INDONESIA: 'Gender-based affirmative action is needed'

Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The Jakarta Post
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

Gender equality in Indonesia has improved significantly over the last two decades, a World Bank report says. However, more improvement is needed in areas such as labor participation, access to formal financial institutions and development planning. The Jakarta Post's Elly Burhaini Faizal talked to Andrew Mason, lead economist and regional gender coordinator for the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific region, who is also the co-author of the World Bank's 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development. Below are some excerpts from the interview.

Question: If we look at developing regions, no region has grown more quickly than East Asia. But some problems remain. What do they include?

Answer: We still have some significant gender issues in the education system. The educational curriculum, for example, replicates gender stereotypes starting from very early ages. Men in textbooks — and this happens in a number of countries, including Indonesia — are portrayed as leaders and heroes, while women are portrayed as mothers and caregivers. Traditional gender norms are replicated from early ages so that when people seek a higher level of education, we see that women go into female areas of study, such as education and nursing. Men go into traditional male areas, such as engineering.

In the economic domain, although we see labor force participation increasing among younger women, we have labor force participation that is not that high in Indonesia compared to other countries in the region. I think about 52 percent of Indonesian women are in the labor force. And this is quite low compared to up to 70 percent in other countries, such as in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; and it's a little lower than Thailand as well.

In labor force participation, we see that the gender gap in earnings still persists. On average, Indonesian women earn only about 70 percent of what men earn. This is driven by the differences in education, so women move to traditional female areas of the economy, and men to the male areas of the economy.

What factors contribute to this issue?

One very important factor is that for men, when they finish their schooling, they enter the labor market and then their primary responsibility is in the productive domain. Women who work, however, have to juggle the additional household role as mother and caregiver. A time-use survey reveals that in almost every country in the world, or maybe in every single country in the world, women spend significantly more time doing housework than men.

The second thing is, when you add up housework plus productive or labor market work, then women work longer hours than men. They have less leisure time than men. So, one of the things that prevents women from achieving as much in the economy as men is that they have these tensions between their household and their productive roles. Most developing societies don't have good infrastructure or support services to make it easy for women to do both. For example, think about rural Indonesia: women do things like collecting water and kindling for fuel. These are very time-consuming activities. They also take care of children and they cook, and so on.

What can we invest in, regarding time-saving infrastructure, as a policy response to help women manage this role and have more opportunities in the wider economy?

Invest in child care, for example. Most developing societies, I think, including Indonesia, don't have institutional, affordable child care. Meaning women have to juggle that role with their productive, work role. Even women who are entrepreneurs, we see that their enterprises tend to be smaller. Again, they have to juggle between two roles. So, I think this is an important part of it. The second part, which runs hand-in-hand with this, is that women in many countries, including Indonesia, continue to have less easy access to productive resources. They own less land; sometimes they have more difficulties obtaining credit.

In Indonesia, we learned a very interesting thing from the East Asia crisis about 15 years ago. When the crisis hit, many women entered the labor force for the first time. Basically, it was a way to help cope with the negative income shock that many families had.

After the crisis ended, we saw that only a very small percentage, only 6 percent, of the women who had entered the labor force gave up their jobs to return to the home afterwards. That means almost 95 percent of the women stayed in the labor force. That created a structural shift in women's labor-force participation in Indonesia.

Sometimes, it's an unexpected thing that causes change, which can create a new set of circumstances, or a new kind of equilibrium. In the same way that infrastructure investment for child care could have a similar effect.

What kind of policy interventions does Indonesia need?

I would say Indonesia may be one of these countries in which labor market regulations treat men and women differently. In Indonesia, if a man works for a company then he is provided health insurance that covers his whole family. But if a woman works for a company, she is given health insurance that only covers herself alone.

This is a gender bias in policy which creates an uneven playing field and we argue in the report that we want to have a level playing field. In the 1950s, Indonesia, along with many other countries, put in place what it called “protective legislation”, to prohibit women working in mining and other areas that the government considered dangerous. The regulations also prohibited women from working overtime or doing night shifts.

Elly Burhaini Faizal