Indonesia's Equality is Long Overdue

19 October 2012

The Advertiser

The meaning of equality is often clearest when we think about the next generation because we all want our daughters and sons to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
In Australia, those opportunities are many. But, as we know, they weren't always equivalent. Australia today is a much fairer society than the one our grandmothers knew, thanks to the women and men who believed in, and persistently campaigned for, equality.
Of course, there is always work to be done to redress unfairness, but we in Australia are fortunate to be able to do this from a foundation of legal equality and economic opportunity.
Recently I visited Indonesia, a nation of great potential experiencing impressive economic growth, but still battling to alleviate poverty and lift its educational capacity.
And I was struck by the challenges faced by many Indonesian women and girls.
Only 51 per cent of women work and they, on average, earn around 20 per cent less than men.
Fewer women than men are literate, and out of every 10 teenagers who drop out of secondary school seven are girls.
Although women in Indonesia are legally entitled to three months' maternity leave paid at 100 per cent by their employer, many companies employ them as ``day labourers'' rather than as full-time employees to avoid this obligation. These statistics remind us that gender can compound disadvantage in ways that block opportunity.
But the push towards gender equality in Indonesia is making progress.
A presidential decree in 2000 now requires all government agencies to make gender a focus of their planning, implementation, and the monitoring of reforms.
Legislation to be debated later this year addresses access of women to ownership of assets, more economic opportunities and for the protection of women against violence and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Overdue, but very welcome laws.
I was honoured to meet several inspirational Indonesian women leaders while in Jakarta - women involved in politics, business, the media and the not-for-profit sector who have not only achieved senior positions in their chosen fields but who are working to improve opportunities for women. I was moved by the courage and commitment of these women, and by their desire for change.
Some are doing it through pushing for grassroots action.
The Women Headed Household Empowerment Program (PEKKA), for example, works with women who are the heads of their households by supporting them in managing finances, accessing resources, and informing them about their rights.
Other women are building on their own business success and are looking for opportunities to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the corporate sector.
Some are campaigning for greater female representation in the Parliament.
Women have a long history of political involvement in Indonesia and, in 2009, 18 per cent of seats in the national Parliament were won by women.
But enabling Indonesian women and girls to fulfil their potential will require many more years of campaign and reform.
So, as difficult as breaking the glass ceiling in Australia might be, a far greater challenge is faced by women in developing countries such as Indonesia.