Female Change Agents

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Hani: fighting gender based violence against women and men in Indonesia

“My first encounter talking to a victim of sexual violence broke my heart. I sat in my car, but I couldn’t go home, I was crying like a baby. This victim was only twelve years old, same age as my daughter at the time,” Hani Yulindrasari recalls. “Listening to this girl’s story reminded me of when I myself was fourteen and a stranger on the streets grabbed my boobs. I screamed, but nobody helped. I want to raise awareness. I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a dangerous environment!” How is Hani as a doctor in Gender Studies making a difference with her practical activism?

Being born and raised in Bandung, Indonesia, Hani grew up with her mother and father both being teachers: “Dad always told me to go to school, to reach for the highest education level possible.” So after studying Psychology in Indonesia, Hani did her Masters in Gender Studies in Australia, came back to Indonesia to work, only to return to Australia on a scholarship for her PhD in Gender and Development. After she came back from Australia in 2018, Hani gained a position at the Early Childhood department of Pendidikan University. She also joined Bandung School of Peace, a collective works on inclusive community, and Aretha Foundation, a foundation that works against gender based violence. Hani feels this as her duty: “It is not enough if I just teach, I need to do more for society. I had been given a scholarship to go to Australia. This was not my money but the people’s money, so I have to give back.” Since her husband died in July 2021 of Covid-19, Hani is parenting her daughter of now fourteen and her son of twelve by herself: “My husband has always supported me. He was a veterinarian in Indonesia, but he left his career for me and worked in a casual job to support our family in Australia. Back in Indonesia he also supported my activism against sexual violence and gender based violence.”

Forces fighting a Crisis Centre against sexual violence
In 2019 several students from her class at university started talking to Hani about what they had experienced. There was also a case of one of her colleagues harassing a student, who after reporting was taken out of that class. “Ideally the harasser who was the teacher would have been removed,” Hani says about this incident. “Victim blaming is very big in Indonesian society. Women who don’t cover their hair are being seen as seducing.” Another report came from outside the university, in which case the violator was one of Hani’s students: “I really felt we needed to do something about this and I got the support from colleagues, female and male.” In 2020 the University’s Taskforce against sexual violence saw the light. Hani started doing the advocacy for the victims. In 2021 the rector of University agreed to open a Crisis Centre, now headed by Hani. “Grabbing and sexual comments are common in universities. People who feel disrupted by the existence of the Crisis Centre say it is not needed, they tend to deny that these things are happening. Others see the anti-sexual violence movement as legalizing consensual sex. We are facing accusation of allowing pre-marital sex. I am a very rational person, but as I was advocating in a city that is famous for voodoo and a harasser cursed me, I was scared. I am a single mom, I can’t get sick!” Hani confesses with a smile.

Being there for the victims
The support of professor Elly Malihah and other colleagues in the university, is what keeps Hani going and most of all, her mission to help victims: “I have my strategies not to let accusations from Muslim groups personally touch me. I don’t go into debate. The most important thing for me is to be there for the victims. To do something real in practice. I take interviews, I assess, identify their needs and refer to psychologists who are willing to help out. It is very hard to find counsellors who want to work for free. I am allowed to do simple counselling as a basic psychologist. Fully trained psychologists are very expensive, and most victims come from low income families. Victims choose to talk to me because they feel more comfortable. I know my boundaries, the least I can do is to give my time and listen to them. We work together with the police, legal aid institutions and other NGO’s and governmental institutions. Usually when victims come to me they already reported to the police. Not all police stations are sensitive to sexual harassment issues, we know where to send them. City level police stations are specialized in gender based violence.”

Calling on men and women to work together against violence
“Not many people have the courage to deal with victims directly, which can be very draining,” Hani continues. “People care, but it is very difficult to let yourself into these stories. I grew into it and also started talking about it in my classes. Not as part of the curriculum, but just to put the idea into students that this can happen anywhere to anyone. We are trying to stop sexual violence by educating students and staff. We make them aware as witnesses and give practical tips about how to interrupt and report.” Also the Crisis Centre is working on a 24/7 hotline for students and staff, with students from the Taskforce. “They have a huge motivation to create a women friendly environment free from sexual violence.” Hani shares that of the 70 reports they got at the Crisis Centre last year, only three came from men: “I was not surprised, men are afraid to report. Masculinity is a stigma, people ask why the man did not hit back.” Encouraging men to open up is only one of the goals Hani is aiming for. “Men have to respect that women are in full control of their bodies. I want everyone to be aware that sexual violence is happening and what they can do if they encounter it. I want men and women to work together against any type of violence. Universities need to have their processes in place, so people can act when violence happens. We have to interfere!”

Interviewer and writer, Lisa Koolhoven

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