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Indonesia banks on millennials to break patriarchy in quest for gender equality

Contributions Stories /12 November 2020

The Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (IBCWE) was established in December 2016 through Investing in Women (IW). Eight prominent companies joined as founding members: Sintesa Group, Bank BTPN, Unilever Indonesia, Mitra Adi Perkasa Group, Gajah Tunggal, Accenture Indonesia, Adis Dimension Footwear and Pan Brothers.

The coalition has increased its membership base to 21 companies with the aim of improving women’s participation in the workforce and as business leaders, and influencing the private and public sectors to recognise and promote the value of gender equality.

In an interview with Women Icons Network, IBCWE Executive Director, Maya Juwita, highlighted the triumphs and challenges of rolling out initiatives to advance Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) in one of the biggest countries in South East Asia.

Indonesia banks on millennials to break patriarchy in quest for gender equality

Maya Juwita, IBCWE Executive Director

Please tell us briefly about the various activities of the coalition.

We provide early assessment of the condition of Workplace Gender Equality within the company, recommend the action plan to address the gap, gender bias training and sexual harassment training, consultation for gender-based talent management program, profiling, youth events, networking and CSR program towards women empowerment.

Is there engagement of women employees in the program, or is it completely employer-led?

We have a networking program, IBCWE Women Talent Network, which aims to bring together women talent from across companies and industries within our membership.  The themes for the network vary from learning, motivational, mentoring to sponsorship.  We aim for this cross-industry interaction to enable women to learn from each other.

What is the level of awareness among both employers and employees on the subject of gender equality?

In general, there is a perception that Indonesia does not face the problem of gender equality. The usual evidence cited [by those who have this perception] are the following: that we have had a female president and that there are women leading strategic and pivotal ministries.  However, the general perception is still around women’s rights and emancipation, while the challenge lies around inequal access of opportunities for women. A similar situation is also found in the private sector, where employers (and some employees) think that they have given the same opportunities to both women and men to climb the corporate ladder without making any effort to acknowledge why the women are facing difficulty to rise.  What makes it worse is the argument that acknowledging the issue and providing affirmative action is a form of discrimination against men and shows favouritism to women.

What are the key challenges towards achieving gender equality at workplaces in your market?

As mentioned above, one of the key challenges is due to the general perception that the problem does not exist. Other challenges are the gender norms in a patriarchal society, which put domestic responsibility solely on women.  The majority think that it is acceptable for women to work outside their homes and be economically independent, but they also expect women to manage domestic chores including caring responsibilities.  The report from PROSPERA showed that during the pandemic, school closures exacerbated women’s unpaid work, [with women as] as the primary carers for children. Mothers may be forced to stop work to take care of children who were previously looked after in schools. In Indonesia, 39% of women who work have at least one child of primary-school age at home.  This represents 10 million women.

What to you is the most significant form of inequality in workplaces in Indonesia? Is it gender bias in hiring, unequal pay, lack of growth opportunities, board representation or something else?

Our experience in assisting the companies shows that gender bias in people management is the biggest hindrance to women entering the workplace and their progress. Another challenge is the distribution of domestic responsibilities that always puts constraints on women.  According to a recent study, the main drivers of low female labour force participation in Indonesia are marriage, having children under the age of two in the household, low educational attainment (below upper-secondary and tertiary levels) and a changing economic structure.

From a regulatory/compliance standpoint, are there any clear guidelines for companies to work towards better gender representation in their workforce? Can you elaborate on any specific policies in this regard?

Indonesia has ratified several international conventions that ensure women’s rights, protection from gender-based violence and discrimination (for instance, ratification of CEDAW in 1984); the National Gender Mainstreaming Policy enacted in 2000 (through The Presidential Decree) guides the National Long-term Development Plan (RPJPN) 2005-2025 which confirms the Indonesian government’s commitment to gender equality with specific laws in place and  aligning the National Development Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #5 Gender Equality.   However, the implementation of these policies has been unclear as the implementers have limited knowledge on gender equality and a strong social gender norm that hinders the open-minded perspective on gender equality.

Is there anything or any behaviour unique to your market that is either helpful or impedes the achievement of gender equality in workplaces?

The younger generations in Indonesia exhibit a positive acceptance of the idea of gender equality.  There is shifting behaviour especially in managing the household.  Men from younger generations have no problem with helping their spouses at home, which will reduce the burden on women. A survey on social norms, attitudes and practices (SNAP) deployed by IW with 1,000 men and 1,000 women respondents (urban millennials) exhibited that economic independence is a high motivator for women to work especially in Vietnam and Indonesia.  The internal drive within the women will provide the push for gender equality agenda in Indonesia.

This interview originally appeared on the Women Icons Network website. Minor revisions have been made.


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