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Making waves in the media: talking about sexuality in Indonesia

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29 June 2022 Tags: media engagement, media fellowship, Sexuality education

In Indonesia, mass media is an important source of information for the public and policymakers. However, coverage on sexual and reproductive health and rights is few and far between. Either the topic is covered inaccurately, resulting in misinformation reaching decision makers and the public, or when it comes to covering sexual violence the media’s coverage can be biased and sensationalistic[1]. To turn on the media’s power to disseminate information in a broad, accurate and accessible manner towards supporting SRHR, Rutgers Indonesia decided to start up a fellowship for journalists.

The emphasis is to show the link between the health and development of Indonesia’s population, especially for young people",
Evania Putri Rifyana, Communication and Campaign Manager, Rutgers WPF Indonesia.

Engaging the media as change agents in Indonesia

The mass media have excellent potential to promote good sexual and reproductive health, and influence social norms on issues such as child marriage, and violence against women and children. However, in Indonesia, the media fail to focus on these issues or report them in accurate and informative ways.


The Rutgers Indonesia Media Fellowship Program engaged media personnel (print, electronic, mainstream, regional and community-driven media outlets) to actively take part in increasing the public awareness on SRHR.  “The emphasis is to show the link between the health and development of Indonesia’s population, especially for young people”, explains Evania Putri Rifyana, Communication and Campaign Manager at Rutgers WPF Indonesia.

Examples of media articles published in Indonesia under the media fellowship

Increased coverage shows urgency SRHR

The Media Fellowship Program of 2021 brought together 10 journalist fellows from national, local, and community-based media levels and provided in depth training on key SRHR themes. Despite communication barriers due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, participating fellows enthusiastically cultivated their interests in producing evidence-based reporting on reproductive health and gender-based violence prevention issues.

Through a series of workshops with experts, program practitioners, and young people, the media fellows gained wider exposure and a deeper understanding of SRHR and SGBV, which is reflected in the insightful content created.

Through the initiative, the media fellows have written and published numerous articles mostly regarding child marriage, teenage pregnancy, gender-based sexual violence, family planning and SRHR, violence against women and children, SOGIESC, and importance of comprehensive sexuality education.

Their reports worked to mobilise allies and raise the profile of SRHR issues in the Indonesian media. By publishing articles on different platforms, these stories reached local and national governments, as well as traditional, religious and community leaders; with messages calling for more transformative policies on SRHR.

The coverage boasted compelling stories on SRHR, supported by national and local data, diverse perspectives, and importantly, from health and development point of views. Topics like child marriage and teenage pregnancy, were discussed from modern and traditional perspectives with in-depth knowledge on the causes and its adverse impacts.

“We are really proud that their coverage has amplified the urgency to tackle these issues comprehensively and gained some fresh perspectives on how to cover SRHR and sexual and gender-based violence issues.”

Young people's sexual health in the headlines

The media fellows produced over 80 reports on SRHR and GBV issues. Even after the fellowship ended in 2021, the waves of change continue to ripple in the Indonesian media landscape.

In 2022, the Jakarta post – the biggest daily newspaper in Indonesia, featured a headline story from one of the media fellows.

The story “Taking big steps for reproductive health, teen rights” is about sexual violence. It talks about the need for CSE and on the history of SETARA – a CSE programme developed by Rutgers – and describes the effect of SETARA on young teens, as researched through the GEAS in the Explore4Action programme.

The articles were written by the journalist Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak who reflected on her experience as a Rutgers Indonesia Media fellow:

“Through the fellowship, we learned all the facts about gender-related issues and reproductive and sexual education and rights in Indonesian context. These insights and knowledge help us a lot in recognizing social issues and in our effort to dig deeper into the matter”

Read the story

Biases in news reports uncovers need for deeper and wider media engagement

In some reports; local media particularly, are still often found using discriminatory language, cornering the victim, and are bereft of a gender justice perspective, which in turn strengthens taboos in society even though their role is very strategic in influencing policies at the local level.

With the lessons learnt, Rutgers Indonesia will continue organizing the Media Fellowship, with emphasis on building the capacity of local journalists at provincial, district and even sub-district levels. Reaching this group of journalist is important given that they have significantly fewer opportunities are for  training and capacity strengthening.

It is expected that an increased awareness and capacity of media personnel in local newsrooms will enable a positive contribution to SRHR and SGBV issues through accurate and reliable reporting. These reports will, in turn, enlighten the public and encourage policy improvements on young people’s rights.

Journalists still need to explore the root causes of these issues from diverse contexts, while at the same time, still abide by journalistic ethical codes with gender-just and equal norms.
Evania Putri Rifyana, Communication and Campaign Manager, Rutgers WPF Indonesia.

Reach the wider media ecosystem

It is necessary to embrace not only journalists, but also the whole media ecosystem. This means reaching out and engaging editors, chief editors, owners of the media organizations as well as Journalists and Editors’ Association. By strengthening their capacities, journalist can operate in an enabling environment, with a greater freedom to set the agenda and advocate for SRHR and SGBV issues for young Indonesians.

The media has an important role to educate the public and to influence policymakers to lay the strong foundation to provide Indonesian teenagers with health services, inclusive school and home setting in order for them to grow as healthy and responsible adults.

Evania concludes that “Thanks to the power of digital platforms, the entire coverage will be accessible at any time and place, meaning the presence of Rutgers Indonesia and its programs is widely recognized.”

“Rutgers Indonesia Media Fellowship Program can be regarded as one of our best practices key communication for improving coverage of SRHR and SGBV  issues in the media to enhance its programs’ profiles and to translate them into public policies.”

How to build a media fellowship for increased media engagement

Three ways to turbocharge your engagement with journalists and players in the media ecosystem on SRHR and SGBV issues.

1. Engage

Be proactive in engaging the media. We need them to be allies who support our work. Approach and consider them as our friends. Know what they need and convey what we need, so we can build mutually supportive relationships.

2. Maintain

Maintain the capacity and knowledge that has been invested in the media. Assist them with regular mentoring activities during the fellowship period to ensure they produce accurate articles and comprehensive news with reliable data and information to prevent them from writing and publishing misinformative pieces.

3. Connect

As a follow-up action from the end of the program, we need to develop a strong network between the media, researchers, and CSO networks. Expand the media network by involving journalist champions to reach out to their media fellow by sharing the information and knowledge they have gained. Set up regular meetings either offline and online (at least once every 3 months) to update the latest information and data that we have. Always invite them to cover our strategic activities.

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