5 October 2021 | News/Stories

Indonesia: Links Between COVID-19 and Gender Norms

The gender gap in labour force participation in Indonesia has slightly narrowed during the COVID-19 crisis, as employment rate dropped for men and increased for women. Yet family responsibilities continue to constrain women’s equal economic participation, with women seen as emergency instead of primary income providers when men are more at risk of being unemployed.

A recently completed qualitative research conducted among 40 respondents aged 18 to 40 in the Greater Jakarta and Surabaya area found that men are doing more housework during COVID-19, but women continue to bear the brunt of the unpaid care work. Among male respondents, 68% reported doing domestic work in 2020, an increase from 55% in 2019. More than 90% of female respondents said they are doing domestic work.

The research, which examines gendered social norms and their impact on women’s economic participation in Indonesia, particularly during COVID-19, was supported by Investing in Women (IW), in partnership with Prospera, the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Economic Development. It was undertaken by Lembaga Demografi (Demographic Institute) at the University of Indonesia. Below are the key learnings from the research:

How do social and gender norms persist during the pandemic?

The pandemic has forced both men and women to work from home, but the research found that social and gender norms persist during the pandemic, including on gender division of roles in the household. Women are regarded as better carers, and men are considered the primary breadwinners. A majority of young adults participating in the research shared this view.

While more men are now at home and perform a supportive domestic role, their role is lighter, and irregular compared to women. Most women remain responsible for major household work, while men are involved with complementary tasks.

Discussions with women and men through the research found that gendered roles within a household shape their perception about work outside the home. The gendered child caring role is the main factor that determines women’s decision whether to stay at home or work, as well as their preferences towards work.

The views that women are better carers and men are the primary breadwinners are deeply internalised and position men to keep playing a supportive role towards women’s domestic role in the household.  Male and female respondents refer to their internalised norms at home (inherited mostly from parents) and at work, as a reference to women’s employment decisions—rather than structural factors at the workplace. These views are also shaped by religion and the perception that women’s natural place is at home.

For example, there tends to be strong adherence to Kodrat, a perceived biological trait that has been interpreted as an ideology and practice that stresses the role of each person based on gender and how a woman is supposed to behave to maintain social equilibrium and maximise coherence

“In Indonesia, the concept of Kodrat is important in understanding its social dynamics and how this tacit understanding is pivotal in its culture. Kodrat, then, plays a significant part in society’s expectations on women—as a worker, as a mother and as a life partner… Social notion of Kodrat continues to push women towards jobs that do not interfere with their role at home,” Diahhadi Setyonaluri, economist and gender and social inclusion expert at Lembaga Demografi.


Indonesia: Links Between COVID-19 and Gender Norms


Opportunities for building on positive change

This research provides insights on the opportunity that arises in crises for women to negotiate and leverage shifts in norms. It also highlights the need to mitigate risks of additional pressures for women during crises and ensure lasting gains for women’s economic equality.

Social norms at home may evolve, but this shift may not change the attitudes and behaviour towards women’s employment decisions, with the majority of women who quit citing childbearing and domestic duty as their reasons. Women’s work outside the house is secondary, and when they do work, the type of employment or work conditions must be flexible enough to enable them to perform their perceived primary caring role at home.

“Economic pressures, such as those arising from COVID-19, prompt women and men to shift gendered roles at home.  Such external forces provide an opportunity to reinterpret women’s working role, and this needs to be done within the context of the perception that women are the primary providers of childcare”Dr Julia Newton-Howes, IW CEO, said.

IW partners in Indonesia are building on these examples of positive deviance from social norms and surfacing shifts in perceptions and behaviours of men and women’s roles, as a result of the pandemic. They will collaborate with local networks on a range of creative approaches to amplify changes around how women and men are navigating their roles, within and outside their homes.

To learn more about how COVID-19 affected gender norms in Indonesia, download the Social Norms and Women’s Economic Participation in Indonesia report on our Knowledge Hub.

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