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Insight: Kartini and the everlasting fight for gender parity

Jakarta | Mon, April 23, 2018 | 09:18 am
Insight: Kartini and the everlasting fight for gender parity Struggle for life: Indonesian migrant workers deported from Malaysia with their babies and children enter the Indonesian Migrant Workers Placement and Protection post at Pelindo I Dumai Port in Dumai, Riau, on March 8. (Antara/Aswaddy Hamid)

For many Indonesian women, Raden Ajeng Kartini is a figure they associate themselves with. A pioneer who fought for women’s rights and girls’ education in the late 1800s, she has become a national heroine whose ideals and body of work are celebrated to this day. To continue her fight, every year on Kartini’s birthday on April 21, Indonesians — myself included — reflect on progress toward gender parity.

Granted, there has been positive progress on the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Across the world, women are making positive gains every day. We are seeing an unprecedented global movement of advocacy, activism and support. Civil society organizations, international institutions, private companies, governments and individuals across the world are increasingly cognizant about the plight of women worldwide.

But the gender gap remains, and we all know too well that gender parity will not happen overnight. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report found that gender parity is still more than 200 years away. This is all the more reason that we need to keep pressing for progress, making use of the strong global momentum and evidence to support the importance of achieving gender parity.

The United Nations Women’s latest report reveals that we need to do more to empower the women that are left behind. Across the world, women are more likely to live in extreme poverty than men. This gender gap in poverty — those living on less than US$1.90 a day — is as high as 22 percent during women’s peak reproductive years, due to difficulties of reconciling work outside and inside the house.

More than 50 percent of urban women and girls in developing countries live with a lack of access to clean water as well as proper sanitation facilities, durable housing and sufficient living space. In almost every measure of development, rural women fare worse than rural men or urban women. They are disproportionately affected by poverty and have unequal access to land and natural resources, infrastructure and services, plus decent work and social protection.

Indonesia has the opportunity to address this by using Dana Desa (village fund transfers) not only to develop basic infrastructure, such as clean water and sanitation facilities, but to improve the livelihoods of rural communities, especially women.

Gender parity is an integral part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is important because half of the world’s population is female and therefore has the right to be equally represented. However, this also indicates that half of the world’s potential is not being utilized properly to achieve an optimum state of prosperity and welfare. Women’s labor force participation is still low in many countries, including Indonesia.

Empowering women is a must if we want to reach our full potential. This means giving women the ability to fully and genuinely participate economically, socially and politically, without being discriminated on the basis of their gender.

As an Indonesian, it is quite encouraging to see that, for the 2014 election, there was a prerequisite of 30 percent women representation on the list of parliamentary candidates. However, the share of women who actually won parliamentary seats was only 17.1 percent in the last election.

The lack of women representation in parliament could result in policy products that are not gender-sensitive. This means that most policies are still gender neutral, and in reality, they may actually preserve existing gender inequalities, which results in a differential impact on men and women. In other words, gender-neutral policies do not necessarily promote gender parity, and in most cases, women are still put in a disadvantage.

We need to achieve gender parity. To that end, gender sensitivity needs to be implemented early in policy deliberations. The data and facts presented need to be comprehensive, so that the needs of men and women can be mapped.

Indonesia is a nation of diversity with hundreds of ethnic groups and cultures, where the majority are patriarchal societies. This patriarchal structure places men at the top of the community ladder, which means they have more rights and benefits than women. This structure creates an additional obstacle on the way for women to enjoy equal opportunity. Indonesia needs to continue to adopt gender-sensitive policies — starting from the early childhood phase and lasting through schooling and the workplace.

Indonesia has huge potential for women to play an important role on all fronts. Studies show that girls and women perform well at school and work. To reap the benefits of this potential, Indonesia needs to continue pushing forward for gender parity and eliminate obstacles for girls and women to play their role 
in society.

At the Finance Ministry, we continue to strengthen gender-based budgeting. Many government programs — from health and education to social protection and infrastructure — directly and indirectly benefit girls and women. Around 20 percent of this year’s budget has been allocated for education and another 5 percent for health.

The government, under the leadership of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has introduced policies to further the cause toward gender parity. We will further promote policies to improve equal opportunities for girls and women. At the same time, society as a whole needs to push for and advocate gender parity. All of us, men and women, need to empower each other in creating equal opportunities.

We owe this to Raden Ajeng Kartini.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.

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