Public Health Perspective

“My Body, My Right!”

By RAYILA M, Master student in Human Rights and Democratization, Intern at PKBI Indonesia

Starting my internship in the “radical” organization PKBI: Berjuang untuk Hak Kesehatan Reproduksi & Seksual, (“Fighting for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights”), was initially a cultural shock and I spent my time trying to find something I could focus on in this big, well established organization.

During the preparation period of my internship I frequently visited the local PKBI Youth Centre, which carries out a number of different projects including currently running the following programs:

  • The Youth Project focuses on providing health and sexual education to high school and middle school students. This program is mainly run by student counselors who, under this project, also run a program targeting couples who live in the suburbs or nearby villages in the Yogyakarta Province.
    • The LGBT Program mainly networks with other grassroots community NGOs, and provides them with technical support, expert trainings, information, and condoms. Their work relates to promoting the Yogyakarta Principles which were passed in 2006 (a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity).
    • The Research and Library program are providing books (most of them are in Indonesian, but there are a few English books) ranging from information on HIV/AIDS to interesting novels.
  • The Street Youth program mainly focuses on helping the street youths of Jogja city. According to the program staff, in the past five years they have helped developed eleven different communities in Jogja which can now self-sufficiently take care of their own needs; they also proudly told me that they have successfully advocated a new regulation in the Yogyakarta province to protect the rights of Street Youth which took over five years of effort and work along with other NGOs as well as street communities to successfully lobby the government.
  • The Media Division have built up relationships with six radio stations and one local TV station and give talks about urgent issues relating to the community they are working with; all the people who give speeches on any channel come from within the community. Once I met a woman who discussed Women Living with HIV/AIDS based on her own experience as a woman living with HIV in her local community.
  • The Training Division facilitates many kinds of training to staff, volunteers and networked communities.
  • The Sex Worker project (which was the one I decided to work with) works closely with sex workers in four different locations providing them with health information, help improving policies and laws towards sex workers, operating a mobile clinic, and counselling services.

After a few meetings with my internship supervisor and staff in youth centre I decided I would like to work on a project focused on creating a Human Rights Handbook for Female Sex Workers. I started to look at the urgent issues that female sex workers are facing in their work and I happily agreed to work on a whole project that they could apply in their community. But when I was collecting information from the community and participating in their existing program I was surprised to learn about the active participation of sex worker communities in the program. PKBI had helped them set up a drop-in “Women Crisis Centre” that is fully run by the sex workers themselves as PKBI firmly holds their belief that “the community is the agent of change, PKBI’s main role is to facilitate them not to lead them or control them.” Sex workers can come to the centre whenever they feel like and discuss their problems, seek assistance or just have a little chat. Lati a 32 year old sex worker told me that she has been working in Jogja since 1999 and she started to participate in PKBI programs in 2002. In 2007 she became a volunteer for the Women Crisis Centre and helps coordinate all kinds of related issues. In the community, PKBI not only adopted the idea of actively mobilizing peer educators and peer counsellors, but also of encouraging peer advocates to stand up for their own rights and to speak about their feelings and interests. A recent example of this was when sex workers initiated several meetings to discuss a local regulation which places all the responsibility of using condoms on sex workers. They were arguing that this regulation didn’t listen to their voice and put them in more vulnerable situation. So after a few meetings and discussions which also included other stakeholders such as hotel owners, pimps, NGOs, and health clinics, the local government suggested a few amendments to this regulation. Even though the language barrier meant I wasn’t able to understand the whole conversation that took place, it was so amazing to see more than 30 women sitting together discussing their “own” issues.

However, because the Indonesian Criminal Law forbids sex work the above mentioned activities can only be carried out in a limited number of areas considered to be “safe” for sex work. According to PKBI staff those areas were “protected” by local security. Yet they expressed their deep concern about sex workers who are working in “unknown” areas, where they can’t access information or health services. Even though sex workers’ health is well taken care of at the mobile and Tuesday afternoon free clinics, the violence towards these women is still very urgent and serious. They are reluctant to report cases of violence to the police, due to the fact the police won’t actually do anything to the perpetrators and the woman who reports the case might face police violence. There also exists the possibility of police raids which are carried out under pressure from religious movements in Indonesia; the result of these raids make sex workers pay a very high fine and stay in detention for a maximum of seven days.

As my project progresses I am looking at these women with a more open mind. Most of them freely choose to become sex worker, as they claim “My Body, My Right!” Yet, although they are working hard to achieve their rights by themselves, there is a long way to go.


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