Closure of iconic West Javanese red-light areas, Dolly, Jarak, will have negative impact on livelihoods sex workers & informal business owners

Despite several weeks of protests attended by both sex workers and local residents leading up to 18 June, 2014; the Surabaya City Administration, West Java, Indonesia, officially closed the Dolly and Jarak red-light districts, effectively impacting on the incomes of both sex workers and local small business owners.

Since the 1970’s, when the Dolly area was established as a collection of Gangs (or narrow alleyways), the industrious sex industry has erected over 60 sex industry venues in the forms of Karaoke bars and brothels. However, equally industrious small business people have also established their homes and services along the warrens of Gang Dolly, now one of South East Asia’s most concentrated sex work areas.

Anissa, from Indonesia's Independent Youth Community (KOPI) organisation, a local NGO who work with the children of all Gang Dolly’s residents and workers, said, “Dolly has provided ample income for many of the residents, allowing them to raise their children and provide for their families. It's estimated that more than 14,000 people across the region rely on income earned from red-light districts like Dolly. Thousands of children depend on their parents who earn money from this area. The local government didn't talk to any of the sex workers or the residents here before deciding to shut this place down - it will impact everyone who lives here."

Saputra, a local resident and activist, says the shutdown will damage the incomes of everyone in the area, and the residents and workers will continue to protest the closure of Gang Dolly."We will block the streets and we won't let them in to stop what we are doing here."

However, despite protests from a motley assembly of sex workers, street stall vendors, motor-bike taxi drivers, seamstresses, bar cleaners, brothel receptionists, buskers, illicit petrol sellers, door-to-door make-up vendors, flower sellers and a plethora of other non-formal business owners whose incomes are directly related to the Gang Dolly sex industry;  the Surabaya City Administration officially closed the Dolly and Jarak red-light districts in a “ceremony” attended by Social Affairs Minister, Salim Segaf Al Jufri; East Java Governor, Soekarwo; Surabaya Mayor, Tri Rismaharini; members of the Surabaya Legislative Council; the East Java Police chief; and bitter Dolly residents and sex workers.

Social Affairs Minister, Salim Al-Jufri, expressed his appreciation to officials who made the closure of Dolly possible and said the Social Affairs Ministry will work with the city administration to overcome the problem. “We only have to maintain something positive, if it’s not positive, then there’s no need to keep it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Governor Soekarwo, said that “people have to look for decent jobs to make a living”. “This is a humanity program, that’s why we approved the mayor’s request to close down Dolly. The government will not ignore its people. It’s true that their income used to be bigger and it’s lesser now because of the closure,” he said.

According to a government plan, sex workers will be returned to their original hometowns and the administration has coordinated with the District Heads and Mayors in their respective provinces to expect an influx of sex workers. These Provincial Governments have been allocated a regional budget to help sex workers get a new job or to start up a small business.

The Ministry of Social Affairs offered social aid of Rp 7 billion ($580,000 USD) and Governor Soekarwo offered Rp 1.5 billion be distributed to the sex workers and local residents affected by the closure of the red-light district. The city also reportedly provided 650 sex workers with training in cooking, hairdressing and other skills between 2010 and 2013 and claimed that some sex workers even received a capital of Rp 3 million ($300USD) to start small business.

However, despite incentives to leave, sex workers and Gang Dolly’s residents are adamant they are not going to move away and that their way of lives will not be stopped. A sex worker who chose to remain anonymous stated that “All these schemes to pay us to leave won’t end up in our pockets; they will be just another “bonus” for the local administration, especially just before Ramadan- this year their families will get some nice gifts. In 6 months Dolly will be open again. In the past politicians have actually tried to buy our votes, such is the size of our community- we make up the majority of a political constituency. They forget that now, but we have helped to make them retain their power or lose it altogether.” Meanwhile, militant activist, Saputra, said "We will keep going. No-one can stop us. Even if they stop us it will only be for one month - during the fasting month of Ramadan. We stop at that time anyway every year. Once the fasting month is over, we'll be back in operation again. No-one can stop Gang Dolly."