By April Jiang
Tobacco has formed many personal relationships with the citizens of Indonesia. In particular has become an activity that determines and signifies one’s masculinity, prominently evident in visible street advertising and accessible statistics. However, its relationship and impact on the female population is hidden and goes unnoticed, as a result of traditional norms and its disproving relationship with women. Through primary research I was able to grasp and voice two distinct perspectives of women in Indonesia and the contrasting impact tobacco has had on their lives.
Rhya, a 42-year-old mother who works at a café/bar in Yogyakarta reveals the reality of a tobacco inflicted life. She exemplifies what Indonesian culture would identify as an “abnormal” (Barraclough & Morrow 2010) female smoker. Throughout her story, she identifies three points of contact with tobacco. The first being her father, herself and her son. This reveals the inescapable grasp of the past, present and future relationships with tobacco that exists within her family. In this modern age, women tend to have more work, especially as a mother, “both reproductive and productive duties” (Mandracchia 2013) causing distress. Rhya exemplifies a common reason for smoking; a temporary relief of her stress and struggles – in other words, the ability to control her emotions which has become a “highly valued attribute in traditional Indonesian culture” (Barraclough & Morrow 2010). In response to her life experiences, she believes that the national percentile of female smokers has increased. Although her father was a smoker and passed away from a heart attack, she acknowledges the inevitable bond formed with tobacco, hence forfeits rebuking her son of smoking. It is to this degree that tobacco has become a significant part of Indonesian culture and exceeds the likeliness of eradicating its influence.
On the other hand, Bivy, a 19-year-old female student of Muhammadiyah University, embodies a juxtaposing life of a detached relationship with tobacco. She is a non-smoker who lives with a non-smoking family. She is an example of a citizen who grew up with non-smoking areas and potentially symbolises a hopeful percentile of the population. Through conversation it was revealed that a rare amount of her friends are smokers resulting her to believe that the national percentile of female smokers has reduced, opposing to Rhya’s opinion. Bivy’s reasoning for her disinterest in smoking provides a potential prospect to reduce the numbers of female smokers. It was her focus on health and beauty that causes her reluctance to participate in what the nation would misinterpret as “culture” to the community. The lifestyle of Bivy could be interpreted as one that reflects the progressive work of organisations that promote smoking prevention and limit tobacco exposure. This includes the Heart Foundation whom are active in promoting tobacco free areas in factories and educational institutions, and Lembaga M3, whom are involved in anti-smoking activities (Barraclough 1999).
It is important to understand that a low percentage of female smokers does not excuse a dismissal of attention and research. “Despite the low percentages, at least two million Indonesian women are smoking” (Barraclough 1999). In reflection to the distinct conversations recorded, there is a strong contrast in perspectives of two very different women of Indonesia, Rhya and her family being immersed and Bivvy being untouched by tobacco. Through a youthful perspective, it is evident that the increasing work of anti-smoking organisations has potentially produced hope for the nation and future generations, and ultimately may lead Indonesia to become a safer community.
Aditama, T. J. 2002, ‘Smoking problem in Indonesia,’ Medical Journal of Indonesia, electronic data set, viewed 19 December 2019,
Barraclough, S. 1999, ‘Women and Tobacco in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, Volume 8, Issue 3, viewed 19 December 2019,
Barraclough, S., Morrow, M. 2010, ‘Gender equity and tobacco control: bringing masculinity into focus,’ Global Health promotion, volume 17, issue 1, viewed 19 December 2019,
Mandracchia, F. J. 2013, ‘Indonesian Tobacco: A consumer culture of exploitation,’ Proceedings of a great day, volume 2012, issue 25, viewed 19 December 2019,