25 April 2017 | Report

International standards on women and work in Indonesia


The report explores how international labour standards aim to improve women’s position in the labour market and in society by providing common benchmarks and minimum standards around the world. These standards are important for preventing a ‘race to the bottom’, allowing different countries to raise minimum standards together without undermining their international competitive advantage.

Two influential instruments in this area are the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and Resolutions, and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The ILO develops conventions and resolutions with the intention that nation states can incorporate these into national legislation. In 1999, the ILO adopted a policy of ‘gender equality mainstreaming,’ which requires that gender awareness be interwoven through all conventions and implementation strategies. In 2018, the ILO will seek to introduce a new convention addressing all forms of gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination against women, including domestic or family-based violence and its impact in the workplace.

The United Nations CEDAW convention, which was adopted in 1979 and has been ratified by almost two hundred states, positions women’s rights as human rights and focuses on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. CEDAW requires equal pay for equal work, the right to social security, paid leave, and maternity leave with pay or comparable social benefits without negative consequences for taking maternity leave such as loss of job or seniority.


In the case of Indonesia, many of the key global standards on women and work have been adopted or reasserted since 1998, when the Suharto regime fell and a process of democratisation began. Indonesian law also provides for a series of other protections not mandated in international conventions, including provision of transport for women working late at night, paid paternity leave and paid menstruation leave.

However, the lack of mechanisms for enforcement of international and national regulations on women and work is a major problem domestically in countries such as Indonesia. Many women work in informal sector occupations and few resources are allocated for labour inspections even within the formal sector.

The challenges of enforcement are not limited to provisions for gender equality; they pertain to every aspect of Indonesia’s regulatory framework. However, women are arguably affected the most, as discriminatory practices at work are in many cases reinforced by social norms.

Without concrete measures to enforce legislation and change workplace culture, pregnancy, childcare, and family responsibilities continue to be significant barriers to women’s career development, and women continue to be vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and violence in the workplace.




  • International standards
  • ILO conventions and CEDAW
  • Diffusion of international norms
  • Problems with enforcement

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