It was a great opportunity to be part of an Asia Pacific level conference that is so reputable, particularly for my personal development. The experience allowed me to gain new knowledge and was a moment of reflection on myself as a young feminist.Equipped with student organizing experience in boarding schools, especially around reproductive health and sexuality issues, some readings on the theme, and an abstract on “Violence in the Name of Religion”, as well as the ability to speak English, I left to Yogyakarta for the conference on October 18.
The big theme of 6th APCRSHR was “Claiming Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Asian and Pacific Societies”. I remember certain parts of the conference in particular in detail.
First, when I joined the Youth Forum on 19 October, I was amazed by a group of teenagers who were concerned about the future of the world youth, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. They organized together and declared their commitment to encouraging the provision of sexual and reproductive health access to adolescents. They invited teens to speak and express their needs and wishes and they also had a hotline for teens who needed sexuality consultation.
Secondly, I was surprised by the research findings from one of presenters on the “Sexuality and Changing Culture” session. Her research is about exotic dancers at the Night Club in Malang. The exotic dancers were able to negotiate with the nightclub management about how much fees they receive, what costumes they will wear, and they can say no to visitors who ask them to have sexual intercourse. The last presenter shared her study about health centers for adolescents and how they lack the confidentiality and comfort needed by youth who rely on them for sexual health services. Not to mention that the health workers have no special training on reproductive health and adolescent sexuality.
The last memorable moment was a great moment that made me aware of my shortcomings. That was when I had to do my presentation at the session “Women’s SRHR Empowerment and Autonomy”. I highlighted points on male teachers’ domination and misogyny interpretation of Koran that led female students to experience sexual violence or sexual ignorance. My recommendation consisted of the need for more female teachers who recognize and understand about women’s sexuality and reproductive rights to increase young women’s awareness and confidence in order to help protect them against sexual violence. It is tough task that takes time, which is why my organization, the Fahmina Institute also trains teachers inside Islamic boarding schools to understand gender issues including reproductive health and rights.
There were 4 presenters for this session and I was the last presenter. 3 out of the 5 audience members who asked questions pointed their questions at my topic. I didn’t expect that. I was hoping that no one was interested or ask on my presentation. I was very confident to answer those questions and comments but my English didn’t help so I had to answer them in Indonesian language. I tried to answer in English but I had to pause and my words were muddled. I was also worried that the audience didn’t get the substance of my answer. I was grateful that the moderator is an Indonesian and she was able to translate my answer in English.
There was one question about whether there are lesbian relationships inside the islamic boarding school assisted by the Fahmina Institute whether we had ever written about such cases. There were some cases of lesbian relationship in Islamic boarding schools but they were rarely made public. It is difficult to bring sexuality issues into mainstream curriculum. At the Forum, I gained more awareness of needs around adolescent sexuality and the lack of services provided by the state. It also motivated me to practice my English so I can fully participate in regional and international forums.
By Alifatul Arifiati (Fahmina Institute and JASS Indonesia alumnae)