Post C: The Guardians of Indonesia

By Catherine Nguyen


Myself and Aina (left)

Growing up in a city where smoking was prevalent amongst the diverse population, it was a certainly a strange sight upon arriving in Banjarmasin. Although it seemingly appeared that the ‘rokok’ culture was proudly celebrated with tobacco kiosks positioned every 5 metres apart, the unsettling amounts of cigarette pack disposals in the Martapura river as well as the large groups who bonded with cigarettes in their mouths, something in particular stood out. There were absolutely no signs of women smoking at all- if anything, the closest they were was through the passive breathing of their husbands’ cigarette. Curious about whether this was due to religious, cultural or social reasons, I decided to delve further through a conversation with Aina.

Aina Novie (Aina) is an 18 year old student currently undertaking English Conversation at the Lambung Mangkurat University in Banjarmasin with big dreams to travel the world. Confirming the obvious as soon as she shook her head upon asking her if she was a smoker herself, she stated that she was well aware of the dangers, risks and inconveniences associated with smoking. However it was a different story amongst her peers- most of them were ‘rokok’ users and all of them happened to be male. This was no surprise, as data revealed that 48% of Indonesian smokers admitted to smoking since their late teens, whilst 30% affirmed that their habits began when they were still minors. (Jakpat, 2016).


Graph illustrating the ages people began smoking in Indonesia (Fandia, M. 2016)

Aside from being one of the world’s most populated countries with over 260 million residents at a near 1:1 ratio of men to women (CountryMeters, 2018), Indonesia is also recognised as one of the countries with the highest record of male smokers. With such a balanced population, it was unexpected to notice such a stark contrast in the rates between male (69%) and female smokers (3%) (Ghouri, N., Atcha, M. & Sheikh, A. 2006). However, it was discovered that Muslim women were restricted access in certain public places- including social spaces where cigarettes would be traditionally smoked. Furthermore, the act was deemed socially unacceptable for women; often construed as a vice which undermined the social standing of the family (Ghouri, N., Atcha, M. & Sheikh, A. 2006). Whilst males were often praised and sanctioned with the ‘gift of masculinity’ through using rokok, females would become targetted for ostracism.

Suprisingly, Aina also uncovered that there lay more than just religious and social purposes. When asked about her decision not to smoke, she replied that “if girls use rokok, it is not good for the baby”. Her mother had told her so, and apparently, it was commonly believed throughout Indonesia. According to Barraclough in ‘Women and tobacco in Indonesia’, women are respected as the guardians of their families’ health. As well as taking care of everyone’s health, theirs is viewed equally as significant due to their ability to give birth. In a country where the maternal mortality rate was once as low as 358 per 100,000 pregnant women (Barraclough, S. 1999), the notion of motherhood is worshipped as an aspect of success for the women of Indonesia. If a one was unable or unwilling to reproduce, she would be perceived as ‘inadequate’ and a ‘failure’ for not being able to fulfil her socially designated role (Bennett, L.R. 2012).

Talking with Aina answered many of my curiosities as well as opened up new topics of interest beyond the tobacco industry. There is still a long way before the matter of tobacco, as well as issues in relation to the perception of Indonesian women and their alleged ‘duties’ can be tackled and resolved due to their interwoven nature in the local communities and lifestyles. However, with an enhanced understanding of their motives, values and perspectives, we can realise solutions which enable potential for a more open-minded community, where the responsibility of everyone’s well-being wouldn’t be limited to the women of the household themselves; where everyone would be their own guardian.


Barraclough, S. 1999, ‘Women and Tobacco in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 8, pp. 327-332.

Bennett, L.R. 2012, ‘Infertility, Womanhood and Motherhood in Contemporary Indonesia: Understanding Gender Discrimination in the Realm of Biomedical Fertility Care’, Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, vol. 28.

CountryMeters 2018, Indonesia Population, viewed 16 January 2018,<;.

Fandia, M. 2016, Cigarette Lovers: Indonesian Smokers Survey 2016, Jajak Pendapat App, viewed 16 January 2018, <;.

Ghouri, N., Atcha, M. & Sheikh, A. 2006, ‘Influence of Islam on smoking among Muslims’, British Medical Journal, vol. 332, no. 7536, pp. 291.



One thought on “Post C: The Guardians of Indonesia

  1. Upon arrival to Banjarmasin, I too was surprised by the ratio of male to female smokers. Naively, I had not ever really thought that more men would smoke in Indonesia because in Sydney we see just as many women smoking as men. I was curious as to find out why this was the case so it was great to read your post and here from Aina’s female perspective. I found it interesting to discover that in Indonesia, very few women smoke because they are regarded as the “guardians of their families’ health”. I similarly agree with you that any women (not just Indonesian) can do so much more than that and should not be limited to just taking care of everyone else’s health.

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