Women & Inequality in Employment: Achieving Indonesian Women Equity in Economics

Posted in: Gender Equality, Indonesia, Inequality


By Nikmah, Program Officer Poverty and Inequality INFID


More recently the Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia Jusuf Kalla proposed working hours of women to be reduced about two hours to allow time for women caring for children at home.This statement make an impression that the government does not understand the problems faced by women in the workplace specifically the inequality due to the low participation of women working than men and discrimination experienced by women in the workplace.

On the other hand, this year is the year in which the various forums and international agencies concerned with the inequality experienced by women, especially in the field of economics. This year the United Nations (UN) is discussing 20 years implementation of Beijing Declaration, a declaration which aims to promote equality of women in various fields, it mentions six important things as a condition for achieving equality of women and men in the field of economics include 1) promoting economic rights and independence of women, including access to employment, decent working conditions and control over economic resources, 2) facilitate women’s equal access to resources, employment, markets and trade, 3) provide business services, training and access to markets, information and technology, especially for middle-income women, 4) strengthen the capacity of women’s economic and business networks, 5) eliminate the segregation of jobs and all forms of discrimination in employment, and 6) the harmonization of public employment with household chores for both women and men.

In addition to the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, this year the G20 also give equal attention.This can be seen from the resulting Communiqué G20 leaders at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, stated:

“Our action to increase investment, trade and competition will deliver quality jobs. But we must do more to address unemploymnet, raise participation and create quality jobs. We agree to the goal of reducing the gap in participation rates between men and women in our countries by 25 percent by 2025, taking into acount the national circumstances to bring more than 100 million women into the labor force. Significanlty to increaseglobal growth and reduce poverty and inequality. “(G20, 2014)

At the same time, a global report on the gender gap (The Global Gender Gap Report), which was launched in 2014 said that Indonesia is at position 97 of 142 countries. Especially in economics by using three indicators: 1) the amount or level of participation of women in the workforce, 2) the wages paid to women compared to men, and 3) the position of women in management levels compared to men; Indonesia is in position 108.The position is far from neighboring countries such as the Philippines and Thailand. Five highest state with the lowest gap in the order, namely Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.While the lowest position occupied by Yemen, Pakistan, and The Republic of Chad.

The question is how the image of the actual situation of inequality experienced by women in the employment system in Indonesia? what is the causes? and what policy proposals that could be given to policy makers to reduce existing inequalities?

Overview of Women Inequality in Employment System

Based on data from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the participation rate of women working outside their home in Indonesia reached 53.4%, far below the men who reached 85% (2014).While referring to the data of the ILO (International Labour Organization),in the last nine years there is a gap between women and men with an average percentage of female workers around 50%, while the men’s 80% (ILO, 2013).OECD (2014) also noted that many women experienced unemployment of 6.3% compared to men at 5.5%.

In addition to the low participation of women in the workforce compared to men,women also experienced inequality in the form of wage discrimination. The result of studies conducted by the ILO (2013) about the average wage received by women workers compared to men with the same education level show women receive lower wages than men.According to the OECD (2014), wage gap ratio between women and men account for about 17%.

In addition to the above two things, inequality between women and men can be found in type of work and the position of women at the level of decision making in a company or organizations. Various data is also reported that most of the women working in the informal sector such as home-based workers, plantation and agricultural workers, and domestic workers (PRT). ILO (2013) recorded the estimated number of domestic workers in Indonesia reached 2.6 million, yet plus migrant workers-mostly women-in total about 4.5 million (Migrant Care, 2014).

Not to mention the poor conditions experienced by women workers in the informal sector.As results of study by Sawit Watch (2014) which states in average, informal workers are working in conditions that are not feasible.Most of the women who work in the plantations, they working as casual workers who do not have an employment contract and receive wages lower than permanent workers.Women workers in plantation, work with high risk such as clearing trees but do not have adequate protection.In addition, the women also do not receive social protection as received by formal workers. Sawit Watch also found that women workers in plantations are prone to get abuse from the foreman. In line with the findings of Sawit Watch, ILO also said that the conditions of informal workers working conditions are more difficult. For example, approximately 70% of domestic workers, work in excessive hours for low wages (30% of domestic workers earn less than USD 25 per month).

The last, position of women at decision-making levels in a company or the economics organization is still far less than men. Until now there is no exact data how many percentage of women who sit at the level of policy making in a company.But in general it can be said that women are still far behind to take the leading role in a company.

Digging the causes of inequality

Conditions above confirms that women face a variety of discrimination that occurs for various reasons, ranging from the construction of socio-cultural, economic structure, and as result of state policy.All of it is intertwined so that puts women in disadvantaged conditions.

According to Susan Blackburn, the debate about employment are linked considerably with gender issues. She said there are three things that underlie gender issues in employment: first, the problem in defining work. Many women are working but not getting wages and do not get the recognition it deserves.In fact, various studies suggest that on average women work longer than men due to the burden of housework placed on women. Second, the discussion on employment more focused on the formal sector than the informal sector. While many women working in the informal sector as domestic workers, plantation workers, farm workers, and others.Third, women’s work is considered only additional to the income of men,while many women actuallyare the head of household.As a result, women are susceptible to discrimination by not getting proper wages as men earned.

Social construction that puts women as housewife and men as heads of households, making the responsibility of childcare and housework completion as the responsibility of women, while men work outside the home. It is then legalized in the Marriage Law No. 1 of 1974 Article 31, paragraph 3, which reads “The husband is the head of the household and the wife is a housewife”. Both social construction and the Marriage Act has caused women to have social barriers to take part in the public sector. On the other hand, this social construction can not be solved by the state through appropriate social policies. State puts childcare responsibilities as a private affair rather than as a public affairs and state neglects its role in childcare responsibilities.

Some countries have tried to break down social barriers through social policy.For example, South Korea who implements policy of providing free child care facilities,that are expected to reach 30% in 2017. This policy aims to reduce the burden of women in child care. For families who do not use child care facilities, they given allowances (The Economist, 2013). This policy shows that the stateis taking part in childcare responsibilities and provide state recognition that housework as work deserves a decent wages.

The wage policy left to the market also contributed to the discrimination of women.Wage-setting mechanisms by Wages Councils in each region consisting of representatives of workers, employers and representatives of government agencies, rely heavily on the tripartite negotiations.As a result, almost every year there are new negotiations to set wages and the results vary from one region to another.

Dina Ardiyanti of ISEALS (Institute for Social Economy and Labour Studies)said that”wage increases also depend on how powerful labour organizations in that area.The more powerful labor organization, the opportunity to earn a decent wage will be bigger compared to area where the labor organizations are still weak. In addition, this system also led to labor organizations energy drained away only to determine the standard of living wage”. Likewise, the stronger the perspective of labor organizations for the rights of women workers, the opportunity to eliminate discrimination against women workers vanishingly small. While the weaker the perspective of women’s rights in a labor organization, the higher the chances of discrimination.

According to Thomas Piketty, wages are part of the policy.If the state is able to set a decent minimum wage and also gives the boundary between the minimum wage with the highest wages with a certain scale, the inequality can be reduced. Meanwhile, if countries allow wages left to the market, potentially will be widening inequality.

Other causes related to the economic structure of the mode of production is profit-oriented than the welfare and quality of human resources. Aruna Rao et al outlines, the history shows a fully integrated work and life. When the rest of the work is done with the model group or cooperative, women and men involved in the whole process from planting, harvesting, selling to attend various social groups in society.But along with the Industrial Revolution in which the process of shifting production to factories, there was a separation of work from family, home and even communities.The work environment becomes domination of men and women responsible for taking care of the health and productivity of men in the workplace with the cooking, cleaning, caring for children and a variety of other jobs that does not deserve a reward. The more factories oriented to profit and competition law, the use of labor will be more oriented mainly to men to speed up the production process.Even if women are present in the production process, most of the women working in sectors that are considered ‘women’s work’ and even then with wages below the male workers. If the economic model is drawn further, the country pursue growth with emphasis on investment than job creation, the more women will be marginalized. Because of the limited jobs available, further it will be reducing the chances for women to get a decent job.

According to Awan Santosa, the top five countries in which the female gap in the field of economics is lowest are countries that develop cooperative economic system. Five countries include Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. That system is not only relying on accumulation of profits, but also economic system that aims to create economic prosperity and social justice.Even this economic system has conformed to the constitution of the Republic of Indonesia.Article 33 UUD 1945 stated that the economy developed jointly based on the family principle. In addition to the economic model, the other important thing is the human development.

Proposed Policies

Conditions experienced by women in the economy, especially in the workplace illustrates inequality.This can be seen from the low participation of women working outside the home, wage discrimination, division of labor that discriminating women, to the lack of women sitting as policy makers. All of this is due to a variety of things ranging from the gender bias social construction, reinforcementof economic structure that does not support women, and wage policies that are not pro-women.

The fact is also confirmed that Indonesia is still far from the ideals contained in Beijing Declaration, including a joint commitment in the G20. Indonesia has homework that does little to solve this problem.

Therefore, the authors propose various policies as a solution to overcome inequalities that includes:

  1. Appropriate social policies that can reduce the double burden of women. In addition to ensuring social programs that have been running effectively and reach people who really need it, the state should also provide child care and the elderly facilities that feasible and affordable for people, especially the poor, and the provision of incentives in the form of wages for every women and men who choose to do housework. It includes also amendments to the Marriage Act which recognizes women as heads of households.
  2. The importance of the state to recognize workers in the informal sector to ensure that labor laws protecting not only formalbut also informal workers.Therefore, workers in the informal sector also get the same wage received by formal workers and social protection equivalent to that received by formal workers.
  3. The need for a national wage policy which gives a good certainty of uncertain situation such as inflation, eliminate all forms of discrimination, and making limitation on minimum wage with a maximum wage. State could use a decent life assessment in each region combined with inflation forecast every year that will be used as the basis for setting wages, so no need to determined every year.If this policy is applied, the labor organizations energy will not be absorbed only to negotiate wages every year and labor organizations have the time to undertake the development of the organization and members. In addition, these policies also reduce the very high inequality between workers who earn the minimum wage to workers who receive high wages.
  4. State should exercise the constitutional mandate that the economy is based on family principle.This policy is accompanied by the certainty of decent employment for all, especially for women.


Books and Reports

Blackburn, Susan ((2004). Women and the State in Modern Indonesia.Cambridge University Press. London

G20 (2014). Brisbane G20 Leaders Summit Communiqué.G20, Brisbane

ILO (2013). Employment and Social Trend in Indonesia in 2013-Strengthening the role of decent work in the equity growth.ILO, Jakarta

OECD (2014). G20 labor markets: outlook, key challenges and policy responses.Report prepared for the G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting in Melbourne, Australia. OECD

Piketty, Thomas (2013). Capital in the Twenty-First Century.Cambridge University Press. London

Rao, Aruna, et al (1999). Gender at Work: Organizational Change for Equality.Kumarian Press, conecticut

The Economist (2013). Women in South Korea-A Pram too Far. Faced with Overwheming pressures, South Korean women have gone on baby-strike.26 Oct 2013

Presentation Materials

Ardiyanti, Dina (2014). Mencari Solusi atas Ketimpangan Buruh Perempuan. ISEALS

Fatinaware, Indah (2014). Perempuan di Perkebunan Sawit. Sawit Watch

Hidayah, Anis (2014). Feminisasi Kemiskinan – Feminisasi Migrasi. Migrant Care

Santosa, Awan (2014). Sistem Ekonomi dan Kesempatan Kerja bagi Perempuan. Pusat Pengukuran dan Pengembangan Ekonomi Kerakyatan


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