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.