Jackie Viemilawati : 

Men Need to be involved in Gender Transformation Efforts

The second speaker, I Gusti Agung Ayu Jackie Viemilawati, is a Balinese-Javanese woman who is immersed in her world as a psychologist. Jackie, the nickname of one of the program managers who joined Pulih Foundation since 2004 – an institution engaged in psycho-social assistance – obtained her undergraduate degree from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Indonesia (2002). Driven by the thirst of the knowledge she gained in undergraduate level, she went on continuing her degree in the master’s program of Clinical Psychology, also at the same university (graduated in 2004). In 2014, Jackie graduated from the field of Medical Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the University of London in England. Married to Ali Aulia, a child-protection specialist, the couple worked together to raise their only son, Noah. Here are the results of her interview with Swara Rahima dealing with the male involvement in efforts to eliminate violence against women.

Why do you think it is important for men to support the women’s movement?

If I may flash back a bit about the discourse of male involvement, it is also related to the women’s movement in fighting for women’s rights as human rights. The aim is to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence experienced by women as a result of patriarchal culture, which places women as the second class citizens. The situation will become more complex when associated with other women’s social status, such as age, disability, and economics. When the women’s movement emerges, it is often considered to be the women’s issues only, though the values being championed are the values of equality and justice. If these are the issues to be fought, then all the marginalized groups should be accommodated as what must be tinkered with is the gender constructions as a result of all the things attached to women.

Men as social beings, in fact, they are also gendered or experiencing ‘gendered being’, given that gender issues actually affect people, both male and female. However, such gender constructions place men in a higher and more privileged position. Therefore, why should men be involved? Because they are also human. It is the ethical responsibility of why they should be involved. As a matter of fact, this issue is not just a women’s issue, although there are more women than men who become victims.

So, I think this is a universal human issue and that is why men need to be involved. In addition, many men also disagree with the discrimination against women caused by the domination of men. Also, the purpose of this movement is to support gender equality; because there are many movements of male involvement, which the main purpose does not necessarily support gender equality. It is not a mere support, but they must be part of the change and this must be a call that arises from men themselves.

Through what activities can these efforts be carried out?

We have been using the framework of changing mindset and behavior. And this is closely related to the theory of psychology, how person’s behavior is shaped, not just because of the gender factor an-sich, but also of socio-cultural factors, how this is done, because the goal is a change, in which he himself is a part of the change.

We instill the change using a layer of psychological approach that is integrated into 3 things. Using the ecological model, there are individual levels, individuals influenced by their families, families influenced by the community or prevailing community system, and the country and broader socio-cultural system, all of which affect each other. How should the efforts be made so that the changes take place? Well, the efforts should be targeted at all levels. There is a level in which the intervention is aimed at individuals, family, and community, and at a macro level. Ideally, the change will theoretically take place more rapidly if the intervention is done at all levels.

If we look at the subjects, the men themselves, we can see them as clients or individuals, as couples, and as agents of change. Men as individuals, for example, there is a service intended to men such as, the working hours are equivalent (for example, so far the obligation for child-rearing is typically attached to women, this time the men are treated as fathers who are involved in parenting and also as partners who support their wives – it becomes difficult for women to take part more in the public sphere if men do not take part in the domestic sphere-) and men as the agents of change might occur at a macro level, given that in our system men still occupy key positions. The agents of change can exercise their roles at the community level or at the institutional level, or at any level, he can take part in supporting equality. But, the keyword is gender. So it does not specifically make a male-female dichotomy. Thus all issues related to gender construction are potentially disadvantageous and risky. Principally, this male involvement leads to gender transformation efforts.

What is meant by this Gender Transformation Approach?

The Gender Transformation is an approach that is often used as a program approach to looking more critically at gender construction. Not only taking this construction for granted but also understanding more about the causes and impacts, who benefits, who suffers and loses, and how it changes. Because gender transformation approach basically understands that gender is a construct, so it can be changed.

Thus, the change should benefit men and women alike and any human beings who are affected by this gender construction. So that, there is no more social issue such as violence arising from the construction of the gender. Psychologically this aims to improve human welfare.

What efforts have you made through your institution related to male involvement in the abolition of Gender-Based Violence?

This is related more to the scope of work of Pulih. Pulih is mainly involved in providing service. So the prevention done is actually a secondary prevention. A person usually comes as a victim or as a perpetrator, then he or she participates in counseling or therapy. In addition, the dynamics of being a victim as well as a perpetrator at the same time can also be found in one individual. So, what we do during the counseling process is to counsel using the perspective of gender transformation. What is meant by secondary prevention is an effort to prevent him or her from perpetrating violent behavior. The issue is not merely as a perpetrator, as a victim also the process of gender transformation is always implemented so that the violence does not happen again.

To a female client, counseling is meant to make her empowered and able to make personal decisions and self-determination to determine what relationship she really wants. For example, changing the belief that women cannot make decisions, women should not always be submissive, or anything related to the non-empowering gender constructs that they live in.

For prevention that is not a clinical or counseling service, we also introduce literacy, reflective education, websites, and capacity building of individuals and institutions that use the gender transformation approach. Because in fact, Pulih is working on issues of violence, gender-based violence as well as structural violence. As for gender, because the root of the problem is then the gender itself, so the counseling should be done completely. In addition, we are also involved in the networks of pro-women advocacy work, because as has been said, changes must be made at various levels. 

What are the challenges for all these processes?

Because this effort deals with changing gender construction, the challenge is that women and men are already habituated and engaged in such gender roles, so that the challenge is not only from women but also from the society who believe that the role is something given. It is easier for women because they are the ones who experience injustice. Meanwhile, it will be more difficult for men because who would want to lose the privilege that the society gives to them. So in our experience, it will be easier if the effort is incorporated into the issue of parenting. Because parenting is concerned with the issues of gender relations with a partner. AS a matter of fact, men are motivated enough to be good couples and fathers, even though the good measure remains gender equality, that means sharing the roles.

In addition, in private and confidential counseling spaces in which the sense of security and trust have been established, they are quite often exposed to what is resulted from such gender constructions that arise from confessions such as, competition and workload, bullying, relationships with spouse, meaning of life, identity, and sexual orientation. It is very closely related to gender masculinity, in addition to other aspects. So when they come up with the issues, the issues they face, it is easier to give an understanding of how gender construction truly affects our lives.

From the perspective of Psychological Science, how do you seek to explore the spirit of the elimination of gender-based violence?

If we refer to various references, Psychological Science has been pretty much engaged in understanding the impact of violence such as trauma, depression, and so forth. In terms of gender-based violence, there is a great deal of psychological space discussing mental health. And Pulih is often asked to talk about it when it comes to impact, trauma, and so on.

When it comes to Psychology, the discussion about impact and violence is overwhelming. The movement is not only talking about impact, but also prevention. In our perspective-the clinical psychologists- what is meant to be mentally healthy is functioning socially and free from all forms of violence, because it becomes a source of oppression. We embark from there, from the perspective of rights. This means that from the perspective of rights, everyone is entitled to be free from all forms of violence. That is, you can actualize yourself if the environment is conducive and free from all forms of violence.

Among psychologists, there are counseling with feminist perspectives. Though some psychologists still see gender ‘as it is’, of course, that is not enough. ‘As it is’ means like helping a woman to be a good wife, as long as she is ‘happy’ doing it (so further solidifying the construction). Though in fact there are more choices available.

But there are also psychologists who begin to leave gender-biased perspective. Because there are many patriarchal theories of Psychology such as incest case which is not seen as incestuous violence, but a girl who has a problem because she seems to have sexual desire for her father. Yet when viewed from the side of the child she was actually a victim of incest, because it has to be seen from the perspective of power relations. Another example, there is a wife who is actually reluctant to have sex with her husband but then she is forced, husband and wife must be considered to have an equal relation. So what must be renewed is just how to communicate it. It is not our perspective that should be changed about seeing power relations between husband and wife, not just communication problems that need to be fixed.

Actually, among feminist psychologists, there have been many who are progressive, who use gender analysis to see power relations. I think psychological theory also provides opportunities, for example through the concept of “being healthy and contribute”. In psychology, there is the theory of self-actualization (that one can well actualize herself) if she is not constrained by the gender construction that provides restrictions. The spirit of psychological theory is to break or give space for a person to break free from adverse gender constructions that limit or burden her and see the role of gender as something permanent.

What is the contribution of Psychological Science dealing with this gender issue?

The psychological approach also introduces that gender is a social construct that as if by everyone it will be perceived the same. However, the nature of Psychology contributes to seeing how this power relation is perceived and practiced at a micro level. So it gives room to provide the conclusion that not all men are the same and likewise not all women are the same. So there is a chance for a change. Because essentially gender is not only socially constructed but also ‘personally constructed’.

So okay, we socially consider men to have certain privileges, but it also needs to be reviewed how social construct takes place in micro context (the men). When a man comes in the context of counseling, we need to see him not only as the perpetrator of violence but also consider when he becomes a perpetrator and when he is in a subordinate position. Because there are many factors motivating the perception of individuals regarding this gender issue. So we have enough space to see the context, it can vary dynamically in individual A, B, or C.

The next question is on how to build awareness? So psychologically it provides a room to act and to discuss this issue because we will perceive that everyone has their own value. But often when it comes to practice, the manifested value becomes incompatible with the value that the man holds because of many factors such as risk factors or social factors that can also be called as inhibiting factors. So it will be easier to reach the common ground. For example, a man has a good value, but when it is believed that a man should be a husband educating his wife he might be justified to commit violence, in this case, the common ground is not achieved. And actually using violence is not necessary. And also we do not have to see him as an enemy. Actually, this is indeed a good value. But we also must look back what is wrong so that the wife becomes afraid, the child becomes afraid. So we can change the perspective, even if we avoid the word victim; because socially it is difficult for men to be victims.

But there is also a case where a man indeed becomes a victim because this gender construction also creates a hierarchy among men themselves, not just between men and women. In this construction, it also becomes an obstacle for men themselves who are victims to seek help, because men are thus supposed to be able to protect themselves (masculinity).

What do you learn from these processes?

I personally find it easier to begin the discussion through a gender transformative approach. Because it considers what facts that need to be studied and what are the impacts. The best learning is when I get the response from the participants who begin to understand what the problem is, rather than us who show it to them; although we start opening it by presenting data and reducing resistance.

There is also learning that we get from the counseling rooms as a lesson learned, actually the need for couples to be able to work as a team is urgently needed. Because the women feel very much burdened (in the domestic space), and the men also feel the same (in the public space). They want to share, then the only one they have is their partner. How they become flexible and growing partners, without having to be burdened with a rigid gender construction, sometimes it’s more relieving because they have other options to deal with this problem. And that is also because of gender construction even though they do not use this term.

It’s for those who come for counseling because they do come to find solutions through counseling. At the level of behavior change, they are better prepared than those who feel themselves fine.

How does your surrounding respond to these efforts?

Professionally, we who work in Pulih are often considered not so much as psychologists because there are many psychologists with different schools. This is actually because most of us take a psycho-social approach. In Psychology, we are considered not so psychological (psychologists have many different perspectives, most of us have the clinical-psychology background), because we do not speak clinical psychology-in the sense of merely a practice-which discusses that a person is experiencing disorder and so on. The psychosocial approach enables us to see the problems experienced by an individual as driven also by the problems of the social environment, so in order to understand them as the source of the problem, the status quo needs to be changed.

Suppose we successfully help one individual, when he is returned to his environment he resumes his old troubled-self again because the problem is here right (the environment). The control mechanism that we have deals with the individual whose problem is not completely his fault. Although he can take the responsibility and make decisions for himself over the situation. But we realize that social factors are also influential. So in Pulih too, we have room to do some programs in the community and so forth.

Diagnosis is indeed necessary as a basis for the right direction of the recovery, but our approach is not very clinical and is merely a practice. Among activists (this is also experienced by the board), Pulih is not considered to be real ‘activist’ because we are not standing on the front lines. Why so? It is because we also see the dynamics of human beings. Unpleasantly, we are often considered alay (cheesy). Then what is the impact? So we are not considered to be real activists because we rarely employ the terms typically used by women activists, such as impoverishment and so on.

What is the reaction of the “women activists” towards the male feminists (pro-feminist men) that you have found so far?

Indeed there are various groups of with different opinions, some verbally agree, and some disagree because they assume that feminism is strongly associated with women’s body because the body of men and women are different. But there are also men who think that “Oh, no. I’m a feminist man “. But for me, they believe that the goal is gender equality, and what they do is to fight for gender equality, then it is legitimate if they are called feminist men or pro-feminist men. Well, this is the prevailing discourse. 

Regarding the involvement of men itself-regardless of whether they claim to be male feminists or pro-feminist men-among Indonesian women activists, there are agreement and disagreement. They agree with the notion that the goal is to fight for gender equality because this is a shared responsibility. For those who disagree, they actually provide a requirement or a compass, and they become devil’s advocate. Hundreds of years we live in a patriarchal culture, then the privilege of men is too good to be released or shared with women, and who knows there will be no another competition or betrayal. Well, actually from these two things, there is a lesson learned that is needed to develop a program of the elimination of gender-based violence.

How do you respond to these various reactions?

I think it is natural. It is natural in the sense that there are always theses and antitheses. It is fine as long as they are tough enough to fight for this space (gender equality). In my opinion, this is part of the freedom of expression. The various reactions can be used as input to always contemplate and introspect, but most importantly the goal is the same, toward gender equality.

In your opinion, how important is it to involve male-majority religious leaders in this gender-based elimination program?

This is actually a very good target for a social change because they occupy key positions in the social structure of society. On the one hand, this is an asset (potential), but the challenge is because the discourse of male involvement itself is also often misinterpreted. So, it can be an asset because they are politically males, provided that the male perspective leads to gender equality. That is I think the challenge. Especially if we refer to the theory of change in social learning, role models, public figures, as they can set an example then they can be catalysts for change in society. In addition, religious leaders and public figures are often used as examples of good religious life. So actually they are capitals as long as they have a good gender perspective.

How do you deal with various resistance, from various groups (e.g. religious institutions or female activists themselves) about the presence of male feminists with religious backgrounds?

Their distribution in a population, which are indeed true egalitarian, is just a few. However, then there are some pragmatic groups. For example in urban areas, most people agree with the idea of gender equality. They encourage women to come out and work. Although in implementation, the men do not change in their domestic life. So there is a double standard. Isn’t it the dynamics in the society? 

But if we learn from other countries that have successfully passed through this stage, gender equality is actually possible even though there are also other socio-economic factors. Because actually, it is a human problem. In my opinion, we already have many religious figures who have progressive views. But their voices need to be more resonant.

What are your expectations for male religious leaders, especially in relation to the efforts of the elimination of gender-based violence (which often occurs in women and children).

In my opinion, progressive studies that promote gender equality are numerous. But what is important is how can those male religious figures be more vigorous to promote those values to the congregation (jamaah) or followers, so as to become a wider public awareness. {}

 AD Kusumaningtyas


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