From ‘Sipepek’ to ‘Sithole’: Indonesian government apps, programmes with allegedly

JAKARTA: Their names were designed to catch the public’s attention, but several applications and programmes rolled out by the Indonesian government have been accused of having sexist and sexually suggestive connotations, leading to strong public criticism and calls for changes to be made.

This comes even as the National Commission on Violence Against Women – an independent institution whose goal is to eliminate violence against women in Indonesia – warned against objectifying the body or gender through the use of such names. 

Among those that have garnered the most controversy is the “Sipepek” social platform application managed by the authorities in Cirebon Regency. An acronym for the Indonesian name of the regency’s Social Welfare Service Administration Information System, the app was designed to facilitate poverty alleviation programmes and health insurance for unprivileged residents there. 

However, the name has been criticised by some, including a Member of Parliament from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) for its supposed double entendre. 

According to local media, the term “Sipepek” was taken from the regional language of Cirebon – located in West Java province – to mean “complete” or “everything is there”. Meanwhile, according to the Indonesian common dictionary, the word “pepek” has another meaning and chiefly refers to the female genitals. 

PDIP’s Selly Andriany Gantina said the app’s name should be changed because it has caused negative reactions and misunderstandings among some members of the public.
“I understand that outside Cirebon, or according to (the Indonesian common dictionary) itself, the word ‘pepek’ has a different and even vulgar connotation. 

“This certainly causes negative reactions and misunderstanding among the public and netizens elsewhere. It is important for us to listen to this criticism and use the feedback for evaluation,” she was quoted as saying in detikNews on Monday (Jul 8).

Authorities in Cirebon Regency, however, defended the app’s name with its government spokesman doubling down on the regional significance of the name: That it is a “one-stop” shop for comprehensive service for the public. 

Despite this explanation, the app has been mocked on social media, with users posting sarcastic comments online. One user on X, formerly known as Twitter, wrote: “They made the application, but I’m the one who is ashamed of it.” 

The controversy extends beyond Cirebon. Other apps and programmes with peculiar names include “Sithole” – an online consultation information system – that is managed by the Semarang District Court as well as “Siska Ku Intip”, a programme that integrates palm oil plantations with cattle farming. 

The latter – which translates colloquially to “I take a peek at Siska” – was deemed sexist by netizens, with “Siska” presumed to be a female name. 

Additionally, some also took issue with a programme called “Mas Dedi Memang Jantan” which seeks to offer protection for vulnerable workers. When translated, the programme literally means: “Dedi is the macho man.” 

According to local media, it is widely acknowledged that “Dedi” refers to former Tegal mayor Dedy Yon Supriyono, who left office in March 2024 after completing his term of service. He was a guest at the launch of the programme back in August 2022 and gave the opening remarks. 

Critics said that the names of these apps and programmes are typically derived from creative abbreviations or acronyms and are usually intended to be easily remembered by the users. However, they tend to draw criticisms for being easily misinterpreted as offensive or inappropriate.

Mr Mardana Ali Sera from the Islamist-leaning Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has criticised the use of eccentric acronyms with sexual or vulgar connotations that are prevalent in a number of government apps and programmes.

He said some of the names used tend to be ethically degrading and called for immediate changes to these app names. He also called on the public to report any programmes or digital platforms that have inappropriate names. 

Meanwhile, the National Commission on Violence Against Women has also spoken up about the issue. 

“It is understood that the use of acronyms is intended to make the public recognise and remember government programmes. However, terms with the right tone should be chosen, that do not objectify the body or connote the appearance of the body or gender,” said its commissioner Siti Aminah Tardi, as quoted by local media.

Earlier in May, President Joko Widodo ordered government officials to cease the development of new mobile applications, aiming to reduce bureaucratic complexity. 

The directive came as part of the INA Digital initiative, which seeks to integrate the systems and data of approximately 27,000 existing applications operated by various ministries and regional administrations. 

He noted that this integration could help the government economize, citing that the scrapped development of new online applications could save the government some 6.2 trillion rupiah (US$388.11 million).

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