The Pulse of an Archipelago

Resourcing Feminist Movements in Indonesia

Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific
5 min readSep 14, 2023

Indonesia stands at a pivotal point — the upcoming national elections, shifting of the country’s capital to East Kalimantan, New Criminal Code, environmental justice issues, agrarian reforms, government and private sector conflicts, communal tensions, and gross human rights violations have left it in a state of flux. Women, trans, and non-binary human rights defenders and activists, in particular, are facing risks, threats, and challenges from rising nationalism, targeting of sexual, gender, and religious minorities, policing of online activities, and the climate crisis. As the country gears up for its national elections next year, vote-bank politics is likely to exacerbate and manipulate pre-existing prejudices and discriminatory laws to polarise majority communities and isolate minorities.

At Urgent Action Fund — Asia & Pacific, we are reflecting on how to collaborate and co-ideate with international communities that support feminist movements and networks of feminist funders to resource human rights defenders and activists in Indonesia, so that they are better equipped to face the ongoing crises and continue their work.

Earlier this year, UAF A&P travelled through different parts of Indonesia to consult and engage with women, trans, and non-binary human rights defenders, our advisors, past and current grantees, and activists’ networks, to better understand the country’s context and resource and support human rights defense.

Illustration by Nadya Noor

Risks, threats, and challenges faced by human rights activists in Indonesia

Women, trans, and non-binary human rights defenders and activists in Indonesia are facing a wide spectrum of legal risks, physical risks, and inequalities in access to basic human rights.

The broad provisions in the New Criminal Code of 2022 undermine civic spaces and curb freedom of speech and expression, giving unfettered discretion to government authorities. Existing laws also discriminate against basic human rights of LGBTQIA+ communities and organisations face greater scrutiny if they receive funds for LGB+ issues.

There is ongoing genocide and gross human rights violations in West Papua. The 2018 Nduga Massacre and tensions between the Free Papua Movement and Indonesian Military have resulted in significant resistance to development. The entrance of foreigners and foreign media has been restricted under the pretext of national security, thereby hiding serious ongoing abuses by security forces in Papua.

Indigenous women are facing violence for speaking up against land grabbing and constructions that will result in them losing their homes. In East Nusa Tenggara, women who have protested the building of a dam were ignored, attacked, and even arrested. The military continues to incite vertical conflicts between communities and tribes, and there is increasing stigma and attacks against religious minorities as evidenced by increased violence on Ahmadiyya mosques, and Ahmadiyya, Shia, and Christian communities.

The mainstream feminist movement continues to undermine class bias, as is evident in their lack of recognition of the domestic workers’ movement. Internal struggles between heterosexual garment workers and their LBQ counterparts persist and the latter live in constant fear of being outed by their colleagues if their partners also work in the same factories. Masculine-presenting garment workers are denied menstrual leave from their employers, while trans men are fighting for greater visibility within the LGBTQIA+ movement in Indonesia.

Social stigma around sex work continues to be widely prevalent, deeming it immoral or indecent, and even going to the extent of terming it as trafficking. ITE and pornography laws in Indonesia are being used to track sex workers in West Sumatra. Sex workers are at constant risk of arrests and many of them have been taken to rehabilitation centres based on a list used by the Ministry of Social Affairs, deeming them to be people with “social pathologies”.

These are just some of the risks, threats, and challenges expressed by Indonesian human rights defenders and activists. Write to us at info@uafanp.org for the detailed visual report.

Illustration by Nadya Noor

How can we support women, trans, and non-binary human rights defenders and activists in Indonesia?

The continued resistance and resilience of women, trans, and non-binary human rights defenders and activists in Indonesia despite all odds is inspiring. There’s no better time to extend our support and stand in solidarity with them. We reflected on three ways in which as feminist communities of support, we can help sustain and scale their movements in defense of human rights:

1. Resource movements

Rapid-response grants are as important as longer-term grants to support the resistance and resilience of activists and sustain movements. Remote areas like East Kalimantan require urgent action and resourcing to scale ongoing activism related to women’s issues and sexual and gender-based violence. Indigenous women need to be supported so that their voices can be heard in conversations related to forest and land rights. The Sex Workers’ Network require support to respond to crises in the face of constant haranguing by the police, while trans men movements require resourcing for greater visibility in the LGBTQIA+ movement in Indonesia. Support also needs to be extended to activists based outside the main cities of Jakarta and Java.

2. Strengthen capacities

The human rights defenders and activists we met during our consultations expressed interest in implementing programs for preparedness measures in West Papua so that Papuan women, children, and human rights defenders can lead their lives without fear of the militia. They also wish to organise awareness workshops for garment workers, university students, women from economically-marginalised communities, and mainstream feminists about their rights. Trainings on digital security for activists in light of growing surveillance is also critical, while a more nuanced understanding of climate change and the climate crises can help environment and climate justice defenders advocate more effectively. Resourcing awareness workshops and programs to strengthen capacities, and connecting activists and defenders with different stakeholders who can support them with the necessary information and resources, can help sustain and scale feminist activism and social movements in Indonesia.

3. Enable individual and collective care

Human rights defenders and activists tend to burnout very quickly because of the many intersecting crises that they are physically and emotionally fighting and resisting every day. This is bound to take a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being. In this context, holding space for safety and care is a radical act of resistance in itself. It is important to resource individual and collective care practices and spaces that can become oases of hope and enable collective visioning and co-creation of alternative feminist futures. Psychosocio counselling is also imperative for activists facing constant risks and threats of violence and needs to be prioritised and made available to more women, trans, and non-binary activists.

Indonesia needs all the support it can garner right now and we hope that some of our learnings from the region will inspire you to direct resources to the country.

If you would like to read a more detailed visual report of our findings from Indonesia, write to us at info@uafanp.org.

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Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific

A regional women’s human rights and feminist fund that protects, strengthens and sustains women and non-binary human rights defenders in Asia and the Pacific