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A protester wears a mask of the late Marsinah at a rally demanding justice for the female labour activist who was killed during the rule of Indonesia’s New Order government. ANTARA FOTO/Hendra Nurdiyansyah/aww/16.

How Indonesian female journalists take part in gender activism: the line between journalism and advocacy

The fight against gender inequality on digital platforms – known as digital gender activism – is a contentious issue in Indonesia.

Activists attribute this to an increase in conservative views, which see gender rights movements as secular and in conflict with Indonesian norms.

Attacks on social media against students, activists and journalists illustrate how public advocates for gender equality are targets for harassment. Websites have been hacked, journalists’ personal details revealed online and activists threatened with violence.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International has raised concerns over this alarming trend in Indonesia. It reported a total of 29 attacks in two months this year.

Despite severe opposition, Indonesian female journalists remain committed to reporting on issues of gender equality.

Our two-year ethnographic research explores how Indonesian female writers and journalists use online platforms to engage in gender activism. We studied how they navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with digital media.

We conducted multiple interviews with ten writers, journalists and contributors. They included the founders of two media platforms, Magdalene and Konde, that focus on women and minority rights. We found they implemented a range of strategies to engage in online gender activism.

Negotiating the journalist-activist divide

Previous research has documented how women navigate new social spaces where they can express, challenge and organise. This study concludes that online platforms facilitate social movements and enable the success of gender activism in specific historical moments.

Focusing on Indonesia, our work offers an important insight into women’s creative use of digital technologies for gender activism in a rapidly developing country that’s grappling with human rights issues. We define activists as influencing debate, in contrast to journalists, whose work creates informed debate.

Indonesian female journalists we spoke to aspired to drive social change using journalistic methods. This included reportage of people marginalised and oppressed due to their gender. This shows the line between journalism and activism can intertwine in their assessment of their work.

The stories of two of our research participants highlight this dual role.

Hera Diani is co-founder and editor of the bilingual English and Indonesian online outlet Magdalene. She sees herself as first and foremost a journalist. Journalists run Magdalene, which does not operate as a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

However, Hera considered her work “journalism with a cause”. She works with various organisations to campaign on, and influence discussion of, gender issues.

One of Magdalene‘s earliest forms of collaboration was a 2016 online survey on sexual violence. This was part of the #MulaiBicara (#TalkAboutIt) campaign to promote discussion of the proposed anti-sexual violence bill. The bill is currently stalled in Indonesia’s parliament.

Since 2018, Magdalene has run a social media campaign, #WTFMedia, that attempts to call out the media for publishing articles or reports that are misogynistic, sexist and demeans women – particularly in cases of violence against women and minority groups.

The campaign has had an impact, according to Hera. Some media have listened, apologising and pulling the reports, as well as sanctioning their reporters and editors.

Former TV reporter Luviana sees herself as a journalist and someone who has been an activist for quite some time. She edits Konde – an online Indonesian-language publication targeting women and minorities.

She established Konde with her fellow activist in 2016 after experiencing gender discrimination in her previous workplace.

Konde publishes content on gender issues and issues that affects minorities. It actively covers the struggles of female factory workers, farmers and women in vulnerable employment conditions. Konde’s feature articles are intended to be a bridge between the public, NGOs and academics.

Konde’s cross-platform digital activism includes regularly posting its online stories on the Facebook site Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group. Both Magdalene and Konde have participated in International Women’s Day marches initiated by this social media group.

Hera at the Magdalene stand, International Women’s Day 2019. Gavin Height

The most recent event in March 2020 included a banner by the Indonesian Alliance for Independent Journalists – of which Luviana is a member – calling for more equal and safe workplaces and demanding female journalists and gender minorities be free from discrimination.

Lessons and strategies

Luviana and Hera both agree gender bias and discrimination have been the main challenge for females in Indonesian legacy, or traditional, media.

Their platforms Magdalene and Konde address these issues by providing niche outlets for those marginalised by Indonesia’s mainstream media. Their creativity in using their platforms to further gender rights issues distinguishes these online media outlets.

Their experiences reflect findings in social science research that suggest media platforms that want to amplify minority voices invest in digital storytelling and journalism training.

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