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Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Political Stage of Women Against Sexual Harassment

 "Women today are getting fierce. They easily scream about sexual abuse. They easily state about sexual violence emergency. When they get whistling on, they get angry. When they are teased via live chat, they report on social media. Spooky". Such things are the old tradition that were considered normal to feel anxious and confused about a new norm: a culture against sexual harassment!

We are in an episode: a male politician tweeted about the thigh of a female politician. The thighs of the candidate for deputy mayor of Tangsel are very smooth, he said, consciously and openly. In fact, Rahayu Saraswati, the deputy mayor candidate, was on her sporting agenda that morning, of course she was wearing sports clothes.

Cipta Panca Laksana's verbal sexual harassment is similar to a murky ripple that illustrates the great challenge of women in the public sphere. Interestingly, this is not about gender. Sexism is not the face of men, but the face of anyone with a feeling of power which aims to make the weaker party helpless, feel inferior, feel guilty, question themselves so that they can then be powered and controlled. In fact, Panca missed. He chose the wrong opponent.

In an open social media, perpetrators of harassment choose to comment on women's body shapes, women's lipstick colors, women's clothes to women's marital status rather than measuring women's ideas that are conveyed according to their academic background and political activities. It could be that he is unable to keep up with women's ideas. It could be that she is a product of a world that is too male from the previous century which is still surprised by the existence of smart women. In his world in caves, he still thinks women are created as slaves and servants.

In a meeting room, an official aged around fifty feels normal to harass student interns in government agencies. Unwanted winks, glances and touches, uncomfortable gesture codes, and sexually charged texts are being intensified. We have not counted how many manipulation techniques to counter the ideas of women. With a little loud voice, just call women as emotional creatures. Many refute opinions in forums, let's say that women are in a monthly cycle. Fighting for the fate of women, children and vulnerable groups, let's say that being sensitive to taking things personally is a women's hobby.

First, sexual harassment is always a matter of power relations, and political structure is the profession with the most recent power. In the decades since democracy has given women the opportunity to enter the political stage, sexual harassment has just been normalized because the existing structure can threaten anything to the structure under it. There is a myth that the structure of parties, government agencies, religious institutions, companies and campuses should be institutions that are free from "embarrassing" news. Now, that myth is being challenged. It would be shameful for any institution to perpetuate the tradition of abuse against women! Institutions that can respond quickly to acts of sexual violence by taking sides with the vulnerability of victims will become respected and trusted institutions.

Second, the normalization of sexual harassment is supported by the normalization of the view that women's bodies must comply. The body that has been made submissive, the mind and attitude easily subjected to it. In the timeline, netizens condemn the perpetrators, but also at the same time advise women to dress "properly". Similar to the question, can women in public spaces still be good partners and mothers at home? Men have never checked similar demands. The next question is: what is the standard of propriety?

Recently, the wave of the Muslim fashion industry has had a significant influence on shifting the norms of appropriateness for women's clothing. Although, since the past the wearing of the headscarf has had a significant influence on political correctness, so that corrupt suspects always wear a headscarf impromptu in courtrooms. Today, the discourse on the hijab continues to develop in the social landscape of Indonesia. The Alvara Research Institute report in the 2019 Indonesian Moslem Report records that the number of women wearing headscarves in Indonesia reaches more than 75%.

In Public Schools, without any written basis, there is an unwritten agreement regarding the shape of the long uniform, for both women and men. Many stories of girls who do not veil or wear long uniforms receive direct reprimands from their teachers or school principals. If not immediately, the discomfort of being an unveiled minority could stem from constant insinuation or advice to get veiled immediately. What is the reason behind that? Nothing. It is only fitting of social compliance that today the majority of women wear Muslim fashion trends.

In the village, mothers go to a celebration event with the latest Muslim fashion models. Mothers don't really define what is syar'I and not syar'I according to today's standards, but it's the fashion models that they can find in the market and become trends. Industry trends are setting new standards of propriety to the point that young girls have been affected by these trends.

As a choice of clothing for women, of course this Muslim fashion wave is dynamic. As with other cultural products, clothing trends will continue to dialogue with the community as consumers of that cultural product. Products that are functional, comfortable with creative power for beauty will win human needs and imagination for a quality item.

The problem arises when the trend of Muslim fashion for women does not move in line with women's awareness of a stronger self-agency. Women, by their choice of dress, must not be harassed and cannot become victims of violence.

The fight against sexual harassment began to become a global movement with the hashtag #MeToo in 2017. Starting with the New York Times and New Yorker reports on alleged sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape committed by Harvey Weinstein against more than 80 women in the film industry, women from the whole world agreed to start talking about their experiences of sexual violence.

In 2018, the #MosqueMeToo movement emerged to escalate stories of sexual harassment experiences which are experienced by women when doing the Hajj and pilgrimages in holy places. A Pakistani Muslim woman, Sabica Khan, who first wrote her experience on Facebook deleting posts out of fear, but was greeted with support from women around the world who then began to share their stories. In Egypt, in July 2020, for the first time the mass media ran a survey of sexual harassment headlines. According to the survey, 32% of women who wore a hijab were sexually harassed, 21% of women without a hijab, followed by 20% of women with wide abayas. After that, the Instagram account @assaultpolice routinely monitors complaints of sexual harassment in academics and workplaces. This account is also an initiative of the movement for education against sexual harassment of women in Egypt.

Rahayu Saraswati's answer was enough to melt my heart. She chose to interpret the event she experienced to remind the public of the high and real rates of sexual violence experienced by women and children who are far weaker and more vulnerable than her. She used the momentum to become a speaker for the voices of victims who had not had the opportunity to speak.

Women's political stage prepares against sexual harassment. Are you still asking about how long these women are keeping loud? The answer, perhaps, is not in the near future they will stop talking. This is because resistance will increasingly make the adherents of the old norms feel uncomfortable. It will not stop until legal protection is upheld for the victims. It will keep going until our society sees women as whole human beings with ideas and awareness, not just a body that can be weakened by power.


Kalis Mardiasih (born in Blora, 16th February 1992) is a young female moslem writer and activist who campaigns for Indonesian diversity and gender equality in Islamic discourse.

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