View Point: When bazookas beat bombs: Topless to stop abuse

View Point: When bazookas beat bombs: Topless to stop abuse

While surfing the Internet recently, I came across titillating images of several nubile, long-legged and bare-breasted beauties. Had I — like Arifinto, the former PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) legislator who got caught watching pornography on his tablet computer at the House — “accidentally” opened a porn file?

Nope! It was a news report containing images of four activists from FEMEN, a Ukrainian feminist organization, who on March 8, International Women’s Day, staged their trademark bare-breast protests against domestic violence in the Sultan Ahmet Square in downtown Istanbul (

Wearing only white panties and with flowers and ribbons in their hair, they applied gruesome make-up to their faces and bodies to make them appear battered, bruised and disfigured (by acid). Waving signs and banners, they shouted slogans.

They were quickly dragged away by the police, but not before they had conveyed their (ahem!) stark message in a most provocative and controversial way.

Far from titillating, it was harrowing to see these women hauled away, kicking and screaming. Their nakedness highlighted the vulnerability of women, which was partly why they staged the protest. Why naked? Well, as they say: “Topless protests are probably the strongest and most effective form of peaceful and nonviolent protests to attract attention. You can throw a grenade, go on a hunger strike, blow something up or shoot someone. Or you can go out topless.”

It’s to be expected that beautiful young women will use their “assets” to advance their own interests, but the FEMEN women used them to make political points, peacefully. Right on, women warriors!

Some 9,500 kilometers from Istanbul, here in Jakarta, Indonesian women also engaged in various activities to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8.

Although they kept their tops on, some of what they did also involved demonstrations against domestic abuse, violence and discrimination against women.

Komnas Perempuan (National Commission on Violence Against Women), however, chose to commemorate the anniversary by launching their annual report, keeping us all abreast (sic!) of cases of violence against women in Indonesia.

It’s an impressive document, packed with facts and figures contributed by 395 women’s organizations from 33 provinces from all over Indonesia.

The report documented 119,107 cases of violence against women (VAW) the commission dealt with throughout 2011. A whopping majority — 96.61 percent (113,878 cases) — comprised domestic violence. Just 4.35 percent (5,187 cases) occurred in the public sphere and 0.03 percent (42 cases) in the state sphere.

So much for “home, sweet home”, huh? Sadly, this finding is consistent with that of previous years’ reports, and the figures are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.

Ashamed and embarrassed, afraid of repercussions and retaliation from the perpetrator or being blamed for the violence that occurred, many women are afraid to report family members who abuse them — usually their husbands.

Too bad not all victims are like the RB singer Rihanna. Public display of the battered and bruised face inflicted on her by erstwhile boyfriend Chris Brown garnered massive public sympathy for her — and castigation for him.

But physical assaults are only part of domestic violence. Over 90 percent of the domestic violence incident recorded in Komnas Perempuan’s report were cases of psychological and emotional abuse, including verbal abuse (insults, name-calling, blaming, bullying, projecting), threats, manipulating, distorting facts, shouting (to intimidate and drown out the voice of the other) or, on the contrary, meting out “the silent treatment”. This is, of course, a childish attempt at self-righteous controlling and a way to assume “superiority”.

Emotional violence is as devastating as physical abuse, and can result in depression, withdrawal and
psychosomatic illnesses on the part of the victim.

It is, however, also a form of abuse that is much harder for the victim to prove. How, for example, could the FEMEN activists demonstrate emotional abuse in their protests?

Komnas Perempuan’s 2012 Report points out that while there have been many legal breakthroughs that have had the potential to protect women, the fundamental problem of VAW has barely been touched.

That’s because our (mostly male) policymakers and law enforcers still don’t understand that violence against women is rooted in unequal power relations between men and women. In fact, they don’t want to understand. Why would they ever want to give up their egos, “dominance” and “power”?

What hope do we have to redress the balance when House Commission VIII overseeing religious and social affairs summons conservative Muslim groups (including Hizbut Tahrir) to give their view on the gender equality bill? (See “Opinions of conservative groups sought on gender equality bill”, The Jakarta Post, March 16).

Gender equality does not exist in Islam, say the hard-liners. Oh really? I know lots of prominent Muslims who would argue exactly the opposite.

In a similar act of moral panic, our lame-duck President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently formed an antipornography taskforce.

Surely we’d all be better off with an anti-VAW (violence against women) task force? Or would that be too much like actually doing something useful?

I reckon what Pak SBY needs is a bit of a booby-trap. FEMEN has expressed its desire to take its protests to Muslim countries like Iran where women are repressed in the name of religion. So, let’s welcome them to Indonesia with open arms — in fact, let’s bare our breasts with them to eradicate violence against women!

The author ( is the author of State Ibuism: The Social Construction of Womanhood in New Order Indonesia.


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The mission of the "FEMEN" movement is to create the most favourable conditions for the young women to join up into a social group with the general idea of the mutual support and social responsibility, helping to reveal the talents of each member of the movement.

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