Pulse: Stories

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Aside from the women who travelled at night using public transportation, we also interviewed security guards, street vendors and parking lot attendants to help shape our understanding of the bystander perspective. After the fieldwork in Medan, Semarang and Surabaya, we organised a co-design workshop in Jakarta.


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The workshop was intended to present the preliminary findings; obtain feedback on actionable. More information about our research ethics and methods are available in Annex 1. We incorporated the results from the co-design workshop into subsequent analysis workshops, which were then developed into the insights that are presented in this report. We highlight several behavioural themes and patterns from our interviews and field observations, which we then translated into personas which are fictional characters inspired by actual women we met in the field.

These personas discussed in Chapter 2 are intended to build empathy with the respondents and develop insights regarding the human dynamics to inform the design process for delivering better services. Although our respondents share similar demographic characteristics, their experiences travelling with public transportation at night are shaped by a set of distinct habits, needs, challenges and beliefs.

Each persona is a composite of quotes and stories from several respondents, and the name of each of these personas does not necessarily represent a particular category of women travelling at night. We met with 37 respondents, from whom we gathered insights that were synthesised and characterised into four personas3.

Each persona portrays distinct behavioural patterns that we identified throughout our research, and sheds light on the emotions and thought process that respondents can relate to. A description on how the personas were created can be found in Annex 1: Ethics and Quality Research.

The first persona is the woman who spends considerable amount of time coming up with defence strategies, The Overprepared Strategist. The second persona is the young woman who recently migrated to the city, The Anxious Newcomer. The third persona. The fourth persona is the woman who puts her work above her own safety, the Female Warrior. A persona is a fictitious, specific and concrete representation within a targeted demographic group that might be useful for a product or service.

Each persona is designed based on real-life. Therefore, a persona is not any one individual per se, but it may represent an individual throughout the design process. A persona is defined by motivation and goals. Cooper, The Overprepared Strategist is a middle-age mom who often works night-shifts. She used to be a migrant worker overseas before her parents asked her to return home. After returning to her hometown, she discovered that job opportunities were limited due to her age.

I am no longer young. However, I was fortunate to know the owner of the shop that I now work in, which was how I got the job. She is willing to work night-shifts because she likes her job and the owner treats her well. Whenever her parents are not available to babysit her kids, her boss allows her to bring the kids to the shop.

She uses angkot4 to commute since it is typically cheaper than public buses and taxis. A family member usually gives her a ride to a main intersection, where she waits to catch one. Returning home, she hops off at the same intersection and waits for her family member to pick her up and then continues the journey home.

Government Regulation No. As a safety precaution, she makes it a habit to check her outfit before departing from her workplace. She wears a jacket and a mask, and even thinks about small details such as strategically positioning the pins on her headscarf so they can be used in defense in an emergency. If for some reason she has to wait longer than usual, she remains vigilant and holds her bag tightly on her person. If at all possible, she will avoid angkot drivers who drive slowly, because she prefers getting home in the quickest time possible.

Whenever she is alone and worried, she will try to get a seat next to the driver. She pointed out that some drivers are helpful and will give signals to passengers whenever a pickpocket is onboard. But, she also acknowledges that there are some drivers who are not so kind.

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Some drivers however often aggressively toss money back at passengers who pay lower than the expected fare. Unfortunately, even if her angkot driver is intoxicated, she will often still chance the journey, because at night the number of angkot minibuses operating is limited. Everything considered, The Overprepared Strategist tends to be more afraid of fellow passengers than the behaviours of drivers, mostly because of the underlying belief that many pickpockets disguise themselves as passengers.

She has learned to familiarise herself with fellow passengers, most of whom are frequent travellers on the same route. The last stretch of the journey before she reaches home is perceived as dangerous. For this reason, a family member picks her up when she gets off the angkot. This is a snapshot of her everyday travel experience in transit.

Although living abroad feels safer, she embraces the reality that this city is her home. She recently completed high school in her hometown, which is located three hours from the city she lives in now. She relocated following graduation after a distant relative who lives in the city told her about a job opportunity. The Anxious Newcomer sees herself as a small town girl in a big city. She often feels anxious because everything in the city is new and unfamiliar to her. The way people communicate in this big city is different from her hometown, often making her feel out of place.

Making a decision not to take any unnecessary. The downside is that this location is quite far from where she works. To get to work, she has to transit twice with an angkot, which is costly. At least my relative also lives there. A single ride from work to home normally costs around 8, IDR, and with promotional offers can be as little as 1, IDR. Despite the benefits of using ojek online, absolute safety is not guaranteed when commuting. Some drivers ask intrusive questions, such as whether she has a boyfriend.

There are even instances when drivers have contacted her via WhatsApp with similar suggestive comments after trips have been completed. On her days off, she rarely goes out because she is still not fully acquainted with the ins and outs of the city. Her work is tiring, but she is glad that she is no longer a financial burden to her family.

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She is still generally afraid, but puts on a confident-looking face to try and hide her fears. In the evening hours, she has fewer public transportation options to choose from. She would love to use ojol services in order to rest during the ride home, but she finds it expensive. The Moonlighter is a teacher at a local high school.

She is the breadwinner of her family.

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She has been juggling these jobs for a while, and is beginning to earn more money from the tutor job as more students are signing up due to positive word-of-mouth. Being a homeroom teacher requires her to be present at the school from morning to afternoon every day. In a single day, she conducts anywhere between one and three tutor sessions which also require her to travel.

On some days, the hops between the homes she has to visit are near, and on other days they are a tad. The number of hours she spends doing her tutor gig depends on the number of sessions that are confirmed and how far she has to travel. She relies on angkot to get to work in the morning.

It takes her around five minutes to walk from her house to the angkot pickup point, which drops her off in front of the school. The school is located near a busy intersection. She has made it a habit to observe people in her surroundings and identify familiar faces, especially muggers that other persons have warned about.


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  • She avoids these people at all costs while waiting for an angkot. Her bag was once stolen from her and feeling traumatised after the encounter, she asked her mother to accompany her until she felt confident enough again to go around by herself. In her view, the risk of using public transportation is worth the extra income that her family depends on. The Female Warrior is a trusted employee who has dedicated much of her life to her job, but rarely sets aside time to treat herself. At her current workplace, she is one of the most trusted employees - a reputation that was not built overnight, but instead resulted from taking on major responsibilities and constantly meeting the expectations of her boss.

    Her job is more tiring and pays less compared to previous jobs she has had. For example, she used to work in a chain department store where she was offered a promotion that required her to work in another branch. It would be difficult to find a safe place to live near that store. Ojol is available but will cost her twice as much, and more traditional door-todoor transportation such as becak or bentor cycle rickshaw is even more expensive. There are several angkot routes for her to choose from when going back home after work.

    She often opts for one with fewer passengers, because then she does not have to deal with overcrowdedness. She prefers to sit at the back of the vehicle, where she can observe the behaviours of other passengers and help out fellow women passengers when they need it. This gives the woman an excuse to switch seats. From the angkot drop off point, she needs to walk about 10 minutes to reach home. There are no houses, just a row full of shops. She used to be scared of him because he was always catcalling her, but she maintained her composure with a pleasant face in response.

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    In her opinion, the city can be a dangerous place at any time of the day - both during the daytime or during the night - but that does not affect her mobility much, because she believes she can protect herself. She prefers working at night because the relative ease of travelling means she can make it to work on time, even if she oversleeps by a few minutes. With perseverance and a go-getter attitude, she believes she can survive living in the city despite its many ills. When we shadowed her on the journey, we came across the path that she mentioned was dangerous.

    There are no street lights - the only glimpses of light are from nearby homes. The walkways are in bad condition, notably with uncovered holes which are hard to spot in the dark. We walked in the middle of the street during heavy rain to avoid the unsafe walkways. All the houses and shops are closed up and there are no windows facing the street. We observed more to the journey than she had previously explained. She knows the street well and walks briskly without overthinking.

    Her benchmark for safety differs from those who are not familiar with the street. Shadowing helped us to put the information from her diary into context and get further clarifications. The women we met during our research share several demographic characteristics in common. Their ages range from 19 to 40 years.

    They have blue-collar jobs in the city center and work night-shifts that end around 10 pm. They rely on the most affordable and convenient transportation options to get home. They generally perceive travelling at night to be unsafe, but their attitudes, preferences, and pain points differ from one to another - these differences are some of the nuances we highlighted with the four personas.

    Overview of Public Transportation Routes in Medan, Semarang and Surabaya Medan: There are public transportation routes, consisting of angkot and regular buses that are run by 23 operators including both private and state-owned companies. This city has the highest number of routes compared to Semarang and Surabaya. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy stated that Medan has one of the strongest public transportation operator organisations in Indonesia. Long before the government-owned BRT began operating, the privately-owned buses, minibuses and angkot had been serving the demands of urban commuters.

    Angkot operates on 23 routes with an estimated units in operations and 5 routes are served by regular buses. These numbers however do not reflect the actual number of vehicle operating at day time. Surabaya: Angkot minibuses in the city operate on 59 routes with nearly 6, units in operation, and there are regular buses operated by DAMRI7 on 19 main road routes Transport Department of Surabaya City, The Availability of Public Transportation at Night Finding public transportation is one of the main challenges for women travelling home at night.

    From the three cities we surveyed, only respondents from Medan confirmed using public transportation at night. Women in Medan rely on angkot to go home as it is often the cheapest option available. In whichever case, angkot is not always reliable at night, because the frequency at which they operate is not the same as day time. There is also a possibility of getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere, if there is only one or two passengers remaining in the vehicle.

    This is a challenge women travelling with public transportation at night in Medan must face. In Semarang and Surabaya, there are limited if at all any options for public transportation at night. Therefore, it was a challenge to find women respondents who use public transportation at night in these two cities. The initial research plan was to specifically gather respondents who take public transportation, but given the reality on the ground we had to make adjustments. In the absence of reliable public transportation, alternative modes of transportation such as ojek online are becoming popular and gaining more ridership in these cities.

    We decided to look at women who use public transportation regularly but had to use ojek online at night due to the absence of public transportation during nighttime hours. Unlike the emergence of ride-hailing services in the United States, in Indonesia, ojek online was inspired by an already well-known informal motorcycle taxi service called ojek.

    This approach thus made ride-hailing motorcycle taxi more popular than ride-hailing cars Gao, Notwithstanding, Indonesian Law No. This is often the most feasible option for women travelling at night, but not for everyone as some respondents from a lower socio-economic background still cannot afford the fare. The journeys reveal emotions and underlying beliefs that influence their travel decisions as they go from their place of work to home, as well as every stop in between. For most of the respondents we met with, they believe job options are limited, and so it is better to earn a regular income working at night than earning nothing at all.

    So, how do women perceive safety in public spaces, especially travelling at night? What does it mean to feel unsafe? Though they may share similar travel patterns, the four personas experience different emotions and filter their understanding of a situation through different personal lens. What are some of the challenges women have to face when travelling at night? How does the experience differ when travelling during the day? How can transportation services at night be improved to make women travellers feel safer during their commutes?

    These are the insights we uncovered during the fieldwork and codesign workshop. Despite feeling unsafe, to continue working and securing their livelihoods, the women we met employ a set of skills to limit the possibility of various forms of harassment - rather than choosing to limit their mobility at night. These skills include a range of abilities and actions, such as knowing how to blend in with their surroundings; making a conscious choice to wear plain clothes that do not attract attention; putting on a mask. Feeling safe, as these women have aptly described, is on a continuum -- it is not a dichotomy of safe and unsafe.

    Travelling at night and remaining safe is about learning to a be a good observer, b prepare for the worst case scenario, c preserve anonymity and be low-key, d familiarise oneself with a travel route, and e take advantage of other factors that can enable safeguarding such as building companionship with other commuters.

    All the respondents pointed out that travelling at night comes with a feeling of being unsafe. From the first mile, which begins the moment a woman steps out of her workplace, to the last mile, before she arrives home, women tend to accept that there is always the possibility of facing sexual harassment, violence, crime and other uncomfortable encounters. They recognise these as ever-present threats, and therefore have identified a set of safeguards to consider in their journey home from work.

    Some women even take the time to develop an emotional armour, which helps them to not expose their fear and anxiety during uncomfortable encounters. After all, traveling at night is only a small portion of their day, but indeed part of their everyday reality. Certain features of an environment such as poor lighting and narrow walkways make an area more susceptible to crime Loukaitou-Sideris, This however, does not always relate to women whose livelihoods depend on travelling at night. Although the women respondents who work at night generally have limited options for safe transportation, finding a safe place to live is not usually an issue.

    The women we met with prioritised living in a comfortable area, though getting to such a location may mean passing through narrow, lonely and poorly lit walking paths. She only becomes suspicious if she notices unfamiliar faces and out of the ordinary activities. Since then, the safety audit tool has been widely used both nationally and internationally, and has evolved today from its original form.

    Today, this tool exists in many different formats and has been applied to a range of situations. In this research, these parameters refer to Safetipin application parameters: transport, lighting, openness, visibility, walkways, security, crowd, gender usage and feelings. Fraud by hypnosis, this is an illegal practice that is common in Southeast Asia, where individuals are tricked into giving money to strangers. While typically performed over the phone, gendam can take many forms, but the outcome is generally the same. In terms of trusting personal anecdotes, the respondents recognise that other women, as they themselves do, prefer to share their experiences with harassment encounters or other types of crime in private.

    They tend to only share their uncomfortable encounters with close friends and trusted family members to avoid embarrassment, feeling ashamed, or in some cases to avoid being told to stop working at night. Information about crimes that take place in their city is passed on through word of mouth. During our fieldwork in Medan, some women warned us about begal, robbers who would attack and steal from drivers and passengers, while in Surabaya and Semarang the women were especially aware of gendam9.

    Only one of the respondents expressed concerns about information she received on the news on crime and harassment. Family and friends are therefore reliable sources for sharing information about safety. Does reporting a case make any difference? The women respondents had knowledge about call centers and helplines that are established for reporting harassment incidents.

    However, none of them expressed willingness to report incidents. Helplines for them are seen as useful for major cases of violence, such as rape; but they are not so relevant for the kind of dilemmas they face on a daily basis when using public transportation at night for instance to report a theft or being catcalled. Whether it is to address their particular case or respond to a more general concern or feedback such as placing more security guards in areas reported to be unsafe , the women had no confidence that their reports would be followed up with concrete action from the authorities.

    Some women expressed doubts that their reports would actually be read or their stories listened to at all. This may be partly due to the often missing or ineffective feedback loop in public reporting mechanisms. We found that in cities with lower crime rate such as Semarang and Surabaya10, the women tend to have more trust in authorities. In their view, these authorities are mostly identified as men in official uniforms, such as police officers and security guards. They believe that these uniformed authorities are more willing to give them the help they need on the spot, or help to prevent an incident before it happens.

    In Medan which has a higher crime rate, the women complained that news of crimes and incidents of harassment often appear in the news, but women rarely hear about what actions are being taken to prevent crimes from recurring. Crime statistics are not available at the city level, therefore we used Statistics Indonesia Criminal Statistics from as proxy. Based on these figures, Sumatera Utara Province has the highest number of reports on crime. Medan is the capital of Sumatera Utara. However, having observed some of these drivers overpacking their vehicles, ignoring traffic lights, yelling at passengers, and sometimes driving under the influence of alcohol, they are aware that their safety is not always guaranteed.

    Still, some of the women we met are sympathetic. The majority of the women we met who frequently take angkot expressed that the drivers can be an ally and a protector. We heard stories about angkot drivers who would signal women passengers if a known thief came onboard, by making an announcement to passengers to mind their belongings or telling women passengers to move to the seat at the front if only few passengers remain at the end of an evening route. These gestures are very much appreciated by women. Although the women we met have fairly established opinions about authorities, their impressions of angkot drivers are different.

    Unlike buses or ojol drivers, angkot drivers are neither hired by the Government nor are they partners with private companies. They do not wear any uniform that identifies their affiliation, therefore they are seen by women as independent workers without support from a more formal institution. In reality though, angkot minibuses are actually supervised by driver cooperation organisations such as Organda. They pointed out that angkot drivers generally face the same, if not more precarious, safety risks as passengers. They drive through the same route every day, meet the same preman people who engage in criminal activities , and can be easily identified by thugs and robbers.

    According to some women, if a driver kicks a pickpocket off his angkot, the very next day the same pickpocket can find the angkot driver and retaliate. So, these women understand that angkot drivers cannot always protect their passengers from criminals who come onboard because doing so would also pose a risk for these drivers. Bystanders want to help, but they are unsure if intervening is the best course of action. In her journey home at night, a woman meets different kinds of people, ranging from other workers and public transportation operators such as drivers and timers11 to street vendors.

    She learns to scan her environment and distinguish between people who may pose a threat from those who could help if she faces trouble. There are several ongoing campaigns focused on changing passive bystanders into active allies when women are facing harassment in public spaces. These campaigns often focus on raising awareness based on the assumption that many bystanders are not able to identify the range of activities that may be considered as harassment. When we spoke with bystanders street vendors, parking attendants and commuting passengers who are waiting for public transportation - throughout the cities, we found that many of them who recognise acts of harassment are still hesitant about taking action, fearing that intervening may make the situation worse for the victims.

    In some cases, bystanders hesitate to render assistance because there is no explicit cry for help from the victim. In some cases of harassment, bystanders are unsure whether their intervention will be welcomed by the victim, who may at times prefer to handle the situation in her own way. In other cases, bystanders may be afraid of misinterpreting a situation, particularly if it takes place at night, when there is low visibility.

    Bystanders also expressed concern about their own safety, especially if they sense that they are facing the same threat as the victim. The common thread in all these stories is that bystanders feel that intervening require them to take bold gestures that may create unwanted attention, therefore increasing risks of the victim or themselves being harmed. Some bystanders circumvent these situations by taking actions that are more subtle.

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    Street vendors would suggest to women who are waiting for a motorcycle taxi by the roadside to stand close to their stalls if there is a suspected thug nearby. Overall, bystanders need to develop a set of subtle tactics that can be used to intervene without causing a stir. A person who informally manages the circulation of public transportation vehicles at a terminal or transit point.

    The task is done in exchange for payment, for example from angkot drivers who are waiting for passengers at these locations.


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    We were told by one of the women street vendors in front of a mall that the area is generally considered safe. When we probed further however, she shared more specific tips on parts that are safe, unsafe and somewhere in between. She has been selling food for years in the area and is well familiar with the everyday activities, both good and bad. She gave us a heads up about which areas we should avoid. Acts of Love and Kindness is a movement by the One Orlando Alliance to encourage our community, and those around the world who feel close to us, to honor all those who have been affected by the Pulse tragedy.

    Share the movement online through Instagram and Facebook using our Keep The Pulse social share image and hashtag generator. Rememberthe49 This digital gallery is a tribute to the victims and survivors, and represents the continuous love and support received from across the region, country and world. One Orlando Collection 5, artifacts recovered. View The Gallery.

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