When actress Julia Perez, announced her intention to run for deputy district head of Pacitan, East Java, there were a whole range of reactions.
A lot of people questioned her ability to govern and accused her of simply trying to cash in on her popularity. Others made fun of her sexy persona. Then, photographs of Jupe, as the actress is known, baring a lot of skin began to spread online, including one photo that was obviously altered. It shows Jupe topless, her hands cupping her breasts, accompanied by the words “Seize Pacitan’s Dream with Julia Perez.”
According to Eko Bambang Subiantoro, a social researcher at PolMark Research Center and founder of the New Men Network Alliance, the reaction that Julia received was a classic example of sexism.
“These kinds of reactions are attacks on women’s bodies,” Eko said, adding that women are put at a disadvantage because of this. “If people disagree with Jupe running in the election, it should be based on her ability to serve as a leader and not because of her physical appearance and what she wears.”
Eko said this was just one example of the kind of sexual harassment and violence women face every day. To help improve the situation, the New Men Network Alliance, formed in October 2009, aims to educate men on how to fight violence against women. The network, an alliance of male feminist organizations from around the country, is a group effort that proposes the idea of “new” men — men who prevent violence against women, support women’s sexual rights, counter religious interpretations unfavorable to women and expand their domestic and paternal responsibilities.
“See, gender stereotypes don’t make men’s lives any easier,” Eko said. “When you talk about inequality, it’s not particularly about gender, but also about humanity.
“Men are stressed because they can’t talk about feelings. When men meet their colleagues, they talk about work or politics.”
Some of the stereotypes are judgements that men have to stay strong all the time and not cry or they will be seen as weak. “To cry is human,” Eko said. “Why is it that only women are entitled to cry?”
Eko, born in Malang, East Java, was studying accounting at Brawijaya University in the early 1990s when he was first introduced to feminism. Since then, he has been involved in the women’s movement. He wrote for the Women’s Journal, founded by Gadis Arivia, who was instrumental in introducing him to activities that further enhanced his knowledge of women’s issues. Eko said that while there are only a few male feminists in Indonesia right now, they are steadily increasing in number.
The New Men Network Alliance is trying to counter gender stereotypes and by doing so, it hopes to put an end to domestic violence. According to the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), reported cases of domestic violence against women rose 113 percent between 2007 and 2008, from 25,522 cases to 54,425 in 2008.
Indonesia passed the Law on Domestic Violence in 2004, which Eko hails as a big step on the government’s part and a victory for women. Activists had campaigned for the law since Indonesia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1974.
“The law gives Indonesian women a basis to back up their cases compared to some developed countries like the United States that are yet to certify the CEDAW,” Eko said.
The Social Affairs Ministry in 2008 even released standard guidelines for handling domestic violence cases and helping victims.
But Eko said the statistics on domestic violence did not accurately reflect reality. According to him, a lot of these cases typically happen in villages and remote areas outside of Jakarta where traditional gender stereotypes are still very strong. And while women can report the brutality they face at home and fight for their rights as provided by law, Eko said most still choose to return home to their husbands.
Eko said this was why it was so important to get men involved in the campaign to change mind-sets and end domestic violence. “Change cannot be accomplished if we only work on some things,” Eko said.
The New Men Network Alliance is made up of small groups working together on similar goals. “At the moment, some of our small groups in Bengkulu, Aceh, Yogya and Kupang [East Nusa Tenggara] are providing counseling for men who violated their wives,” Eko said.
In bigger cities like Jakarta, the alliance has just started to make its voice heard in support of women’s social and political issues.
Alliance members are also campaigning to bring attention to their cause and to motivate men to change old attitudes toward women. Eko said the alliance members were aware that they had their work cut out for them, especially since they were trying to break stereotypical roles deeply ingrained in culture.
While the group acknowledges that the 2004 Law on Domestic Violence has helped its cause, Eko said his team was hoping for additional laws that would help protect women’s rights.
“For example, we are still having difficulty defining sexual harassment against women, whether whistling or [stares] are part of it. It’s still hard to define,” Eko said.
The alliance is also planning to conduct educational campaigns targeting different groups, including teenage boys, religious leaders, teachers, entrepreneurs, activists, the media and public figures.
“This new movement is born from within other feminist movements,” Eko said. “There are still a lot of things need to be done so we all have to work together.”
The New Men Network Alliance is not exactly without controversy. Some people, particularly among feminist groups, are against the idea of involving men in fighting for their cause.
But Eko said his alliance believed that men and women could be partners and help each other achieve their goals. At the moment, the alliance is trying to secure the financial backing for its first national conference, where it hopes to gather a whole range of different groups united by the same goal of ensuring women’s rights and an end to gender stereotypes.
“The conference has to be held this year,” Eko said. The sooner, the better.”