Myself, Women and The History of Personal Violence – When from YSIK sent me an email a few weeks ago, asking me to write for “16 Days for Forever”, an international campaign about violence against women which was held on 25th November – 10 December 2010, I said yes and I thought this writing was going to be easy. I thought I could finish this writing quickly and simply. I was wrong. My experience with violence has never been easy. My life as a woman has never been easy either.

The most difficult thing in writing this is that I didn’t know where to start or how I should speak. I don’t know the limitations on things to discuss. How do I make this writing, or perhaps I should call this a testimony,  light, easy to read and understandable for many people. In the end, this is going to be heavy. Violence has never been light. It should neverbe taken lightly.If so, we’ll be losing our humanity.

After one deep breath, I decided, I would be honest, as honest as possible.

I’m twenty-seven years old. I’m a woman. I’m a single mother to my only son. I’m working. I’m a writer and you can say I have been actively involved in NGO work since my student days. I come from a typical middle class family in Indonesia. Both of my parents are lecturers in the public university. I was not blind to the law.Human rights issues have been close to me and I have been actively involved in that field. I would not say I’m astraightforward feminist.To be honest, I don’t really debate on this issue because living and experiencing my life as a woman has been more than enough for me. Based on all this facts on myself, I experience violence. Physically, mentally and sexually.

The first time I experienced sexual harassment was when I was still a small child, a six year old girl. It was not long after I first wore my white and red uniform, when my older male cousin – who was close to me and who I consider an older brother because I’m the oldest in my family – touched and played with my genitals when we were in the garden. I had not even realized what the function of my genitals were, other than to pee. My first reaction was silent. He was in junior high school at the time and he treated me like one of his dolls. He kissed me, kissed my whole body, touched my body, laidon top of me even though he did not penetrate. It happened over and over. I felt weird, I felt like something was wrong, but I didn’t understand what. I felt like speaking to someone but I didn’t know to whom.

It took me years to understand what had already happened. Thanks to my mother’s gynecology books – which were in English – that I managed to finish reading at the end of elementary school. In the end I could speak. I could say that I didn’t want to be treated that way anymore and I would tell my parents all about it if he didn’t stop. He stopped but I didn’t report it to my parents. When I think about it now, the reason might be because of shame. No matter how democratic my family is, this matter is still a taboo to talk about. Maybe I’m just making excuses, I don’t know. I thought I could simply forget and that this matter would not further affect the next steps in my life.

Again, I was wrong, big time. The sexual harassment that I experienced as a child made a mark on me for life. It complicated my adulthood relations with men and I became vulnerable.My struggle to understand my body was long. Often I felt tired and gave up. Other times I would keep on surviving. By writing this, I promised myself that I would remain strong and would never stop fighting, at least for my own sake.

I lost my virginity at eighteen. I did not regret it. I knew I wanted it. I had lost my innocence at the age of six. Essentially, for me, it does not matter. It just felt a little ironic, that I grew up too fast, that I lost my childhood with just a touch of what I didn’t understand at the time. A touch that could damage so much.

What I felt when I lost my virginity was that I am not dirty. I’m not ashamed anymore with my body. I was relieved from the moral burden of virginity, which is full of taboo in Indonesian society. There is nothing grand about it for me. Like everything in life, virginity is just a phase of life that everyone has to pass.

I was twenty when I decided to have an abortion. I was not ready to be a mother and my boyfriend at that time would not take the responsibility. I decided alone. I realized the risk that I took and I’m responsible to myself alone, and I would bear it for the rest of my life. I asked forgiveness from my unborn baby. I asked forgiveness from myself.

For me, the most excruciating thing about this abortion experience is the violence that happened to my body. The violence coming from the system, the health service, and the delusional morality of the society concerning the choices for women and their own bodies. I will put what happen in chronological order.

The young generation, like me, had begun to have sexual education in high school, but not explicitly. Our generation had known everything instantly. Our generation enjoys unlimited information streams and is part of the global youth culture. But, in the end, we had very minimal access to reproductive health. Even though buying condoms is not a taboo anymore, there are still people who were surprised as to why a young woman like me took condoms everywhere she goes. Not to mention the cynical or judgmental look that youths got when we bought condoms in the pharmacy, supermarket, or 24 hours minimarket. For people who are barefaced like me, we would not care about it. Based on my experience, I do not care for them! Always provide condom everywhere you go, if you are male or female, married or unmarried, a virgin or not, single or in relationship, whatever you are. Because what I will explain next will disturb your conscience, and also your responsibility.

By taking condoms everywhere, it doesn’t mean that I would not face trouble when my boyfriend did not want to use it. Small mistakes happen. The bad thing is that at that time, I did not have access to other contraception methods, like the pill. It is because I feel uneasy. I had a bad experience dealing with the reproductive health services, especially when my status is a Miss. The “Miss” status itself invites many questions and judgmental looks in the gynecologist waiting room. I am not married, but sexually active. When I had the awareness to ask for a pap smear, the conversation tookanother turn to how can I be sexually active before I’m married. I don’t like facing this un-polite conversation. My sexual life is my personal choice. Is it so surprising that as a teenager I was brave enough to ask for my reproductive rights and information related to my reproductive health? Is it because I am a “Miss” that this had not become my right?

When I found out that I was pregnant and I checked my pregnancy with a doctor, trauma and harassment from the reproductive health service began, starting from the gynecologist where I checked my pregnancy. As a “Miss” I explained that I was there to check my pregnancy and the doctor’s face changed. Cynics. I could not forget that expression, the expression that degraded me. This expression did not help me overcome my emotions when I had the confirmation that I really was pregnant. His expression was one as if I had committed a crime. He said straightforwardly that for unwanted pregnancy he could not help, and only could recommend that I go to PKBI Yogyakarta, which handles consultations for this type of matter. Only one thing bothered me at that moment:what kind of doctor would assume that I have an unwanted pregnancy? The term even bothers me. He didn’t ask what I want. That moment, I hadn’t decided anything and what he did, did not help me at all. What he did was more like dropping me in the darkness,leaving me without any hope.

My consultation ran well, it was responsive and informative. But when I checked  my pregnancy again, at the same place, the nurses there harassed me. They thought my pregnancy was a funny joke. They did not realize that the joke hurt me so much. They did not know me. They did not understand my situation. They said the most inappropriate words. It is such a misfortune that they are the only health workers available there. That was the culmination point. I went home and cried on the street. More crying because of their insults towards me, and I felt I couldn’t do anything to fight it.

In the end I decided to have an abortion in Jakarta. Of course it was an unsafe abortion. There is no other way in this country. I also feel that I could not tell this event in much more detail. I accept that it was the most traumatic and horrible episode of my life. I nearly lost my life. Post-abortion I experienced massive bleeding twice, and I thought I would die at the time. And I was facing it alone. Imagine, one morning I was in the bathroom and bleedinglike crazy. Fortunately it stopped and I had to hide all this, alone,Leavingthe bathroom like nothing happened. No one accompanied me at the time. If Iwas on the verge of death I didn’t know where to go. I don’t think any hospital would help me. I became so pessimistic with the reproductive health services in this country.

When I got married and was pregnant again, the change in the attitude of the health workers was like the difference between heaven and earth. The “Misses” status somehow became a golden ticket for smiles and support throughout my pregnancy. I thought this was pretty gruesome. The double standard attitude felt fake. I passed my pregnancy well and give a normal birth to my baby boy, and he is healthy until now. I also passed the breastfeeding period until he was two years old.NowI’m trying to wean him as naturally as possible. Despite everything that had happened, my second pregnancy made me let go of all my fears and my traumas. It also amazed me because of the extraordinary mechanism of the woman’s body. Such magnificent endurance.An experience full of pain, sweat, tears and blood. Everything that made me feel alive.

Having children made the feeling to defend myself grow larger. I could do anything for my son. I realized that. On the other hand, I would also accept anything for my son,including bearing domestic violence. I found myself in a phase where I could accept violence against me for the sake of my son, that he remains untouched. The pressure and the bad relationship pattern with my ex-husband made me experience the dark side of things .

I thought I had already gone through the worst episode of my life. I was tired with complicated relationships and decided to get married. I was twenty-four years old. In the beginning, I felt everything was fine. But when I started to get pregnant and my ex-husband started to force to have sex, I felt I lost his understanding in an instant. I wanted to enjoy the experience of my biological changes with conscience. Meanwhile, my ex-husband treated me as a sexual object, as if it were my obligation to serve him as a wife. When I started to make peace with my body, with my awareness of being a mother, I felt that everyday I had to struggle for the life of my baby in my womb. My discomfort to have sex while I was pregnant meant nothing. I started to hate sex, regarding it as homework that I had to pass everyday. I started to wonder whether every man had a libido like an uncontrollable beast? What is a wife when her discomfort is not a consideration? What is a husband when he treats his wife as property or his right to use? I struggled with these questions in my mind. There was only one thing that made me stand it: I still wanted to see my son with a father.

When my pregnancy reached the third semester, I felt that I had to take some decisive steps. I refused to have sex. One thing lead to another with our unstable economic condition, and my ex-husband started to drink alcohol again.It resulted in a shocking incident. In a late pregnancy condition, around seven months, my husband threw bottles of beer at me three times in a friend’s engagement party. I did not understand the cause of it. The bottles did not hit me, and I was okay. But the shock of the incident still manages to make me tremble in fear. I don’t know whether because of shock or an unexplained disappointment, I still restrained the people who were mad at him and wanted to beat him up because they would not accept what he had done to me. I still wanted my unborn son to see his father, but deep down inside I realized that it started to be in vain. Nothing would change, not even with the birth of my son.

My son was born when I was twenty-five. He grew up healthy and normal. I was completely absorbed in breastfeeding my baby. Even though my ex-husband was quietly helpful in helping with our domestic chores and taking care of my son everyday, our economic condition was in chaos. After passing the exclusive breastfeeding period, I started to take some side jobs again. Extremely tired everyday, he forced me to have sex. I came to a condition where I was so sick with sex, and I thought that men are just plain animals. A disgusting parasite. I still hold on, because I take care of my son alone. There is no family around helping because both of my parents already passed away. When I came back to Yogyakarta to take care of my studies that had been put on hold, my friends finally revealed the shocking truth to me. Since I was in my late pregnancy, my ex-husband had been sexually harassing my girlfriends every time I was not around. I did not even have to think anymore.The next day I left the house and took my son with me. I decided to leave him forever.

For me, sexual harassment is something I could never forgive and accept. A man who does not value woman is what I hate the most in this world. I did not want my son to grow up with a father like that. It is better for me to fail in my marriage then to have my son see the way his father treats his mother. Ready or not, in the end, I became a single parent.

This bad episode did not stop there. I had to entrust my son for a month with my ex-husband when I had to finish my studies. I had no other option then. This happened a few months after we separated. I experienced an unimaginable violence. He was desperate at the end, realizing that I would never come back. One day, I came home from my research totally exhausted, and usually he went straight back to his own place. I breastfed my son and fell asleep. My body was so numb and tired that when I realized what had happened, everything was too late. He raped me. This rape had been the worst violation possible that could have happened to my body. This act was done on purpose, knowing that I had stopped taking birth control a month before. He thought if he could impregnate me with force, I could be his again. I finally got up and kicked him off from on top of me. I wanted to run amok. My son was still sleeping beside me. I took my motorcycle keys and left the house. I did not know where to go. I cried the whole way in my motorcycle. Crying with so much unresolved anger. The only thing I knew is that I didn’t want my son to see me in such a state.

I went to one of my best friend’s house who let me get it all out. My friend told me to consult to PKBI for a morning after pill prescription. I took her advice. I did not want to take any risk, and I was not ready for another pregnancy, especially not from the man that I hated the most. I was totally in disgust. I felt that violence only resulted in something useless. That day, my “Misses” status became a nightmare. The doctor gave me a prescription, but could not stop his mouth from commenting on what had happened. He said that it happened because I wanted it. I froze there with a major question: does any sane person in this world want to be raped? I got fed up with reproductive health workers and services. This is my second time there in a different situation. I reported and complained to the NGO where he was volunteering, and asked him to get kicked out. He was not fit to take care of people that needed empathy post domestic violence. Violence is not a joke! I wondered where all these doctors and nurses learned to use their mouths.

I kicked my ex-husband out of my life forever. I threatened to take his case to the criminal court if he and his family tried to approach my son and me ever again. What was left in me was just anger, plain anger. I’m still furious.

I am aware that I need time to pass through all the violence that has happened in my life. I admit, I started to loose my hope in men. I felt there is nothing good left in them after what I have been through. I’m finding comfort surrounding my girl friends or gay friends. I just want to feel safe for now. What I can do now is to raise my son to be a man who will honor and value woman. Taking him away from violence even if  it means he will not know his biological father. I did not want my son to experience the time bomb that I had to undergo just because I want to keep my marriage. For me it was unrealistic and illogical.

In the end, my son and I have our life back. We are fine, and I have started to open a new page. I enjoy being a single mother. I enjoy having control of my being and my own body. For me, the nature of woman’s body is to enjoy oneself, making peace with my own body and my own awareness. Violence had been ruining this relationship for so long. Making me feelthrown around and incomplete as a human being and a woman. Now I learn to take care of myself carefully, appreciating what I have, and I started with my own self. I only need myself.

I’m twenty-seven years old. I’m a woman and now with a clear voice I refuse violence against me, for all women, forever!

Astrid Reza wrote this guest post on Yogyakarta.

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  1. This is a brutally honest entry, and very powerful. I am glad that you continue to stand up for yourself, for your dignity as a woman and for your son, and that you are not afraid of your own power or your sexuality. I too am Indonesian, but my parents moved to the US when I was fifteen. As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a boy because I saw boys & girls were treated differently. I saw how many men treated their wives & I told myself I would never marry and be under a man’s rule. Your piece brought back a lot of memories of my confusion as a girl growing up in Indonesia. I am sorry for the negatives experiences you had to go through, but I am so proud of your strength. Salam dari California.

  2. Dear Chiquita,

    Thank you for the response on this writing. I’m so glad that it touched so many women. I did this writing two years ago and I still feel strongly that the issue is still very important. I believe courage can somehow spread and the courage of this writing did, apparently still does.

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