Fighting Back: The women working to end street harassment in Jakarta

The recent Women’s March on Washington inspired solidarity marches in cities across the globe to fight for women’s rights and gender equality . In Jakarta, a small but passionate solidarity demonstration was organised by grassroots activist movement Hollaback Jakarta on January 21.

About 25 people met at Taman Semanggi, armed with poster-making materials and chalk, ready to make a difference. Together they decorated the pavement and sidewalk in vibrant pastel colours with messages of solidarity and #WhyIMarch. 

But for these activists, the Women’s March is just a starting point. Hollaback is a movement with the ambitious aim of ending street harassment in Jakarta and part of a global effort to eradicate harassment around the globe.

Hollaback Jakarta founder Angie, was inspired to form the movement after enduring a traumatic street harassment incident last January.

She was riding her bike to work when a man drove past on his motorbike and grabbed her breast before making a lewd remark.

“I was so shocked that this had just happened and I didn’t know what to do. By the time I realised what was going on, he had already driven off.”

Angie was shaken by what happened and proceeded to message her friends about the incident. She was surprised how many of them responded with their own similar experiences in Jakarta. 

ALSO READ: Sexually harassed 13 times in 35 minutes: Why Jakarta’s streets are not a safe space for women

“I had kind of gotten used to catcalls, whistling, things like that on the street, I already knew that was common. But I didn’t know the physical aspect of it was also common.”

She had already heard of Hollaback, an international movement formed in New York City in 2005 to deal with street harassment.

“I went on their website, to the ‘Find a Chapter’ section and there was nothing in Indonesia or really South East Asia.”

After learning she could receive training to form her own chapter, she and a couple of friends signed up and soon got Hollaback Jakarta up and running, with their website launching in September last year. 

The group works to curtail street harassment in Jakarta by documenting and sharing incidents as they occur.

People can use the Hollaback Jakarta website or app to describe their experience and share it with others.

“Street harassment is so normalised, not just here but around the world and it shouldn’t be. When I heard that so many people had also experienced this it was shocking, because not everyone talks about it, even though these things are happening on a daily basis to women throughout the city.”

“Through sharing your story, there’s an option [to] put the intersection where it happened. So you can actually start to see where this is happening in the city.”

“But also, by sharing your story it allows the victim to re-frame the experience and makes it less traumatic. When you share it, other people on the app can read it and there’s a button you can click which says ‘I’ve got your back’. So you can know that other people are with you and have read your story.”

While Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim and conservative country, Angie does not think street harassment is all that different here compared to Western countries.

“This is what gets me about street harassment. You have all these diverse cities, with different cultural norms around the world, but this one thing seems to be common to almost all of them.”

“I don’t know a place where street harassment doesn’t exist.”

“That’s why it’s great to be part of this international network of site leaders with Hollaback, because we can talk about shared stories, look at local strategies and see what street harassment looks like across the world.” 

As for the future, Hollaback Jakarta plans to expand from focusing on just street harassment to harassment in all public spaces, from the streets to online. They also want to focus on bystander intervention.

“That means getting the word out there on different bystander intervention techniques, what you can do if you see harassment of any kind, how you can intervene and how you can show support to the victim.”

The members of Hollaback Jakarta know that a huge amount of work needs to be done to tackle harassment in all its different forms. But for Angie, all of the effort is worth it.

“Because everybody has the right to feel safe in a public space.”  

If you want to find out more about Hollaback Jakarta, visit their website:



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