Illegal abortions in Indonesia, the story of a brave woman.
Sanne van Oosten
A quaint house in the middle of a rice field, not really the place where one would expect the headquarters of the Indonesian women’s reproductive rights movement to be. But it is. When you walk inside, women’s rights posters from all over the world decorate the house. The founder and leader of Samsara, Inna Hudaya, welcomed us into her house in the middle of a rice field. She lives in a small remote village to be able to be as anonymous as possible. The village doesn’t know about her work, and she’d like to keep it that way. They think she works in educating women on sexuality. For her own safety, that’s all they should know.
Her household is run by the only male maid we had seen on our trip in Indonesia so far. “At first he did the housework with all the doors and windows closed because he was so embarrassed. Now he doesn’t care anymore.” He seems happy to work for her, she lets him hang out in the house with his friends “I choose him because he’s the coolest kid in town. I hired him to do the housework but also to get some protection. With him in the house I always know what the villagers are gossiping about me.”
Samsara has three activities. Counseling, education and they arrange safe abortions if necessary. Women can call Hudaya or one of her employees through the Safe Abortion Hotline. The latter is their most important activity, the counseling and educational programs are mostly used as a cover up and a promotional strategy. “We have open and closed strategies. We are closed about the hotline, but about the rest we are open. Our workshops and educational programs are even for free, at the end of the workshop we always inform the participants about the hotline”. If the police ever finds Hudaya, she can say that they work on workshops and counseling. If the question of abortion comes up, they can tell the police that they counsel women who are contemplating an abortion to not have an abortion. Even her own mother thinks that this is what she does.
But, if the woman decides to have an abortion, the price is high. If you’re lucky: 2,5 milion rupias, about 250 euros. In a country where the majority of the population only earns 1 euro a day, this price can be an impossible sum to pay. “Some sell everything they have, others just can’t get a safe abortion”.
Safe abortion is very important; the alternative is quite gruesome. Often, women revert to clothes hangers or sticks. A practice that is not carried out professionally, often leading to unnecessary death or disease. “If they are married there are many clinics they can go to, if they aren’t married there are only two clinics. One in Jakarta, one in Sulawesi. Not all women can afford this. Sometimes they can get a dispensation, if they have a card that proves that they are poor. But then still, they have to fly all the way to Jakarta or Sulawesi, that costs a lot of money”.
What inspired Hudaya to do go to such great risks for the safe abortion of other women? “I had an illegal abortion in 2004. It was an unsafe abortion, the details you can find on the internet. Because of this I went through a depression for about three years. I went to a psychologist and to a psychiatrist to find out what was wrong with me. I felt like no one understood what happened to me. Consistently, I denied that all my symptoms had anything to do with my abortion.
“One day, I read an article which stated that there are about 2 million abortion cases in Indonesia every year. And I was thinking, if 50% of these women went through depression like me, no wonder this society has become so crazy! Mostly women think that they are crazy when they go through this because no one explains it to you. So I started my blog. I wrote my testimony about my abortion, my recovery and my depression. And I also found that there is hardly any information about abortion in Indonesian. So I started translating everything there is to find out about abortion from English to Indonesian.
“After a few months I had received so many e-mails from women saying that they experienced the same as me. Why did we all have to go through a depression after our abortion? Nobody went through counseling before and after the abortion. We have no idea how it feels, we have no idea about abortion. That’s why we all experienced so much stress.”
Hudaya is very careful with contact and interviews with local media, but seeks as much international attention as possible. International agents can protect her if necessary, locals are more likely to threaten her if they find out her whereabouts. Filming her was absolutely not allowed, she is too worried someone in her neighborhood will find out about what she does. “If locals go to the police a process will be started and we can revert to our international network. What we worry about the most are the extremist Muslim groups. With these groups there is no such process. They can just come to your house and beat you. I would not have been available for an interview if you were from the local media because of this”.
Even though abortion is illegal in Indonesia, she is not less scared of the law than of extremist Muslim groups. “Even though it’s illegal, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything illegal”. Indonesia agreed in the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994 to protect women’s reproductive rights. It is the obligation of the government to apply this, but because of the culture and the society, the government does not have the bravery to apply this law. So actually we’re doing the governments dirty work”.
It is possible that she’ll be arrested for the work she is doing. Aren’t you scared to go to jail? We asked her. “It could happen, but I always think; I could do such a great job in jail. There is so much sexual abuse going on there, I could start a counseling program for victims to deal with sexual abuse.” Inna Hudaya’s fearless strength to make the world a better place is a true inspiration and Samsara is an appropriate word for the work she does.
Listen to the full interview here: Interview Inna