INDONESIA: Women: The New Emerging Power

Saturday, October 2, 2010
The President Post
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights

Women are in fact a productive working group, who in many cases in Indonesia, serve as the economic backbone for their families and to a larger extent the driving force of the country's economy.

Women have often been perceived as weak human be­ings who have lim­ited ability to play an important role in society, politics and econo­my. This is because they are mere­ly seen as the second sex. This perception is gradually shifting as more and more women take on bigger role and responsibility. Women are in fact a productive working group, who in many cas­es in Indonesia, serve as the eco­nomic backbone for their families and to a larger extent the driving force of the country's economy. This is evident given the large number of Indonesian wom­en migrant workers in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. Their number account for about 80% of the total Indonesian mi­grant workers with most of them working in the non formal sec­tors, thus making them prone to violence, exploitation and dis­crimination.

Female's capability to earn in­come and at the same time han­dle domestic works make them a good money manager as they tend to spend their incomes on improving the welfare of their family, according to a Goldman Sachs research. Economists and studies around the globe are pro­jecting that female worker group will become the new emerg­ing market with a very power­ful force to fuel the economic growth. This shift is attributed to the narrowing gap in access to education, health care, employ­ment and most importantly the narrowing income gap between female and male workers.

Indonesia's gross domes­tic product per capita in 2008 reached 1,972, while women's earnings as a share of men's earn­ings was at (cents/dollar) 45.

In Indonesia, women have en­joyed better education access and quality. The ratio of female to male enrollment in primary and secondary education was 93.3 in 1991 and rose to 97.9 in 2006-2007. Data from the National Socio-economic Survey showed that female participation rate in education for those aged between 7 and 12 years old reached 97.7% in 2006. However, illiteracy rate in women aged above 15 years old reached 11.61% compared to only 5.44% in male.

Human capital is a crucial factor in development and eco­nomic growth. High quality hu­man capital is believed to make the economic performance bet­ter. The quality should be reflect­ed from the education and health level and other indicators. That is why human development is a key factor to propel the econom­ic growth.

Improved gender equality in Indonesia has contributed to wid­er female access and participation in the country's development as reflected in the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and Gender Empowerment Measure­ment (GEM). Human Develop­ment Report (HDR) 2007-2008 put Indonesia's GDI at 0.721, up slightly from 0.704 in 2006. The figure indicates better female ac­cess in development, especially in education, health and econo­my. Despite the improvement, the achievement is still pale com­pared other countries in South­east Asia. Indonesia's position is only slightly higher than Myan­mar and Cambodia.

Data from the Ministry of Women Empowerment and BPS showed that Indonesia's GEM in 2006 was 0.618, a figure that still showed a gap between men and women on access to education, political activities, labor and in­come.

Women's role in the econom­ic sector has much improved al­though still lower than men. Fe­male labor participation rate slightly increased from 48.6% in February 2006 to 49.5% in Feb­ruary 2007 and to 51.3% in Feb­ruary 2008, while the male labor participation rate reached 84.7% in 2006, 83.7% in 2007 and 83.6% in 2008. According to sta­tistics, 60% of the 85.4 million workforces in the small and me­dium business sectors are wom­en.

With bigger earnings, wom­en also have stronger purchasing power. According to a Goldman Sachs research, women's spend­ing priorities differ from men's as they are more likely to buy goods and services to improve their fam­ily welfare. Sectors that are likely to benefit from women's buying power include food, healthcare, education, childcare, apparel, consumer durables and financial services, the research unveiled.

It also added that over the next five years, to 2015, the middle class story is set to play out most vividly in a handful of countries. Growth rates of the middle-class share will be highest in India and Vietnam, averaging nearly 20% per year, and in Indonesia, aver­aging about 10%. In these three countries, rapid growth would be from an extremely low starting point: less than 10% of the pop­ulation in both India and Viet­nam, and less than 20% in Indo­nesia, is considered “middle class” today

After 2025, the growth of the higher-income category ($30,000 and above) will be the principal story for three of the four BRICs (except India) and several of the N-11 countries (namely Turkey, Mexico, Iran and Korea). But the middle class story will continue to play out elsewhere. By 2040, the middle class share should peak at 80%-90% of the popula­tion in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Egypt and at 70% in Philip­pines.

During this challenging time, many women have developed in­dependent business, both small and big scale, in formal and non-formal sectors to support their families. Many of them also were proven successful in their busi­ness. Today, many women are holding strategic positions in companies, positions that once belong only to the male species. Seeing a woman at the top brass is no longer unusual.

In the meantime, the num­ber of female participation rate in politics had also increased. In 2001, Indonesia witnessed the rise of Megawati Sukarnoputri as the country's first female presi­dent. Female opportunity in pol­itics and in the government is also wide opened. In his 2004-2009 United Indonesia Cabinet, Presi­dent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono picked four of Indonesia's finest females as his ministers, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Trade Minister Mari Elka Pang­estu, Health Minister Siti Fadi­lah Supari, and Women Empow­erment Minister Meutia Hatta Swasono. Female share, seats in parliament in 1990 was 12% but fell to 11.6% in 2008. Last year, Indonesia had one female gover­nor, one deputy governor, seven regents/mayors, four deputy re­gents/mayors.

Trace of female power has long been seen as history showed that Queen Victoria of England is the world's most influential wom­an in history. She is described as a woman with an iron fist with great influence, not only in her kingdom but also worldwide. She was the driving force behind Brit­ain's colonialism across the world, making Great Britain the coun­try with the most colonies in the 19th century.

Growing female influence is not only seen in the Western countries but also in Indonesia. Sri Mulyani Indrawati, for ex­ample, not only made her mark in the national economic scene but also in the international community. She was named the best Asian Finance Minister by Emerging Markets in 2006. She was also the first Indonesian fe­male to hold the executive direc­tor position at the International Monetary Fund in 2001.

In the meantime, Health Min­ister Siti Fadilah Supari was ap­pointed as deputy chairperson of the World Health Ministers Council. She made headlines when she strongly rejected the World Health Organization's re­quest for bird flu virus samples. She said that the health body was siding with industrialized nations to make the antidotes for devel­oping countries.

The law has provided all citi­zens with an equal political right, enabling women to run as candi­dates in the legislative body and even for presidency. The 1945 Constitution, article 28D, 3 stip­ulated that every citizen is enti­tled to an equal opportunity in the government. This paves the way for balanced human resourc­es allocation for men and women to enjoy gender equality.

Nevertheless, the number of fe­male civil servants in echelon I-V remains low at only 20.2% (State Employee Board, 2007) and only 11.6% women are in the legisla­tive council and 19.8% in DPD.

Female participation rate in the judicial sector is also still low with only 20% judges, 18% supreme judges, and 27% attorneys. The low female participation rate in political development is part­ly due to the cultural value that has long considered the domestic field as the female areas and also due to low education level and training on politics for women. However, this will soon change as more and more women have en­joyed higher education level up to university while at the same time awareness for equal opportuni­ty in every field is also growing.