Stigmatization Of “Janda” in Indonesia Seen From The Perspective Of Gender And Social Identity

Aditia Lestari
9 min readJun 12, 2021

The term Janda is not a neutral marker of marital status but carries a set of derogatory meanings related to low social status and perceived sexual availability for men. Gender stereotypes have long been the target of feminist critical thought and action. Likewise, for some men in a dominant country with a patriarchal social order, Janda is considered a negative word. Even the stigma of women who are divorced victims is often underestimated (Parker, 2016). Janda is the social identity given to a woman in Indonesia when she is no longer bound by marriage. However, Janda is classified as an identity that is often considered negative by society. In social identity theory, self-identity is reflexive in that it can take as an object and can categorize, classify, or name itself, in particular, ways in relation to other social categories or classifications (Stets and Burke, 2000).

Living in a society that is still viscous with patriarchal values, being a widow or Janda is not an easy matter for a woman. Various stereotypes and barriers are applied to women who are divorced or whose husbands have died. The terms Janda and Duda actually refer to the same meaning, namely people who are no longer married because of divorce or because their husband or wife has died (Online KBBI, 2021). However, in reality, the status of the male widower (Duda) is more positive than the status of the female widower (Janda). Widow status can lead to the subordination and marginalization of women who have been divorced or by the death of their husbands. As a result, they often experience social exclusion and economic deprivation.

Janda are not just people who are less fortunate, considered economically disadvantaged, single parents, and discriminated against by society. They were also the targets of suspicion and accusations of moral offense. In Indonesia, sex must be included in heterosexual marriages. Unaccompanied widows (Janda Mati) and divorced widows (Janda Cerai) are suspected of having sexual autonomy, deviance, and leniency (Parker, 2016). Widows are constructed as immoral women because they symbolize the opposite of the ideal marriage construction, female sexuality, and gender.

Janda Stereotypes in Popular Culture

One of the depictions of the Janda’s stigma on a woman in Indonesia is seen in the film Inem (1997). Inem is played as a widom or Janda who works as a maid with a sexual attraction. Even Inem’s sensuality as a widow can be said to be something that is highlighted in this film. This film is full of social criticism about the depiction of Inem’s figure. The depiction of a widow like Inem in the Indonesian media is not only in this film. A series of Indonesian films that use the word “Janda” as a title is still ongoing into the 21st century. For example, the following series of film titles:

Gara-gara Djanda Muda (1954),

Si Janda Kembang ( 1973),

Gara-gara Janda Kaya (1977),

Sembilan Janda Genit (1977),

Misteri Janda Kembang (1991),

Kembalinya si Janda Kembang (1992),

Kutunggu Jandamu (2008),

Janda Kembang (2009),

Darah Janda Kolong Wewe (2009),

Pelukan Janda Hantu Gerondong (2011), and

Mati Muda di Pelukan Janda (2011).

The images that are built on the Janda figure shown in these Indonesian films are a reflection of the stereotypes attached to the widow status itself. Seductive, flirtatious, household destroyer, are some of the traits associated with widowhood and perpetuated by popular culture products such as songs, movies, books, and myths about widows or Janda in Indonesia. This image is illustrated even more clearly in movie posters about Janda from the 1970s to the 2000s. The visual choices in the film posters are very common in showing the figure of a woman in sexy clothes or a seductive face.

The stigma attached to widows due to the influence of popular culture products is also shared by Millati (2000). In her research on the Representation of Widows in Indonesian Films, she concludes that there is a common thread from the four films about widows that she studied from 1970 to 2000, that are the image of widows as second-class citizens, weak creatures, slut, seductive women, destroying people’s households, and other negative stigmas. From the research, it concluded that the four films (Inem Pembantu Sexy), the 1980s (Naga Bonar), the 1990s (Daun di Atas Bantal), and the 2000s (Arisan! 2) tried to present how society should see Janda are not only based on their physical appearance, although the existence of the four films also seems problematic because they are considered to only display the sensuality of the actresses’ bodies.

However, judging from the optical method used in Milati’s study, Milati not only tries to disassemble the subjective meaning, but the meaning of the Janda’s representation is actually obtained from the patriarchal social system through film representations (film, cinema, and actors) who are still confined by the ideology of patriarchy and capitalism. The results of her research show that there is a common thread between the four films even though they were produced at different times. All of this is the result of a social system that favors men (patriarchy) and unequal relations between men and women. This is different from other statuses that is Duda, who in film representations and everyday reality do not have a negative stigma like Janda. On the one hand, our society’s social system is problematic. Moreover, some of Indonesian filmmakers are not very sensitive to the issue of gender equality.

Sexuality and Stigma

The more advanced times and education do not make the stigma of Janda's status in Indonesia getting better. We can see in some songs, movies, and some people who vilify and demean the status of Janda. A widow is often shown as a woman who is weak, helpless, even a temptress to other women’s husbands. When a woman becomes a Janda, negative rumors begin to spread. In contrast to the man who looks respectable with his status as a Duda (Mahy et al., 2016).

Every divorce case leaves the status of a Janda and Duda for both men and women. Surprisingly, however, Janda carries a much heavier burden of negative stereotypes than Duda. In fact, except for death, in the case of divorce, both Janda and Duda experienced failure in marriage. Unfortunately, the patriarchal culture in Indonesian society tends to place women in the wrong direction. If the divorce is caused by a cheating husband, the reaction that arises is often blaming the wife. In addition to accepting judgment as to the guilty party in a divorce, women with widow status often experience harassment when interacting in society.

Research regarding the Stigmatization Of Janda in Indonesia has conducted by Putra and Creese (2016). The research shows the ethnographic analysis on Janda creates by Bali people’s stigma. It was concluded that the strategies used by widows in Bali to negotiate their difficult status included building economic independence, being able to meet their own needs, making themselves into caring mothers, and fulfilling their social and religious obligations according to prevailing Balinese customs. The result of the research shows, some of the participants admitted that whenever there are signs of stigmatization or at least public disapproval of the lifestyle chosen by the participant as a widow, they must be able to consider these factors unimportant. Including reactions to gossip from the surrounding environment. To avoid stigma and slander, several participants admitted that they chose to move from their previous area to a new place to continue their life.

Darma Putra and Helen Creese also connect historical constructions and stereotypes of Balinese widows with ethnography through the life stories of three other participants. This ethnographic case study shows the complex contemporary interactions in Bali between traditional traditions and participants who must adapt to the social construction in Bali. Balinese people and religion are two things they have to accept and face in the formation of the existing stigma. The first is following the processes and rules of the family after their divorce or husband’s death, and the second is access to often hard-earned economic resources that enable them to support themselves and their children. In this way, they are able to overcome stigma and maintain social status and acceptance within their local indigenous community, while rebuilding a new life in a culturally and personally acceptable manner. For example, moving to another place or remarrying.

‘The theory of widowhood stigma in Indonesia makes Janda a despicable and immoral woman and is distinguished from ‘normal’ women, who are married. Contempt for widows is expressed through the word ‘normal’: it is the power to separate and classify, label, and assign inferiority to those who are ‘different’ (Link and Phelan 2001). This theory is related to the study that has conducted by Parker (2016), her ethnographic study of the marital experiences of men and women shows that divorced and widowed women bear a much heavier burden of stigma than men of equal status. This is not only related to their sexual experience, but also to their gender understanding of sexuality. As young women, singles, or Gadis is assumed that their sexuality is under control and is not allowed. Because they are required to remain virgins until marriage; as a wife, the social construction created by society is that a wife should practice their sexuality, but only with their husband; as widows, they have experienced it. The societal stigma that appears is quite extreme, including because a widow or Janda is not in a marital relationship, they (the community, generally married women) assume that widows will fulfill their sexual needs freely. Even some of the stigma that a widow is a usurper for another woman’s husband is very closely related to the life of a Janda.

Social Demands

The demand for remarriage also applies to Janda, sometimes the demands are greater than the demands on single women. Although finding a partner is not easy, especially for those who fail to marry, there is a fear of the possibility of failing again. On the other hand, Janda are also seen always looking for men to marry. This assumption often makes married women wary in dealing with widows, for fear that widows will try to ‘steal’ their husbands. The culture of the Indonesian people who often interfere in other people’s personal affairs makes the status of Janda an endless gossip material in everyday life.

Negative views of Janda are very easy to find in Indonesia and there are countless forms. From the past until now, the stigma of Janda status has not improved. Not only in real life, but this negative view of Janda can also even be found in movies, songs, useless satire in the form of memes on social media, and much more. In fact, apart from these negative views, for widows, there are more crucial issues that people don’t really care about.

Mahy et al. (2016) conduct the related to research on the Presumptions of promiscuity of widow women in Indonesian community, This study shows where widows are stereotyped by being demeaned in their daily lives. The pervasiveness of this stereotype is incredible. Their discursive effect on social status, life chances, and self-representation of the diverse experiences of various widows. For example, some of them in the village community fell prey to men’s attention, so that the community avoided them for fear that the widow’s disgrace would ruin someone else’s marriage. Many widows remain vulnerable to economic and social hardship, especially those with dependent children. Therefore, there are many demands from their environment to ask them to remarry and find other men to fulfill their needs. These hopes and demands are also to avoid slander because widows are always considered free with their sensuality. All of the stigmas and demands to them at the end, a widow’s dilemma is to be silent with her status, silently accept unpleasant behavior and become someone who is closed. It’s hard to heal the wounds they feel, standing alone carries a double duty, being strong for their children, eliminating the trauma they feel and their children.


Link, Bruce G., and Phelan, Jo C. 2001. Conceptualizing stigma. Annual Review of Sociology 27: 363–85

Mahy, P., Winarnita, M. S. and Herriman, N. 2016. Presumptions of promiscuity: reflections on being a widow or divorcee from three Indonesian communities. Indonesia and the Malay World 44 (128): 47–67.

Millati, R. 2000. Representasi Janda Dalam Film Indonesia.

Parker, Lyn. 2016. The theory and context of the stigmatization of widows and divorcees (Janda) in Indonesia. Indonesia and the Malay World 44 (128): 7–26.

Putra, I Nyoman Darma, and Creese, Helen. 2016. Negotiating cultural constraints: strategic decision-making by widows and divorcees (Janda) in contemporary Bali. Indonesia and the Malay World 44 (128): 104–122.

Stets, J. E., & Burke, P. J. (2000). Identity theory and social identity theory. Social psychology quarterly, 224–237.