Editorial: Unequal progress
The Jakarta Post | Thu, 12/22/2011 9:30
Noble mothers, wives and workers, with no troublesome demands — this is what Soeharto’s New Order wanted of its female citizens. And every Dec. 22 has become the annual dismissal day of the New Order’s version of the historic Hari Ibu — originally the day in 1928 when dozens of women gathered for their first national congress. Under Soeharto, the meaning of ibu was no longer the neutral term for woman, but exalted motherhood within a submissive society.
Today’s women have returned Dec. 22 back to its roots, a momentum to collectively take stock of the progress of Indonesian society, regarding how it values its female half. Addressing this issue and its solutions remains important for the country’s progress; despite defensive arguments for Indonesia’s positive image, the death of hundreds of thousands of women related to childbirth and pregnancy, last estimated at 228 per 100,000 — one of the highest in Southeast Asia, continues to stare us in the face. Such facts are a stark reminder of the absence of basic facilities, such as good roads to enable women’s access to clinics, and glaring lack of basic awareness of women’s health in families and communities.
The latest World Bank report on women has clearly shown that while Indonesia’s women make up 52 percent of the labor market as of last year, they only receive 77 US cents for every dollar that men make. The bank’s coordinator of its East Asia and Pacific gender program, Andrew Mason, says one solution lies in the infrastructure — from access to clean water, negating the need for women to fetch water for hours, particularly in rural areas, to laws providing parental leave for both men and women. He says this would enable fathers and mothers to take turns in pursuing their careers and taking care of the children.
These two examples of indicators of women’s conditions — the maternal mortality rate and wage differences — are a few of many indicators of the country’s progress as a whole. How advanced is a nation when half its citizens lag behind? Parental leave for both mom and dad would be a good start. Many of us have grown up perceiving mother as the nagging parent, maybe because she spent too many long hours ensuring a spic and span household with the kids all bathed and well behaved by the time father gets home.
But getting policymakers to pay attention to issues like parental leave is only possible when they relate to such problems. Advocates for affirmative action have faced much hostility — but this was precisely the advocates’ goal, to have more female policymakers that would more likely relate to seemingly personal difficulties like simultaneously raising families and earning. National figures of women’s representation in executive and legislative bodies paint a heartening picture of progress, at least with currently 18 percent in the legislature.
Yet last month, the National Commission on Violence against Women reported that rape remains the most frequent violation against women, with 50 percent of almost 100,000 cases of sexual violence, as recorded in the last 13 years. Most perpetrators were relatives; another grim reminder that Indonesia cannot protect the confidence and security of each women in daily life.
Gender equality remains a challenge: World Bank report
Tifa Asrianti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta |
Despite an improvement in female participation in the public sector, more effort is needed to fully end discrimination against women, with the government leading the way in promoting gender-sensitive policies, the World Bank says.
In its 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, the bank says that the Southeast Asia and Pacific region has seen significant economic and social progress, including in gender equality.
According to the report, the region has seen around 70 percent female participation in the labor market. In Indonesia the figure was 52 percent in 2010. The percentage of female participation in education has also increased from the 1 percent recorded in 1970 to 23 percent in 2009.
The figures, however, masked a number of problems.
Indonesian working women, for instance, have lower salaries compared to their male counterparts because for every dollar men make, Indonesian women only receive 77 cents, less than the 96 cents received by Thai women.
World Bank estimates found that between 2006 and 2011, Indonesian working women often had less secure contracts of employment compared to men. The percentage of women with temporary contracts in exporting companies was around 25 percent, compared to 10 percent for men.
Andrew D. Mason, the World Bank’s lead economist and coordinator of the gender program for East Asia and Pacific, said governments should initiate affirmative action for gender equality.
Mason proposed other practical solutions.
“Governments need to invest in good infrastructure, such as clean water and transportation, because in rural areas, women must spend hours fetching water and traveling to their workplaces,” he said.
He said that an affordable national childcare system should also be in place to ensure children received healthcare and education programs which could enable mothers to find better jobs.
“Developed countries have laws that give parental leave for both fathers and mothers, so they can take turns in pursuing career and taking care of their children,” Mason said.
Gender-equality programs could also take different forms.
He said that governments should also encourage boys and girls to study non-traditional subjects that fit with their interests and abilities. For example, he cited, boys could try studying cooking, while girls should be encouraged to study engineering.
The World Bank report says that the highest percentage of Indonesian women in tertiary education was in medicine or health, at around 75 percent, followed by education at around 60 percent and business or administration, at 55 percent. The subjects with the lowest female participation were engineering, at 20 percent, law at around 35 percent and agricultural technology at 40 percent.
Eva Kusuma Sundari, a lawmaker from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said that political leadership played a crucial role in setting up gender-sensitive policies.
“When local leaders step down so do their policies. So we need to better handle the situation by establishing gender-related policies through bylaws or local ordinances,” she said.
She cited Bantul regency as an administration that managed to record the lowest maternal-mortality rate in the country, in part thanks to a bylaw which mandated pregnant mothers to have their health checked regularly by health workers at community health centers. She also mentioned Sinjai regency in South Sulawesi which applied universal health care for all residents.
“New administrations can change these laws but that takes time. Besides, if the bylaws benefit everyone, I’m sure nobody will want to change them,” she said.