Saturday, June 10, 2006

Resistance is not futile, but the colonial disease of patriarchy is not easily killed.

The introduction of new labour saving technologies to Indonesia in the 1980s set back previous advances in women’s labour. The first to lose jobs as new technologies were implemented were women because they were still not considered family providers. For example, in agriculture, which generates more than half of Indonesia’s economic activity, the introduction of Western pesticides and fertilizers reduced the need for manual labour. It was women who found themselves out of work.

Currently, Indonesian companies, like many in the West, are hesitant to hire married women because they are averse to covering the cost of maternity benefits. They believe that women will be absent from work because of family concerns. And yet, women do not receive family benefits such as dental care and life insurance because they are not seen as providers. Women receive 12 weeks maternity leave for the first baby, six weeks for the second, and no leave for subsequent children. This diminishing rate of maternity leave is part of Indonesia’s family planning policy. Comparatively, in many small villages women will begin working again after childbirth as soon as they can stand.

Women who remain in the workforce earn only 50 to 70 percent of what men make. Women also hold far fewer managerial positions in all sectors. Only 12 percent of parliamentarians, 15 percent of Supreme Court Justices, and five percent of Foreign Ambassadors are women.

Part of Indonesian women’s poor status in the workforce is the result of their poor status in the education system. Sixty-eight percent of illiterate Indonesians are women. Only 40% of university students are women, and women are much more likely to be removed from school as soon as legally possible if not earlier.

Because of the dismal situation in the formal employment sector, women are more likely to work in the informal sector. Almost 70 percent of working Indonesian women work in this sector, compared to 60 percent for men. Often women receive little or no pay working as labourers in their parents’ family business. The boys of these families are more likely to be in school while their sisters work.

One of the jobs in the informal sector is that of a prostitute. Some female prostitutes make only 5,000 rupiah per night. This is about 55 cents US, barely enough to buy a meal. A young girl can earn much more than that if her clients perceive her as pure; about 10% of Indonesian prostitutes are not yet 17-years-old. Sometimes foreign Western clients will pay more, though still very little by Western standards, to dominate a girl to do his bidding, serve him, clean his room, make him meals, and satisfy him sexually.

Because prostitution is illegal in Indonesia, these girls and women risk arrest and fines, or are forced to pay a bribe or offer free sex to stay out of jail. Many politicians, police, military men, civil servants, and businessmen use the services of prostitutes. Yet it is the prostitutes who must go to jail while the men who pay them for sex do not.

In Indonesia, as in many other countries, prostitutes are struggling for the legalization, or decriminalization, of their work. Decriminalization would remove the sex industry from the law, so that prostitutes cannot be regulated or harassed by police. Decriminalization of the sex trade is not a cause many women’s groups are supporting, mainly because of religious opposition.

Difficult as it is to stomach the danger women face in their workplace; it is even harder to consider the dangers in her own home. About 80% of reported violence in Indonesia is committed against women. Wife abuse and rape are common. Women who are afraid or who do not want to lose face by reporting rape or beatings by their husbands tend to keep their silence. About 25% of rape victims are young teenaged girls. In civil war zones such as Aceh in Sumatra, women are often raped and beaten by Indonesian soldiers and separatist guerillas. Women belonging to ethnic minorities, like Chinese women, are the most likely to be raped and beaten or even killed.

Indonesia has a high maternal mortality rate because of a reliance on traditional birth assistants, who are experts on the spiritual side of child-birth, but are not qualified mid-wives. About two-thirds of children are delivered by untrained assistants. The high rate of maternal mortality is also linked to poor health in mothers. Often girls are fed less food than boys. As women, they continue to allow men to eat first and most. For the poor, this practice means that girls and women are often undernourished, resulting in many complications during childbirth.

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