Just let us enjoy the game: Women battle harassment in Indonesian soccer

Soccer is still viewed in many parts of the world as a sport dominated by men, which has led to gender-based discrimination and harassment on and off the pitch.

Yohana Belinda

Yohana Belinda

The Jakarta Post


Spreading awareness: Putri Rahmadhani, a Persija Jakarta supporter and member of Forum Perempuan Dalam Sepak Bola (Forum for Women in Soccer), holds up a mobile phone with a message urging “the creation of stadiums free from sexual harassment”. The 24-year-old criminology students stresses that public education is still pivotal to combating sexual harassment.(Courtesy of Putri Rahmadhani/-)

December 19, 2022

JAKARTA – Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Indonesia, if not the most popular sport, according to cloud-based analytics platform Databox’s latest report, which showed that at least 69 percent of all Indonesians loved the game.

Yet, the sport has yet to embrace gender equality, especially with regard to female soccer fans.

Soccer is still viewed in many parts of the world as a masculine sport dominated by men. This has led to gender-based discrimination and harassment on and off the pitch, particularly targeting female fans of the sport.

Indonesia is no exception, and female fans are exposed to both physical and verbal harassment when watching a game. “Women don’t understand anything about soccer,” is an oft-heard criticism, but harassment by male supporters of the same team is also common.

One of the most widely reported incidents of harassment against a female supporter happened just two years ago on March 8, 2020, when renowned male soccer commentator Rama Sugiarto made a sexist comment referring to a female fan during a Liga 1 match between Persita Tanggerang and PSM Makassar, broadcast live on TV.

“We are seeing something that stands out but it’s not talent, it’s something big, but it’s not hope. What is it, dude?” he said on O Channel as the camera spanned over the crowd of spectators.

Netizens immediately lashed out against him, and Rama apologized.

“I personally, truly apologize for my wrongdoing to all Indonesian soccer lovers,” Rama wrote on his social media account.

Data on gender-based discrimination and harassment in soccer is slim to nonexistent, as Forum Perempuan Dalam Sepak Bola (PDS), or the Forum for Women in Soccer, has discovered. For the last two years, the PDS has been campaigning to reduce the sexual harassment female supporters experience at stadiums.

Founded in early 2020 by Dianita Luschinta, 33, who is from Gresik, East Java, but is a supporter of sworn rival team Persebaya Surabaya, the PDS is dedicated to fighting against discrimination in the sport.

Dianita particularly emphasizes the importance of providing a safe space for female supporters at stadiums, as she has experienced catcalls herself.

“There’s nothing better than going to the stadium. For some individuals, it’s a way of releasing stress. We can scream and sing along with the other supporters,” she said, sharing her favorite part of watching a soccer game at a stadium.

Supporters united: Dianita Luschinta, a long-time supporter of Persebaya Surabaya, the sworn rival of her hometown of Gresik, also in East Java, founded Forum Perempuan Dalam Sepak Bola (Forum for Women in Soccer) after she was targeted by sexual harassment at a soccer game. (Courtesy of Dianita Luschinta/-)

Supporters united: Dianita Luschinta, a long-time supporter of Persebaya Surabaya, the sworn rival of her hometown of Gresik, also in East Java, founded Forum Perempuan Dalam Sepak Bola (Forum for Women in Soccer) after she was targeted by sexual harassment at a soccer game. (Courtesy of Dianita Luschinta/-)

Dianita and other members of the PDS have been supporting female soccer enthusiasts across the archipelago to deal with the harassment they experienced. The forum often holds Zoom meetings so victims can share their experiences, seek support or simply to be heard.

“It’s important for us [women] to share what it’s like being a supporter in Indonesia, so we actually have each other’s backs when some of us experience sexual harassment [at matches],” said Dianita.

The PDS offered several ways of providing support, Dianita added, including victims sharing details of the harassment they experienced “via anonymous calls or emails”.

“Then, we will be able to provide them with psychological and health support,” she said.

Choosing silence

However, one of the main reasons the PDS is finding it challenging to gather data is because many victims choose not to speak up. Their silence is often because they are blamed for what has happened to them.

Renata Melati Putri, a 31-year-old sports policy researcher based in Surabaya, says that female fans are usually stereotyped as “wild” and more often than not, public opinion tends to victim-blame them because of the way they dress.

Putri Rahmadhani, 24, who is an ardent supporter of the Persija Jakarta soccer club and has been working with victims of harassment, says that many women opened up suddenly during random conversations, months after they had been harassed.

“The stereotype has led victims to share what they experienced a year after [the harassment],” she said, either because they weren’t conscious that they had been harassed or because they were scared of further discrimination.

Putri, who is currently pursuing a degree in criminology, noted that while some women chose not to set foot into a stadium ever again after being harassed, “If anyone returns to a stadium [after they were harassed], that doesn’t mean they are not victims.”

Not too late

As stated in National Sports Governance Observer 2, a benchmark report on national sports organizations in 15 countries, the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) is rated “not fulfilled” (0-19 percent) in upholding the principles of combating sexual harassment, anti-discrimination, gender discrimination and sport for all.

Dianita thus stressed that deterrence was vital to clamping down on perpetrators of gender-based discrimination and harassment, especially as incidents of sexual harassment against soccer fans were too often taken seriously only when they went viral.

The PDS even mounted a campaign urging separate sections for female and male spectators to reduce incidents of harassment, but Putri and Renata both acknowledged that providing female-only seating would only add another layer to the gender hierarchy in Indonesian society.

“There are pros and cons in terms of effectiveness when female supporters have their own stands. However, it would highlight even more that female supporters are being treated differently,” Putri added.

Putri also suggested that public education had a crucial role in raising awareness about the impacts of harassment on individuals as well as how they should respond to harassment.

“There hasn’t been enough education on what victims should do when they experience sexual harassment, especially those who live in rural areas,” said Putri, noting that she often came across individuals who did not understand either the meaning or scope of sexual harassment, and that it also included being touched without consent and being catcalled.

PSSI must do more

Akmal Maharli, 44, the coordinator of Save Our Soccer, a group dedicated to “cleaning up” the sport, said the PSSI could also start campaigning against the sexual harassment of female supporters, while criticizing the general lack of safety and support for fans and spectators.

“We lack measures for when these things [discrimination and harassment] happen, such as banning racist songs, including sexually offensive ones. There are no clear procedures for who should enforce these rules when [incidents] happen,” Akmal said.

He added that the PSSI could start by launching campaigns on match tickets or working with institutions that focus on women’s and children’s welfare, such as the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) and the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry.

Ciput Eka Purwianti, the ministry’s director of special protection for children from violence, said separately that preventive measures could also start with small steps at home. Parents should provide a positive example of how to treat others, especially women, she added.

While the overall soccer environment has not changed much for female supporters, Dianita, Renata, Putri and other PDS members are continuing their fight against gender-based discrimination and harassment by educating the public through social media platforms that even words can do harm.

“If someone posts a sexist comment, I often reply on social media, telling them it’s not right,” Putri said. “We just want to enjoy the game, just like everyone else.”

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