Indonesia: Film About the Struggle of Women Sees Red-Light District Closed Down

June 09, 2009
Nurfika Osman

Authorities in the East Java district of Tulungagung, probably embarrassed by a film that documented the presence of a decade-old red-light district in its territory, have forced its closure, activists said on Tuesday.

Tulungagung’s Gunung Bolo red light area was one of the five subjects highlighted in a series of documentaries by five women directors that were compiled into a film, “Pertaruhan” (the Gamble), by noted film director and producer Nia Dinata.

But local district authorities on June 4, closed down the red-light district following the first public screening of the film, an activist with a local nongovernmental organization said.

“They shut the area down because the district head was embarrassed by the subject matter the movie presented,” said Ifada Nur Rokhmaniah, a program director for CESMID, the Center for Study and Millennium Development.

Ifada said the area had been in operation for more than a decade with the full knowledge of the local authorities.

“Public order officers have always guarded the area and they set up a permanent command post to ensure protection,” she said.

“Ragate Anak” or “Caring For the Children” by Ucu Agustin, was the documentary that depicted the lives of two sex workers there, Nur and Mira. Both worked as stone breakers during the day and as prostitutes at the Gunung Bolo cemetery in the evenings to make ends meet.

Nur is a mother of five who realizes all the risks of being a prostitute and tries her best to minimize them, including the use of condoms.

Unlike Nur, Mira does not impose the use of condoms on her customers. She is also more prone to violence and exploitation as she lives with a man who acts as her companion and her pimp.

“The district government has not come up with any concrete solutions since the closure,” Ifada said.

“Staff from related agencies such as the social agency and the health agency still don’t know what to do with the prostitutes. They said the most important thing is that the area has been shut down.”

The fate of the eighty prostitutes, half of them from Tulungagung, remains uncertain, Ifada said.

“The agencies said they would cooperate with us in the matter, but so far they haven’t done anything except close the place,” she added.

Ucu said that her documentary only sought to represents a phenomenon in society, that there were women who must become prostitutes to survive.

“If the head of the [local] government shuts down the area because he is embarrassed, then I really regret it.”

Nia Dinata, who received news of the closure last Friday, said that the government should have taken the opportunity to empower these women so they can survive.

Link to original on Jakarta Globe

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