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Improving Women's Access to Employment and Removing Workplace Discrimination

Attempts to Increase Women's Access to Employment and Removing Workplace Discriminations

In Indonesia, female labour force participation has risen over the last decade to approximately 51 percent. However, this is still significantly lower than the 85 percent labour force participation of men [1]. Furthermore, even in similar occupations, Indonesian women’s wages lag behind men’s by 25 per cent.

Inequality is reflected in the gendered division of labour found across the country. Female workers are more likely than male workers to engage in low-productivity activities. In the formal employment sector, female workers are concentrated in the labelled ‘female’ occupations and sectors such as manufacturing and domestic work. This differentiated employment has contributed to a gap in their earnings, in which female workers generally receive unequal pay for the same work that the male workers are doing. They are also more likely to be in wage or unpaid family employment and have a disproportionate share of caring and household work.

There are a range of key factors driving labour segregation with gap earnings as one of its consequences. The factors, includes the influence of highly gendered policies and laws produced during Suharto’s New Order Era which continue to reinforce social norms on the role of women. Traditional law (adat) limit the activities that women can or cannot do.

For poor women, access to wage employment (as well as self-employment) is an important strategy to increase income and overcome poverty. There is also emerging evidences that access to labour market opportunities can positively give a wider impact to the lives of poor women. For example, a recent study found that making employment opportunities for women more accessible could lead to the increase of human capital investments for girls, which then delayed women’s early marriages and childbearings. [2]

Simulations conducted by the International Poverty Centre on the economic consequences of gender discrimination in Latin America have shown that if women faced no barriers to enter the labour market, the incidence of poverty would be reduced by at least 25 per cent in Argentina and Brazil and by as much as 40 per cent in Chile. [3] Estimates suggest that Indonesia loses about US$2.4 billion a year in possible earnings due to inequalities in labour market participation between men and women. [4] 

Design consultations and researchers have found a number of possible entry points for expanding access to employments for women. Among the entry points is the collection and dissemination of data on women’s constraints to have equal participation and access to formal economy, which are the preliminary steps to reform national legal, policy and program commitments.

A second entry point is to engage the private sector to strengthen the ‘business case’ for gender equality at work. This is necessary to overcome discriminatory perceptions as well as the higher costs borne by employers for hiring female workers. Another entry point is to pilot innovative solutions to address women’s constraints to access formal employment, particularly in rural areas, including trialing the establishment of childcare, care for the elderly or transportation services which could be later financed by employers.

Activities in this field will use two strategies. The first strategy, identifying ways to reduce barriers to women's access to formal employment. The second strategy, to overcome differences of treatment in the formal sector employment.

For the first goal, the program will work with large-scale social assistance programs coordinated by the National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K) and BAPPENAS. This is to extend the range of information and support the use of funds for activities that will improve poor women's access to employment in the formal sector. In programs such as PNPM, KUR and other programs within the framework of poverty reduction, investment resources provided directly to local governments and village.

Currently these funds are generally spent direct to the village, for example by setting up stalls or repairing facilities and small-scale infrastructures. Provision of information and facilitation necessary for citizens are hoped to encourage investments of funds in eliminating barriers faced by poor women in reaching employment in the formal sector - for example, transportation, job training, daycare, etc. - In many cases proved are effective in fighting against poverty.

The second objective is associated with an increase in the formal sector activities, this program will focus on efforts to strengthen the private sector associations, trade unions and civil society advocacy groups that can address issues of discrimination in the workplace. From the government, both TNP2K and the Ministry of Labour, in principle, have confirmed their support. These activities will initially be focused in East Java and North Sumatra, two large provinces that have numerous factories and social and cultural diversity around their existing industrial centers.

The expected results of the programs supported by AusAID in this field include investment that could be replicated in order to improve the welfare of poor women in factory employments (e.g., declining debt levels and increasing employment on a written agreement); investment in livelihood to support poor women entering the formal sector employment; and mechanisms to identify and resolve issues of discrimination at the factory level in the two provinces which became the main activities, namely in East Java and North Sumatra.

[1] The findings are based on a randomised trial that tested whether an increase in employment opportunities for women affected marriage and fertility decisions in an Indian village. Do labour market opportunities affect young women’s work and family decisions? Experimental evidence from India. 2012. Robert Jensen. http://publicaffairs.ucla.edu.

[2] See ILO, Decent Work Indicators: Indonesia, 2011.

[3] J. Costa, E. Silva and M. Medeiros, “The Growth Equivalent of Reducing Gender Inequalities in Latin America”, IPC Working Paper.

[4] United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific; Surging Ahead in Uncertain Times, Bangkok, 2007.

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