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Poedjiati Fen Sian presentation at the panel held by ILGA and RFSL at the 56th CSW

Poedjiati fen Sian speech at the panel "We are everywhere! Empowerment of lesbian and bisexual women and trans people - in rural areas and beyond" held by ILGA and RFSL at the 56 Commission on Status of Women in New York

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

6th March 2012 11:15

Alessia Valenza | ILGA Asia

Empowering of Lesbian & Trans People in Rural Areas and Beyond in Indonesia 

We are everywhere, that is true! And when we talk about lesbian and trans people in rural areas and beyond Indonesia, it is like as we are talking about Facebook. We can’t tell if the profile picture is representing the real person or not, at the same time we know for certain a real person is behind the picture.

How is the rural areas in Indonesia?
It is hard to explain it in general term because it consists of more than thirteen (30,000) thousand islands, 700 different languages and dialects spoken daily by more than 350 tribes. So we have to narrow it down to a rural areas in the most reachable but yet where lesbian and trans people most need empowering. And as I have mentioned, they got “Facebook”…, thus we hope in turn they can be the agent of empowering in the future to other lesbian and trans who live in even more isolated rural areas.
As a matter of fact, I have in my agenda to run gender and sexualities course in Ungaran next month. Hence, I have done some information gathering that I’m going to share with you.

The rural areas that I’m going to talk about are located at about 20 km outside Semarang, the capital of Central Java province. By the way, Central Java is where the great Borobudur resided for more than 1,400 years. Ungaran and the rural areas around Semarang is a central of garment industry, it has 63 big companies and 9,502 small and medium sizes companies, including home industry. The whole areas employs 64,691 workers in total. The job feed the local people but is hardly enough to provide education, proper health care and other welfares. The job does not provide security either for most of the worker is contract worker with variety of length from 3 to 12 months. Sadly to say in this condition every worker is facing unemployment any time the period of contract reaches an end. From the information I have gathered so far numbers of lesbian are included in the workers. Life is not easy for every one, but compared to their hetero peers, lesbian struggling is even harder. Not only they must face the poverty, they also have to face discriminations because of their sexual orientation.

Although religious doctrine is also applicable widely in the metropolitan area, in the rural areas it is the only righteous way of live. There are hegemony, absolute control or dominating influence by the religious authority over the society for ages. In this hegemony point of view the only sexual orientation allowed by Allah is heterosexual. Other than that is to be condemned, sinful and in so many cases also treated as abnormal. When someone is being disclosed as a homosexual or bisexual, either at home or at work, the person is facing a big problem and discrimination. A homosexual woman even faces multiple threats: the religious hegemony and the patriarchy system. When discovered she is a lesbian, every one will feel shame for her and parents or close family will force her to marry any man they can find for her. Well, how can she defend herself…she is not even aware of her human rights. At the work place, her peers will abandon her, laugh and make fun of her. In several cases lesbian workers were forced to resign without any severance pay.

Ironically, several cases of cruelty in lesbian relationships were caused by the partner who preferred to behave in a “masculine” way and act like a husband who has the power to control the wife. We can view these cases as the result of patriarchy system. But maybe because they just are not aware of the equality in the LGBTQ relationship.

Patriarchy systems have been taken away the opportunity for women to have education. If families have more than one children, they certainly will allocated their scarcity education budget for the son instead of the daughter. At the end if the daughter is a lesbian, the rural areas will have an uneducated lesbian. Lack of awareness could lead to lack of understanding of how to fight for their own human rights. What about MTF or FTM people? They are not able to express their true colors. At the workplace for instance, they can’t dress up as they wanted to, they must dress up as what printed on the formal identification. Wihtout any doubts, FTM will not be paid as their male co-workers.

In response we can say that this happens because LBT in the rural areas face more boundaries, poverty, level of education and location. And also the fact that they have to deal with more problem compared to LBT in big cities, hence the empowering program is an urgent matter for them. The objectives of my seminar course in March is to share with them issues about sex education, sexualities, gender.

Indonesia had signed and legalized several conventions that may provide protection for citizen including LBT people; for example UU No 7/1984 for CEDAW; UU No. 11/2005 for ICESCR; and No. 12/2005 for ICCPR. But in rural areas LBT people need to be aware first, so they will able to feel more comfortable and at the end they’re able to feel free to express themselves. When LBT people are brave enough to express themselves, coming out from their closet, they will be able to change their environment for a long run. The society will learn to see the reality. People are not just heterosexual. Gradually, we hope people will respect others no matter what is their sexual orientation and gender.
Everyone will be just a human with equal rights.

I do optimistically believe that we can empower LBT people in rural areas through education. I have witnessed the result from GAYa Nusantara efforts. Since 2006, this organization has been conducted gender and sexualities courses. Is very important since participants comes from around Indonesia, and among them there are many diversity in term of economic, social and cultural backgrounds. I have seen how they went back home and felt more comfortable to express their identity.
I am also excited to go to Ungaran next month and hope to create more agent of empowering among the LBT people over there.


Poedjiati Fen Siang – GAYa Nusantara, Indonesia, is the female Asian representative of ILGA’s board