Activism in Indonesia: a movement for change

It has been a couple of weeks since I got back home from an intense week in Indonesia. With our project Let’s Talk Equality, my project partner Anna and I visited several organizations and doctors in the suburbs of Jakarta and Bali. The objective of the trip was to gather footage for our documentary on maternal health in Sweden and Indonesia.

I was completely blown away by the positive energy present in every office I visited. Despite facing a lot of resistance, people were determined and confident that it was worth all the work. Having tried to understand the slow and difficult process for change in Indonesia, I will try to share some of my observations here, before the launch of our documentary later this spring.

Having grown up in Sweden, I was raised under the impression that certain privileges were certainties. Like legal abortions. Low maternal mortality rates. Free contraception. Paid paternity leave. The right to love regardless of gender. In Indonesia, none of these “certainties” exist. In fact, abortion is illegal. As is homosexuality. Parental leave is exclusive for mothers and limited to 3 months only. Not everyone have access to contraceptives. The lifetime risk of maternal death is 1 in 210.  Also, child marriage is still legal; the legal age of marriage for girls is 16 but 18 for boys. To me, these facts seemed surreal. How can it be legal for a man to marry a child, but not another man?

On a happier note, there are plenty of organizations working to change these facts and we had the privilege of visiting some of them. One was the White Ribbon Alliance (or Aliansi Pita Putih Indonesia), who welcomed us to busy Jakarta. Their mission is to improve the situation for mothers and families all over the country by working and educating communities in what they call “Alert Villages”.

One of these villages is called Mekarsari. Mekarsari is a densely populated and poor village a couple of hours outside of Jakarta. The village has over 60 000 citizens and was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The streets were narrow, fitting only some street vendors and motorcycles. The climate was incredibly humid, and despite the large population the pace was slow and sleepy. The mayor is a woman, which I was told was a rarity. Although she did not speak English, she showed us her office and the demographics of the city. One of the main programs for improved health in Indonesia is free healthcare for the poorer citizens – an important step for a country with big economic inequalities.

We participated in a local class for elderly and pregnant women, held every second week. In the class, a midwife explained some common signs of pregnancy. Although we did not understand her words, it was clear that the audience enjoyed the light-hearted way she delivered the information. Women of all ages, including kids, were sitting on the floor and watching patiently in the small and hot room.

IMG_4995Afterwards, we were asked questions about Sweden, and everyone found it amusing that there are 10 million people in such a big country – a number equivalent to the population in city of Jakarta. We were told that after Indonesia gained independence, the president installed a policy banning family planning and contraception, since “a big country should have a big population”. Now, Indonesia works in many ways to promote family planning in their overpopulated country. People were also amazed by the fact that we had access to free contraception, and that us Swedes could get abortions as many time as we wanted without even having to give a reason for it. We finished up by taking some pictures, and left the clinic with a lot to think about.

Entering into a different society like that is a very special thing. Seeing the dirty streets of the town made me value the clean and spacious environment I live in, and even though I had read of the differences, it was completely different to see them for myself. Never have I met so many inspiring people and learned so much in so few days. My experiences are too many to fit into one single blog post, so I will continue my story in a short series. Until the next post, you can be inspired by White Ribbon Alliance’s important work here.

Photo credits: Tilde Holme

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Category: Health    Maternal and Child Health    SRHR
Tagged with: documentary    Equality    Indonesia    Maternal Health    sexual and reproductive health and rights    Sweden    women's health

Tilde Holm

Tilde is currently pursuing a BA of History, Politics & Economics at UCL. Last year she co-founded a project in collaboration with the White Ribbon Alliance that resulted in a documentary series on midwives around the world. In her spare time, she likes to read and write about things that matter to her, especially related to Women's Rights and Gender Equality.

See more posts from Tilde Holm

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