Her tears broke instantly. Luckily, it was during PE, and there were no other students in class since we told the teacher that we are having our menstruation. She tried to tell me the account in detail, even though it was hard to understand her amid the loud sobbing. One thing that I asked was whether she also shared this story with her parents. She did not. She bottled it inside and wept all day in her room. She was afraid that her parents would be mad; people would call her slut; or her chest would suddenly be enlarged. All the dreadful fears that I also thought would be possible last night.
Almost nine years later, only then did I realize that I was a victim of sexual harassment. In college, I attended some classes on social issues. But there was nothing I could do because society around me does not take harassment seriously, since nothing is missing from my body afterall.
I tried to pursue gender studies at university. I was determined that nobody else should experience sexual harassment, especially my sisters – whom I need to protect. I have established a good bond between us. I taught them how to protect themselves from anyone who tries to pry into their pants, and they alone have control of their bodies.
In April 2018, I finally found a new avenue that brought me a sense of catharsis. I became a young researcher for Explore4Action, where I have learned a great deal about healthy sexual behaviors and applied them in my life. Gender norms, sexuality, and mental health issues are some of the tenets that I now live by. I acknowledge that gender is not only pertinent to women in terms of discrimination and persecution, but also relevant to both sides of the table. I now help my sisters carve their path without the fear of living under the shadows of our parents’ playbook. Since that scary day in elementary school, I have come a long way. Yet, unfortunately, the prevailing assumptions and taboos in my community still dictate a reluctance to talk openly about sexuality.
Explore4Action (E4A) is a four-year programme investigating the factors that influence adolescents to make a positive and healthy transition from childhood to adulthood, and if and how comprehensive sexuality education can support this process. The Youth Voices Research is the qualitative research part of E4A, where young researchers in three sites across Indonesia interviewed their peers about experiences of sexuality and gender socialization. The first part focused on older young people aged 18-25, while the second part focused on younger adolescents aged 12-13. The findings of both parts are published in reports here and here.