Gender-inclusive making: XXLab @ HONF

XXLab @ HONF / Yogyakarta (Indonesia)

XXLab of HONF ( is an all-female collective from Yogyakarta, Indonesia with members from interdisciplinary backgrounds. They focus on the exploration of art, science, and free technology using open source software, hardware, and materials. It was founded in 2013 as a continuation of the Indonesian chapter of Ms Baltazar’s Laboratory workshops. At this time there were women and men working together in the HONF lab and „we didn’t have any problem. But then this became a problem actually. This became a question? Why? Is there something wrong that we don’t feel nothing wrong?” describes our interviewee.

They had a visit of Mz* Baltazar and were asked if they could also organise a workshop for women only, “out of curiosity” was said to them and they were curious too. It was an incubator with 8 girls, lasting three days. “So we start with the electronic open source software and hardware and then we just realized that actually we have another perspective, like different ways to do stuffs like to do that actually we never realized that we have our own way to understand the technology.” (Interviewee, XXLab @ HONF)

They continued to meet regularly, were invited to an exhibition and realized that they still needed a name. This was when XXlab was created. One of their first projects was a “fortune teller machine”, a machine that could read your aura, based on your body temperature and data from a lot of other sensors. And then they started with biohacking, turned the kitchen into a lab for biohacking and initiated the Soya C(o)u(l)ture project ( which won the Prix Ars Electronica 2015. The project aims to reduce water pollution that comes from the production of tofu and tempeh. Using bacteria and tissue cultures turns the soya liquid waste turns into edible cellulose, biofuel and bio leather. It requires low cost, open and organic material and any home kitchen do so and thus can serve as an alternative income for women in low-income areas. Other projects followed, and members of XXLAB now work with both their female and male colleagues from HONF in diverse projects.

Gender and other inequalities

XXLab is an all-women collective involving all women-identifying people in their activities. There are stereotypes in Indonesia with regard to what women should ideally do but things are slowly changing. Some years ago HONF had only a handful of girls in their programming and coding workshops but changed recently. Especially when children are young they are open to everything, want to explore and try out.

The concept of this community is not to become a permanent group with a static membership and a leader, but rather to focus on an awareness of integrity in doing anything which is meaningful to them and their surroundings. So it is organised in a very organic way. People come and go and bring in their interests. And in this organic way also XXLab was continued. Some of the first founders are less involved today, for family reasons for instance, while other, younger women joined the lab.

Best practices and challenges

When we reflected in the interview how they attract women to the XXLab the answer was „by party and cake“. So the initiative follows an “open-lab” approach, where new people get interested and involved via workshops and events.

HONF not only works with women but also children using an open-door approach. When HONF started their activities in their “garage”, the children, especially girls from the neighbourhood, visited them on a daily basis to see what they were doing, showing interest in every activity that was going on. They were showing up so regularly that HONF people decided to organise classes: „And then we said let’s make a deal: We make a class you come here like three times a week, this hour to this hour. And then these girls spread the news and then all the kids in this neighborhood know that is the class at HONF.” So they had weekly workshops related to science and technology and an exhibition at the end of the month to invite the parents and show the results. Children of these first classes are still with them and even followed them to the new location.

They also ran a project with dis_abled children from 2005 on. The children were in the age of 5 to 15 and invited to work on their own devices, as they knew best what they needed. In their workshops the older children teach the younger ones, so the structure is based on sharing and not competition. “Better as me to teach them is that they teach themselves and there is coming something out amazing. The openness is important for us.“, explains the interviewee and refers to the girls as being more curious and patient at the beginning while the boys appear more aggressive and wanting to be very fast. “In the end it is the girls who teach the boys to do things. Because they ask, why are you doing this always wrong. And then they start to teach.

There is even the story of two girls who could not read and write and learned it in the HONF workshops without being taught by the HONF trainers.

Another highly important project that relates to gender and education was the creation of sex-education toys together with children, their teachers and parents. Sex education is not very common in Indonesia and the making of the toys using hard- and software provides an occasion for the teacher to talk about sex and for the children to talk easily with their parents. But the project was stopped: when the children worked on the sex-education toys and talked about it, it became apparent that many of them have been victims of sexual abuse. The project organisers found that they could not adequately handle these issues by the people being present. The future aim will be to find psychological institutions that would accompany the process and provide support to the affected children.

In the end it is the girls who teach the boys to do things. Because they ask, why are you doing this always wrong. And then they start to teach.