FORCE OF PARITY

Indonesia 2018 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT

A highly educated but under-employed female workforce could unleash more than just economic benefits.

Amidst growing concerns about Indonesia's economic stability, women could be a key factor in advancing the economy. In many regards, women's economic advancement in Indonesia is following global patterns. Women are attaining levels of education that, more often than not, surpass men and are becoming increasingly qualified for the workforce. In Indonesia, this manifests in a gender parity index of 1.12 for enrollment in tertiary education, according to World Bank data. But this training is less often translated into labor force participation. In fact, according to SAKERNAS, Indonesia's labor force survey, the female-male ratio of labor force participation remained largely stagnant at 0.6 over the last 30 years.

Though not precisely equivalent to labor force participation, employment-to-population ratios from the International Labor Organization (ILO) correspond to SAKERNAS' data. In 2017, men's employment-to-population ratio measured 79.5% and women's 47.8% for a ratio of 0.6.
An economics working paper from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) highlights the opposing forces at work influencing Indonesia's female labor force participation rates. In urban centers, where young women are increasingly becoming more educated, formal labor force participation is on the rise indeed. But this upsurge is offset by an inversed trend in those at the bottom of the country's socioeconomic distribution opting out of the labor force—even opting out of informal and unpaid employment.

And in an even deeper dive into the female labor force, the data remains equally gender segregated. Figures from the World Bank indicate only 22.1% of Indonesian firms have a top female manager. Though this percentage is higher than the global average of 18.1%, Indonesia's women managers and higher executives are demanding more. In an interview with TBY, BMW Group Indonesia's President Director Karen Lim mentioned the need to “do away with stereotype thinking.” While commenting on her open and communicative leadership style to dismantle work place gender stereotypes, Lim added that, “It is all about leadership, which is not a gender-specific role.”
Another area of employment that remains highly gender segregated is the industry sector, which only accounts for 15.9% of female employment, as per 2015 World Bank statistics. Carmelita Hartoto, Chairperson of the Indonesian National Shipowners' Association (INSA), called her industry “a man's world.” In 2011, she became the first woman to chair a shipowners' association. Female chairs of Hong Kong- and Singapore-based associations have followed her lead, and she envisions more women to continue in this role and industry.
As many women who have made it to the top are trying to help others up the ladder, so too are activists trying to improve women's rights in the workplace from the bottom-up. March 2017 marked a worldwide movement, literally, for women's rights, as women across the world marched for equality. In Jakarta, march organizers had eight more Indonesia-specific demands to focus the movement. One of the eight was protecting female workers. This becomes especially important as ADB measured women's increased participation in wage work.
This push for gender equality and women's economic empowerment comes at a time when Islamic fundamentalism is gaining a foothold in the Southeast Asian country and economic stability is no longer guaranteed. Religious conservatives are pushing traditional family values as a way to decrease women's agency, possibly to the detriment of the economy.
There are many examples worldwide in which gender equality corresponds to higher productivity and economic prosperity. And McKinsey Global Institute explored the economic impacts of full gender parity: “In a 'full potential' scenario in which women play an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much as USD28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025.” Women's empowerment is by no means a silver bullet, but it nevertheless is a potentially potent force right at Indonesia's fingertips.