In the past decade, Indonesia has progressed in terms of female labour force participation. However, only 51 per cent of Indonesian women are currently engaged in the labour force.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many highly educated women in Indonesia do not use their skills towards employment. This is due to several barriers, including the fact that women are tied to culture, traditions, beliefs and customs. For example, it is still considered taboo for a woman to be a religious leader in Indonesia.
To increase opportunities for Indonesian women in the labour market, there needs to be a change in values, including changes to the "traditional" role and status of women.
In the 1900s, Kartini, a pioneer for women's rights in Indonesia, stood alone against Javanese traditions that restrict women's access to education and employment. As quoted by Gelap Terang Hidup Kartini, "Kartini revolted against feudalism, polygamy and customs that limit women." Women have been shackled by this patriarchal culture for far too long. Still today, although we are no longer in the Kartini era, women's ability to work in public sphere is still impeded by various parties who do not view women as equals. The idea that women should only be involved in domestic work at home has become ingrained in Indonesian culture and customs, making it difficult to break the cycle of this patriarchal ideology.
Access to paid positions in the labour market is often restricted to women in Indonesia, as they are seen by most as incapable of work like this. Women are often associated with phrases like "sumur-dapur-kasur" which translates to "well-kitchen-bed" in English. Throughout my life, my parents taught me that being a wife and mother is the number one priority, trumping everything including having a meaningful career.
Indonesian society would mock a women who is academically brilliant, but unable to cook. It could be said that the measure of an ideal Indonesian woman is her level of success as a housewife and mother. This constantly perpetuates the idea that in order to have a harmonious family life, women must not work outside the home.
Today, cultural practices, customs and beliefs remain influential on the role of Indonesian women in society. Although changes in policy and cultural customs have slightly shifted the perception of women in Indonesian society, we still face many challenges and obstacles before we can create a shift in this paradigm. I don't believe transforming the roles and rights of Indonesian women will be an easy task, but it certainly isn't an impossible one.
By Rahma Nur Adzhani, delegate representing Indonesia at the 2015 G(irls)20 Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.Rahma is an undergraduate student in the petroleum engineering department and minoring in geothermal engineering in Universitas Pembangunan Nasional "Veteran" Yogyakarta, Indonesia. While studying, she also works in the energy industry on a project funded by the Indonesian government. Throughout her university career, Rahma has been involved in the Society of Petroleum Engineering and other institutional organizations. Rahma has represented Indonesia in a number of competitions and conferences in Beijing and Malaysia. She volunteers every weekend with other youth to meet children and women in underprivileged areas. She formed Indonesia Cerdas, a social movement that educates children and woman in underprivileged areas to become agents of change who drive positive impact and create self-sustaining healthy communities, clean environments and improve their life skills for the welfare of society.
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