On 20 August 2017, the New York Times published a story on why Indonesia was ranked last in Stanford University’s study that measured the number of steps citizens in 46 countries and territories walked every day.
According to the Times, the lack of sidewalks was the main reason why residents in Jakarta are reluctant to walk. The story, “Jakarta, the City Where Nobody Wants to Walk,” cited the local government’s data that only 7 percent of the Indonesian capital’s roads have sidewalks, and the available few are riddled with numerous problems: potholes, the invasion of motorcycles and the encroachment of parked vehicles, among a few. But it neglected to mention one crucial issue that affects half of its population: street harassment.
Female pedestrians in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities are subjected to sexual harassment on a daily basis. We are catcalled, whistled at, leered at and groped on the street and public transport. It is an ugly reality that girls encounter as soon as they hit puberty. Wearing a school uniform or hijab doesn’t give immunity.
Hollaback! Jakarta has received more than 170 reports of street harassment since its website was launched last year, and these are the tip of the iceberg. In recent months, one woman described how she was groped by a passing motorcyclist while walking with a friend, another shared her frustration being catcalled and whistled at on daily basis. Kate Walton, of Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group, has written about her experience being sexually harassed 13 times when she walked for 35 minutes in downtown Jakarta.
Street harassment discourages women from going out and about. It makes women modify their habit: staying more at home; or those who can afford it venturing out in private cars or taxis. Who can blame them?
The Stanford researchers acknowledged the so-called activity inequality — the difference between the most avid and the least avid walkers — was largely driven by gender gap. The BBC report on the study pointed out that in countries with high inequality, it was women who spent less time being active.
The effects of street harassment are insidious: it not only drives women away from public space but also can exact a heavy toll on women’s health.
Pothole-free and vehicle-free sidewalks are great, but not until public space is designed to accommodate women, and their safety, walking won’t be a walk in the park for female pedestrians.
Last but not the least, just as the Times’ article on bubble tea last week was cited as an example of the need for ethnic diversity in the newsroom, the Times’ story on Jakarta’s walkability is an example of the need for gender diversity in the newsroom.
Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group