Sexuality in an Indonesian context

Home to 250 million people and the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia has a secular government. It consists of diverse religions, cultures, tribes and races. Diverse expressions of sexuality have been part of Indonesian cultures for hundreds of years. These were were translated into cultural practices through dance, spirituality, etc. For example, the Reog Ponorogo dance in East Java potrays a homosexual relationship between the characters of Warok and Gemblak. Likewise, the Bissu is the term for a transgender group in Makassar, South Sulawesi. The group is revered as being holy by the Bugis people, and respected for their spirituality.

Recently, however, sexuality became topical when the Government of Indonesia decided to enact the Anti-Pornography Law in 2008. Much of this law discriminates against the sexuality of women and minority groups such as the LGBT community, and ignores Indonesia’s cultural diversity.This legislation has set a benchmark, with opinion moving away from support for fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and opinion. Rather than combating pornography, the definition and interpretation of the law targets vulnerable groups, such as women and the LGBT community, for criminalization.

Sexuality, regulation and internet governance in Indonesia

Internet regulation and discriminatory legislation or practices that violate women’s and LGBT’s rights, over their own bodies and their sexuality, are not in line with the 1945 Constitution. Article 28C paragraph 1 states that, Everyone shall have the right to develop him/herself through the fulfillment of his/her basic needs, the right to get education and to benefit from science and technology, arts and culture, for the purpose of improving the quality of his/her life and for the welfare of the human race.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion, Frank La Rue has stated that the internet’s importance as an alternative space that should be supported. His comments justify the belief that the internet contributes to the increasing awareness about the rights of freedom of expression and information. This acknowledgement also influences future policy especially the role of internet as key to enabling the acknowledgement of sexuality rights as an integral part of human rights.

The World Health Organization also considers sexual rights to be human rights. These rights include the right to be free from coercion, discrimination and abuse to obtain:

1) The highest standard of reproductive health, including access to sexual and reproductive health;

2) The freedom to seek, accept, and deliver information on sexuality, sexual education; and respect bodily integrity

3) To choose one’s own partner;

4) To decide either to be sexually active or not;

5) Consensual sexual relations;

6) Consensual marriage;

7) The right to decide to have a child or not, and when to have a child; and

8) A safe and satisfactory sexual life;

However, in 2009, the Ministry of Information and Communications formed a network with civil society organizations, academics and internet businesses to launch the Healthy and Safe Internet Program (Program Internet Sehat dan Aman, INSAN). This initiative aims to regulate the internet in Indonesia through establishing ‘decency’ norms, and working through ISPs to block pornographic content or content that violates these norms. On the positive side, it provides useful information about internet safety and conducts activities that complement this focus.

However, INSAN has published a public service advertisement which encourages young women and teenagers to be safe when using social media or the internet, which is important and informative. The video which is spread through YouTube shows a female teenage rape victim, who blames herself for not being careful when using social media. The rape is made out to be the victim’s fault. Rape should be overcome by sexual education and a change to patriarchy so that the perpetrators would not rape, rather than asking victims to take care of themselves so that they will not be raped. The internet should provide a safe space for women, rather than being portrayed as a place where they may be in danger of sexual violence through their own actions.

Indonesian law does, however, contain some of the provisions noted by international human rights norms, which could be implemented online. For example, the Law on the Elimination of Domestic Violence in Indonesia, enacted in 2004, and the Law on Anti-Human Trafficking, enacted in 2007, should be implemented not only in ‘physical space’, but also online, wherever online harrasment (sometimes targetting the survivors of domestic violence) and trafficking against women is happening.

Internet space and sexuality in Indonesia

Since the reform movement of 1998, the internet has become a site for the contestation of social and political issues. For example, in 2009, women’s groups utilizing social media such as Facebook were successful in mobilizing support for a woman who had spoken out for her health rights, a campaign named Coin for Prita. This solidarity movement was to help a woman named Prita, who faced an expensive lawsuit taken by a private hospital because, using the internet, she expressed her disappointment with the hospital.

LGBT groups have also chosen to use the internet to mobilize their communities and networks, as public space offline is often not safe. A Jakarta-based LBT youth community, Institut Pelangi Perempuan, started its movement by using a group mailing list in 2006, as this provided a safe place for LBT sexual rights online activism. It was only after this that they organized community meetings. Our Voice Indonesia (an LGBT Organization) has a similar history, but became an online portal for LGBT news and legal LGBT organizing. Likewise, the Indonesian AIDS Coalition launched AIDS Digital in 2013, a portal for information on AIDS and Reproductive Health, which allows users to access information discretely. This was in response to a notable lack of services and information on these issues.

The internet has thus provided a space for the advancement of sexual rights in Indonesia. However, the discrimination and violence against LGBT groups and women that happens offline is now occurring online. Discrimination and violations of both freedom of expression and sexuality rights have continued through the blocking of sites that are considered to contain morally inappropriate content. If users attempt to access the sites, a notification appears saying, “The site you tried to open is not accessible for it may contain pornographic material”. However, at least some of these sites provide information on LGBT and women’s fundamental human rights. As of April 2011, there were three internet service providers (ISPs) that blocked LGBT websites such as the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC) website, and the site of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA).

An internet rights activist also reported on May 2013 that a feminism website campaigning for anti-sexism, racism, and corruption by using art,, is also blocked on the grounds of pornographic content.

Cyber-homophobia is also becoming more common. Politicians, for example, are trying to win votes in the 2014 election by portraying themselves as moral guardians. During her campaign on social media, especially on Twitter, she spread the discourse of Anti Homosexual. An online portal in Kaskus, further, has popularised the term ‘maho’ or Manusia Homo (Homosexual Person) for transgenders or men who are effeminate, which has connotations of being abnormal and sick.

This sort of behaviour also happens in social media websites such as Facebook or Twitter, where bullying and hate speech against sexuality and sexual orientations that are not hetero-normative take place. One Facebook group explicitly announces that they are LGBT haters, spreading hate speech, saying that non-heteronormative sexuality is a disease that should be eradicated in the name of morality and religion. This illustrates how the internet becomes an unsafe space.

Other cases include the distribution of naked pictures of a female inmate spread by police officers and journalists in October 2012. The image received sexist comments, and the victim was blamed as she works as a photomodel, and comments suggested that she deserved to be treated badly. A similar case happened to a police woman whose picture was manipulated and distributed. Further, the perpetrators in some rape cases are known to use Facebook to find vulnerable women and teenagers.

EROTICS Indonesia: Advocacy on sexual rights and internet rights

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) launched the EROTICS survey on March 8, 2013. It aims to uncover the challenges faced by sexual rights activists in using the internet at the global level. The survey, which was distributed by EROTICS Indonesia in network of human rights activists and organizations has found some qualitative data in the context of sexual rights and internet .

From the data, 8.82% of respondents said that the internet is useful for their work but not essential for them as activists. But 47.05% of the respondents said that the work would be difficult and impossible to do without the internet. Most of the respondents agree and understand how internet content is being regulated in Indonesia, but question the transparency and accountability for the process of regulation.

Twelve respondents said that they had experienced intimidation when talking about sexuality issues such as about LGBTs, people living with HIV/AIDS, freedom of religion and even about reproductive health. This included frontal attacks in social media or through e-mail. This was underscored by the 64.70% of respondents who said that the internet is not useful for work on sexuality rights and didn’t provide safer conditions than face-to-face meetings. Only 35.29% respondent said that the internet is useful for work on sexuality rights because it allows groups to network in relatively safer conditions. This came as a surprise! Some respondents felt that they are not in peace and have been afraid of doing their advocacy works on sexuality issues in physical reality. Even though basically the intimidations done in internet, the psychological feeling of being oppressed affects their daily life.

In responding to the violation of the rights to information and freedom of expression over the internet, EROTICS Indonesia organized a meeting of sexual rights organizations to discuss the relationship between sexual rights and internet rights in July 2012. The meeting discussed internet governance and digital security and was attended by academics and activists from civil society organizations working on issues such as LGBT rights, the rights of sex workers, the Young Indonesian Feminists Network, HIV/AIDS Positive Women, Young Muslim Feminist Community at Islamic Boarding Schools, Anti Human Trafficking and others. This was followed by a meeting with the internet rights organization ICT Watch in August 2012. The meeting discussed internet governance especially in regard to blocked LGBT websites. We then organized a consultation with the Association of Indonesia’s Internet Service Providers (Asosiasi Penyelenggara Jasa Internet Indonesia (APJII)) on September 24, 2012. This was attended by LGBT organizations, ICT Watch,, human rights organizations, and APJII. The objective was to get assistance from APJII , to put pressure on ISPs to respect human rights with regards to LGBT rights, in particular their right to freedom of expression. Since the meeting, the ILGHRC website was no longer blocked, but as of November 2012, the ILGA website remains blocked.

On November 1, 2012, the Indonesia Internet Governance Forum (Indo IGF 2012) was held for the first time in Indonesia’s history. It was attended by internet practitioners from government, private sector, civil society organization, technology experts etc. A Declaration of Indonesia’s Internet Governance was made, which was signed by various stakeholders. It clearly stated that Indonesia’s internet governance shall prioritize transparency, accountability and promote the values of democracy and human rights. Further, the IGF 2013 will be hapenning in Indonesia in October 2013, offering an opportunity to strengthen Indonesia’s commitment to freedom of expression and the right to information online.

The discourse around sexuality and internet rights is still new to Indonesia. Moreover, among internet rights advocates, the discourse of sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity rights, and even feminism, is not fully understood, or interpreted into a local context. Because of that, the challenge for EROTICS Indonesia is to establish an organizing network to advocate the link between sexuality and internet rights, particularly to other internet rights advocates. We also need to develop resources to be used as reference material for the development of a discourse on sexuality, feminism and internet rights within an Indonesian context. There is a need to build capacity so that women’s and minority groups can challenge the patriarchy that surrounds internet rights activism and governance, including an end to the sexual harassment that is experienced by women and LGBT activists whenever relating their experiences and their concerns.

Women and LGBT groups who are interested in engaging on these issues through online discussion and social media campaigns, can do so through accounts maintained by EROTICS Indonesia such as Facebook, Twitter, a blog and the website – come and get involved. Put sex on the internet!


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