Journalism is a challenging profession. But being a woman journalist makes it even more so.
At a rebel camp in Papua (Indonesia’s easternmost province), Herawati found her life on the line. She was tied to a tree, yelled at while a cleaver was held at her neck, made to stay still while a man frisked her body as though checking for a weapon, and threatened to kill her. She was eight months pregnant.
While covering a drug raid in Jambi, Yusnani was threatened by police despite showing them her press card. They erased her footage of the operation, forced her into a police car, and drove her around the city for hours before finally letting her go.
Mahijah Chair’s experience with other police was no less traumatizing. She was at a police station as part of her assignment covering drugs. After taking her notebook and tearing it to pieces, one police officer told her: “Don’t report this. if you do, I will shoot your head.”
These and 48 other stories penned by Indonesian women journalists are featured in the recently released Jurnalis Perempuan Meliput Indonesia: 50 Kisah di Balik Berita (Women Journalists Cover Indonesia: 50 Stories Behind the News), published by Forum Jurnalis Perempuan Indonesia (FJPI, Women Journalists Forum of Indonesia), whose members come from print and online media.
Other contributors to the book talk about being trapped in a tribal war, doing undercover reports, and being intimidated by media companies including through demotion.
Their personal accounts of some of their most memorable experiences – by turns inspiring and not-so-inspiring, happy and sad – offer a glimpse of what it takes to be a woman journalist in today’s milieu where certain actors have intensified attacks, including the physical and sexual kind, against them.
Women, increasingly, also find themselves in the cross-hairs of online gendered attacks in this digital age.
Yet, as the book shows, they also demonstrate resilience amid gender-based challenges. This, without masking their soft or gentle side that never fails to manifest when the situation warrants it.
With the upcoming April 2019 election in Indonesia, there is no gainsaying the important role women journalists play in ensuring an informed public, particularly on women’s issues that are oftentimes swept under the rug, not least by men.
FJPI envisions Indonesian women journalists able to report freely in an environment where they are insulated from threats and attacks, offline and online, and where a culture of gender sensitivity is firmly in place within and beyond the newsroom. Then and only then will women’s voices reverberate so powerfully in society while women journalist wield their virtual pens.