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An article on June 19 in The Jakarta Post noted that women’s groups had opposed moves from the government to release a bill aimed at guaranteeing equal rights between both genders.
Their opposition was partly due to complaints that the bill would allow same-sex marriage, marriage between adults and minors, and other issues, due to a lack of details on how to specifically empower women and achieve gender equality.
As with any issue, a new regulation enacted by the government aimed at tackling this issue must be specific in its design. This ensures that the regulation is only concerned with the particular issue at hand, eliminating any source of confusion or loopholes for other issues. Therefore, the government must carefully reexamine any bill which is aimed at creating a more gender-equal society.
But why is gender equality an issue in the first place? What exactly does it mean to have gender equality?
For many Indonesians, men and women alike, notions of gender equality are against the traditional division of labor whereby husbands are the breadwinners and wives take care of things at home. Indeed, this is the principle charge laid out against the gender equality bill. This division of labor has become ingrained as a result of cultural and religious beliefs and is visibly practiced in the rest of Asia.
This division, however, reduces the propensity for women to be exposed to the same opportunities as men. With a future of domestic work already laid out, it discourages and may even form a direct barrier for women in pursuing skills necessary for any employment outside the home. Economic dependency is thus formed between the man and the woman, leaving the woman in a highly precarious situation should relations with the man be anything less than amicable or if an unfortunate tragedy occurs.
One can observe the resulting economic disparity as a result of this division of labor in Indonesia. Data from the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report indicated that only 53 percent of women were participating in the labor force compared to 87 percent of men. In addition, the estimated average earned income for men was US$5,915 but only $2,487 for women. To put this into perspective, Indonesia’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (an estimate of the average income per person) is $4,003, showing that women earn far less than the national average.
Inequality also exists in wages for similar jobs. The report gave a number of 0.67 to highlight the gap in male and female wages (a number of 1 indicates perfect equality).
Furthermore, just 22 percent of legislators, senior officials, and managers are women, while only 18 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives are held by women. Finally, 95 percent of Indonesian men are literate compared with 89 percent of women.
Economic and social inequality thus exists between men and women; inequality entrenched through the traditional division of labor. While this article is not alleging that all women would want to pursue paths other than domestic work should the division be eliminated, it may indeed be the case that some women would be interested in pursuing other career or non-career opportunities.
This is the definition of gender equality: Equal exposure to the same opportunities between men and women. Looked at in this way, gender equality does not suppose that managerial posts in the office will be split evenly between men and women. Rather, both males and females, throughout their life journeys, are given equal exposure to the same opportunities.
Equal exposure is, of course, an arbitrary judgment and how one quantifies equal exposure merits a whole book in itself. For the purposes of this article, equal exposure can be defined in three ways.
First, both men and women are taught the same curriculum at school. To Indonesia’s credit, a near perfect equality in school enrollment between girls and boys exist. In order to make gender equality more effective, however, subjects traditionally only taught to females, such as sewing or home economics, should not be mandatory but should be made available as electives for both genders.
The curriculum should not mold students along specific paths but rather expose them to a myriad of different opportunities.
Second, equal pay for similar or same work must be rigorously enforced by the state through regulatory bodies. Any disparity in wages due to gender is unfair and suggests that a woman is unable to do the same work as effectively as a man. Hence, equal pay would promote greater respect among coworkers of both genders. It would also encourage greater female participation in the workplace as they would now receive the same benefits as men. This also broadens the pool of future stars, as the female factory worker today may become the plant manager of tomorrow. One can observe the tremendous macroeconomic gains to be made from gender equality.
Third, affirmative action policies in favor of women should be slowly reduced as the first two factors above become increasingly common. As women are given more equal exposure to the same opportunities, the state should eliminate any affirmative action policy since they are no longer necessary. This would eliminate any backlash from groups who claim that the rise of women in the labor force is due to mitigating circumstances.
It would also validate the credibility of women and show that the traditional division of labor should not be ingrained and that rather, women should be given the same opportunities as men to pursue their own futures.
The above points are not an argument against the traditional division of labor. On the contrary, the aim of this article is to show that the traditional division of labor has the effect of disadvantaging women as measured through economics. It should be the aim of the state to provide equal exposure to the same opportunities for all and, hence, rules and regulations should be in favor of creating a more gender-equal society.
The writer is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto.