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Discriminatory Laws Hold Indonesian Women Back, World Bank Report Finds

Hayat Indriyatno
September 10, 2015 | 3:47 pm

Jakarta. Women continue to be discriminated against in Indonesia through prevailing laws, despite progress on some fronts, according to a study by the World Bank.

The “Women, Business and the Law 2016” report, released on Wednesday, found there were eight laws still on the statutes that continued to discriminate against women, including on household and tax matters.

“While progress has been made in many economies to allow women more access, legal restrictions on their ability to take action persist,” the report said.

In Indonesia, that includes a prohibition on women serving as the head of a household – a restriction that puts the country in the same league as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.


Inheritance laws rooted in a deeply patriarchal tradition also favor men over women.

“Giving women greater access to assets through inheritance can change outcomes for children, particularly girls,” the report said, adding that “[a]ccess to assets through inheritance is particularly important for widows, who may depend on inheritance for economic security and survival.”

Indonesia, though, is one of four economies in East Asia and the Pacific – the others being Brunei, Malaysia and Tonga – that do not grant widows equal inheritance rights. Similarly, sons and daughters have different inheritance rights.

The country is also one of 16, out of a total of 173 covered in the report, where “tax provisions directly favor men.”

“These economies either grant men an explicit tax deduction or credit, or an implicit tax deduction or credit is granted to the male head of household,” the report said.

The report also highlighted the lack of legislation, civil remedies or criminal penalties to protect against sexual harassment, and no protection under domestic-violence legislation for unmarried partners.

However, Indonesia has taken a progressive stance on other issues, such as women’s representation in politics, with electoral laws setting minimum quotas for female candidates in parliamentary and regional council elections; maternity leave, with employers obliged to give their workers’ 90 days of paid leave; and property rights, with men and women having equal ownership rights.

“In the East Asia and Pacific region, substantial gains have been made towards women’s economic inclusion, including through labor legislation,” the World Bank said in a press release accompanying the report.

“Economies in the region also show innovative access to credit and tax policies to support women’s economic opportunities.”

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called it “a grave injustice when societies place legal restrictions on women’s ability to get a job, or participate in economic life.”

“Women – like men – deserve every opportunity to fulfill their potential, no matter where they live. These restrictions are also bad economics. Women represent over half the world’s population. We can’t afford to leave their potential untapped – whether because laws fail to protect women against violence, or exclude them from financial opportunities, property ownership or professions,” he said.

“When women can work, manage incomes and run businesses, the benefits extend far beyond the individual level – to children, communities and entire economies. We will not rest until women have full economic rights everywhere.”

Kaushik Basu, the World Bank’s chief economist and senior vice president, said it was clear that despite nearly every country’s pledges to end gender discrimination, women continued to “face numerous restrictions in the workplace.”

“I hope this report will motivate governments everywhere to treat men and women equally in the workforce and help to achieve a collective ambition of countries and a world without extreme poverty and with opportunity for all,” he said.

Sarah Iqbal, the report’s lead author, said that while laws could not guarantee equal treatment for women, “they are the first step towards creating an even playing field in which women have the opportunity to thrive.”

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