A protester at the Women's March in Jakarta on March 8. (Antara Photo/Galih Pradipta)

Empowering Women, Empowering the Economy

BY :IZZAN FATHURRAHMAN

MARCH 17, 2020

Perhaps no one else is more heavily regulated while, on the other hand, their roles are as rampantly neglected as women in Indonesia.

The latest data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) showed Indonesian women's employment rate at only 55.5 percent in 2019, up by only 0.06 percentage points from the year before.

In comparison, men's employment rate stood at 83.2 percent in 2019, up 0.17 percentage points from 2018. 

Compared to women in neighboring countries, Indonesian women are falling way behind.

Thailand has a 60.3 percent women employment rate and Vietnam 73.2 percent.

In Cambodia, a country with the second-lowest gross domestic product (GDP) among Asean member countries, 81.2 percent of women hold down a regular job.

Regulations, such as the Family Resilience bill, or lack of it, consider the House of Representatives' reluctance to pass the Anti-Sexual Violence bill, push women back to the home and domesticate them by stripping away their rights. 

However, there are some hopes.

Not just the fact that thousands joined the Women's March on International Women's Day in Jakarta early this month to raise women's voices and demands.

Data from Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization that focuses on improving reproductive health, shows women's participation in the economic sector leads to an increase in business performance and contributes to Indonesia achieving its economic development goals.

BPS data also show women have been more dominant than men in higher education in the past five years.

The Education and Culture Ministry's data show there are currently more active women students at universities (3.4 million) than men (3.1 million). 

The fact there are more women in the universities than men and yet women still trail behind men in the workplace show that cultural and structural problems – such as a patriarchal mindset and unequal work benefits – are preventing women from achieving their potentials. 

Creating more pro-women social policies could be the key to unravel these cultural and structural problems. 

The rejection of the Family Resilience bill by several political parties, including Golkar and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), is a good sign. 

Pro-women social policies can take the form of longer maternity leave and progressive childcare.

The current omnibus ill has been heavily criticized for trying to get rid of menstruation and maternity leaves.

Since the bill has not been passed, there might still be time to defeat it. 

Examples from Scandinavian countries show progressive childcare policies help to improve women's contributions in the economic sector and reduce the gender employment gap.

The gap in Sweden, for example, is only 14.4 percent and women's wages on average are 96 percent of those of men.

A survey from the Catalyst Group shows more women in Scandinavian countries hold board positions than women in other European countries.

UN Women's findings show that economic equality for women is good for business since it improves organizational effectiveness and growth.

Empowering women through a set of social policies does not only break the glass ceiling, but also prevents women from being stuck in a capitalist quagmire only to prop up the growth paradigm.

Improving the lot of women is not just a matter of improving the statistics. Women’s contribution to the economy must align with their empowerment in other aspects of life.

Izzan Fathurrahman is pursuing his master's degree in development studies at Lund University, Sweden.

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