events that help finance free group sessions and one-on-one counseling that Lentera Sintas offers to survivors of sexual violence.

"Hopefully the message that you are in charge of your own body, and are allowed to say no, can help kickstart the conversation," says Hage.

One survivor at the workshop, who agreed to speak to me anonymously, said the sessions have really helped her and others process and recover. "We were in a bad place you know. But through the healing process, the sessions, by talking to other survivors, it helps me understand what happened. I'm not ashamed of myself," she says.

"I understand it wasn’t my fault at all," the woman goes on to say. "What happened wasn’t my fault. It influenced everything in my life. Now I feel like I have the right to dream again. I can be a normal person."

In a society that often blames victims for the sexual violence inflicted upon them â€" for wearing seemingly provocative clothing, or traveling alone â€" it can take women a long time to speak out. The road to recovery is long, and part of that journey is acknowledging they are not victims but survivors.

Some of the most painful wounds, Hage explains, are psychological. "What we are trying to make the survivors understand is that it's okay to feel like they'll never get through it. It's okay to feel that they'll never forget, that they'll never move on. Because that's not the point," says Hage. "Forgetting it and moving on isn't the goal. It’s how we live with the trauma, admitting that the trauma happened but realizing you can lead an active and empowered life regardless."

Starting the conversation

Last year, there were more than 5,000 reported cases of sexual violence, according to Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women, or Komnas Perempuan. The number doesn't take into account instances of sexual violence at home, and other unreported cases.

Dr. Indraswari, the Komnas Perempuan commissioner, insists that the state has a responsibility towards the victims of sexual violence. "The state must provide treatment, be it medical or psychological treatment. It could also be economic empowerment for the victims," she explains.

In theory, the Indonesian government should provide services in every regency and city for women and children who have experienced violence. The scheme, known as P2TP2A, calls for provision of medical, psychological and other forms of support. In practice, however, NGOs end up shouldering most of this work.

"Indonesia is a huge place, so it's difficult for the state to provide services," says Kristi Poerwandari, a psychologist from the Jakarta-based NGO Pulih, which provides psychological services to victims of trauma and violence. "In so many places there are no services. No services at all, in fact.”

Women's organizations are also lobbying the Indonesian government to pass legislation to crack down on sexual violence. Rape is a crime under Indonesian law. But groups such as Pulih, Komnas Perempuan and Lentera Sintas advocate revising the law to cover a broader definition of sexual violence. They also want the state to take preventative measures, and provide rehabilitation services for perpetrators.

Still, the state's top priority, according to Hage, should be to address the needs of survivors of sexual violence. "We receive a lot of questions from survivors: Where do we go if we want to report a case of sexual violence? Where do we go if we want to get counseling?" the Lentera Sintas co-founder explains. "Not a lot of that information is readily available. So that is one thing that we want to focus this campaign on: Just to start talking about where victims can get help."

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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