Invisible in Indonesia – The non-existant role of women

I love Asia, I really do. Although…not so the mosques…the noise at 4am during ramadan. That maybe not.
It HAD something to do with religion, culture and more, why I felt invisible during my 3 weeks in Indonesia this year, though I’ve not made this experience last year in Jakarta.

Traveling not as usually alone but with a friend, I found myself in a strange situation.
Despite funny coincidences that my friend was told to look like Keanu Reeves (he doesn’t) and I was told that I’m lucky being with him (pffff – as I always say) people hardy looked at me. Let alone talk to me. During my friend was high-fived every time we entered and left a bar, our hotel, even a bloody SUPERMARKET, all people (90% men), avoid to look me in the eyes or even react to what I was saying.


The Invisible

Compared to scientist Griffin in the film I had no benefits like being able to get into the bank and -invisible- walk out with a fortune. When it came to paying in hotels, restaurants or supermarkets, my credit card was taken and the staff DID spoke to me. Despite that one time, when I paid (of course no-one talked to me), but the change was given to my friend. I still can’t believe that, but for indonesian culture, where the woman owns nothing, a total normal behavior.

I must not mention that this incidents (or shall I say: non incidents) first worried and then enraged me. And how it did!

One evening, lets call it the showdown, my friend asked a waiter why all men ignored me, even though we travel together.
His answer was that that’t how they are used to treat woman, and if there is a man at their side they only speak to him. Thats their culture, thats how they handle these things there.
Did that help me? In fact, no! So I started to investigate:


Borobudur temple Java



“Indonesia is the exemplary model of the Muslim world” (Barak Obama, 2010)


2000 the equality of women and men in all domains was implemented by law. And 2010 was a good year in terms of being a woman in Indonesia (though not in terms what we here in europa count as a “good year for woman). Still: Support of women initiatives, 18% female parliament members, access and decision of women in birth control, a female president. All that facts from 2010 are encouraging for a woman of the european society and values. Indonesia began to establish its image as the role model for all asian countries in terms of human and women rights.


But already during the same year things began to change – aback.


Indonesien feminists show up that there had been implemented 300 new laws during from 2010 to 2014, which discriminate women. Beside the natural ban to wear formfitting cloths, women were not allowed any more to drive a scooter with another man if they are not married (and everyone who is an Asia traveller knows that scooters are an essential thing there). Only in public they are allowed to linger where men are.

The parliament had decided that the Scharia also applies for non-muslimic citizen and people with other religions. The law also liberates rapes and injuries against women. Since then a women who has been raped has to bring 4 witnesses, otherwise the rape is her fault and she will be sentence to whipping (which is like a death penalty). There are much more things to mention, but I guess you gained an image.

All this is nothing new, as it takes place in many countries under many different laws. Tourists and travelers have little interest to explore this systems, and the powerless feeling and the seriousness of it  bans it from the small-talk topic list.


Gilt Trawangan


And then came Dent…

Dent is a beach vendor on Lombok (June 16 you could find him on Sengiggi beach), and he sells sunglasses, or whatever comes to be said as trendy. He learns english and german from the tourists who are willing to take time to talk to him.
His children are in the village in the mountains of Lombok, where hardly any visitor find this way to.
He is working hard, and he puts his daughter in school. She will learn english. She will have a better life.
An educated girl with a future.
Said Dent.
Not only to my friend, but to both of us!


For your trip:

I am not recommending to skip Indonesia (in fact: it’s marvelous), or to fight against laws or the people there. We will never fully understand how it is to live there, as we have not grown up under this circumstances and don’t share beliefs and culture.
There are many post on the web how to behave, how to dress and even which hand to shake and how (the right one, weakly).

This new experience which I have not had in other (muslim) Asian countries made me feel uncomfortable many times during the day, because I enjoy catching up with locals (much more than with other tourist), and was not able to do this really much. Second off it was a bad feeling watching my friend having chats and laughs, while I stood next to him and was…really invisible.

I hope that will not happen to every woman, but if you travel there and you travel with a man, be prepared for that. It took me long to cope with it, and in the end I managed by ignoring their conversation and playing with my phone, or proceeding to our destination alone.
No I did not enjoy this, but I learned that I can’t change or explain properly that this behavior is really offending. I hope that this will change during the years, not only for us traveling women, but also for the people living there.

We can learn so muh form each other and have fun times, if we pull down the curtain of prejudice and condescension.


Gilt Trawangan sunset



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