POST D: The Gendered Nature of Tobacco

The Indonesian consumption of tobacco has been rapidly increasing over the years, with national survey data revealing that adult smoking prevalence is high, with 62% of males and approximately 1-3% of women smoking (Achadi et al. 2005).

The gendered nature of the tobacco industry is clearly evident as you walk through the streets of Surabaya and frames the social and cultural norms for women. It is traditionally considered culturally inappropriate for women to smoke. What I find particularly interesting is that smoking appears to be increasing among affluent and educated women in urban areas, such as Jakarta (Weinehall et al. 2006). Tobacco companies are capitalising on this by connecting smoking with symbols of woman empowerment and freedom. This tactic is reminiscent on the U.S, 1920’s  ‘Torches for Freedom’, when cigarette manufacturers turned smoking into a symbol of female liberation (Coca 2017). Indonesian culture is largely built on aspects of socialising which is built around tobacco culture. The gendered nature of tobacco dictates the way in which males dominate public spaces. On a local context, you can see many warongs filled with male patrons, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. This is reflective of Indonesian moral conducts where young women are not seen going anywhere alone and are not expected to engage in ‘free’ social mixing (Parker 2009; Smith Hefner 2009). On our guided walking tour we sat and enjoyed coffee amongst the locals at the warong, Warkop Sakam, advertised as being open 24/7. The guide, Anitha Silva, explained that “coffee and smoking go hand in hand.” It was clear that my presence as a female was uncommon, as there were no local females inside the warong. On our walk, I did not find any spaces for women to congregate and socialise in a group like men do inside a warong. This makes me question whether the use of tobacco-sponsored events, by providing safer spaces for females to socialise in public spaces, is reinforcing ideas in young women that they can buy freedom through tobacco?


Power structures of males over women are reinforced through tobacco as it dictates the use of public spaces, and Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, vice chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, says that the country faces a street harassment epidemic, making it unsafe for women to utilise street spaces to socialise in the way that men do (Today Online 2017). An exploration of the Sampoerna Museum uncovered and highlighted the power dynamics between genders in the tobacco industry. As one looks down at the workers from a glass wall, with ‘no photo/video’ signs displayed, you can see all the women at their tables working quickly and efficiently to roll, bundle and package the unfiltered premium cigarettes. It is seen as an acceptable job for a woman to work in the production of tobacco, yet deemed as socially unacceptable and harmful to consume it. The irony is that the effects of tobacco does not discriminate based on gender and has lasting ramifications for those that choose to smoke as well as those who are exposed to it.



The map above explores the way in which consumption of tobacco differs accross one region. Notably, I found that markets with more female vendors, such as Pabean Utara, had less tobacco than markets with male vendors (Pasar Ikan Pabean).


Reference List:

Achadi, A., Soerojo, W., Barber, S. 2005, ‘The relevance and prospects of advancing tobacco control in Indonesia’, Health Policy, viewed December 7 2018, <;

Coca, N. 2017, ‘Big Tobacco wants Indonesian Women to Light-up and Liberate’, Jakarta, viewed 7 December 2018, <;

Weinehall, L., Ohman, A., Ng, N. 2006, ‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’–Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking, Health Educ Res, pp. 794–804.

Today Online 2017, In Indonesia, women begin to fight ‘epidemic’ of street harassment, Singapore, viewed December 7 2018, <;

Parker, L. 2009, “Religion, class and schooled sexuality among Minangkabau teenage girls”, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 165(1): 62-94.

Smith-Hefner, N. 2009, “’Hypersexed’ youth and the new Muslim sexology in Java, Indonesia”, Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, pp. 209-244.

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