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Historically, women played an important role in our nation’s fight for independence. Today, women continue to be heavily involved in the development of our country. At home, women play a special role in the lives of their children as they are their first source of knowledge.
Despite all of the special skills women have, they have often become the target of jokes and cynicism in social life, public policy and in careers. Ironically, provocative, gender-bias statements have often come from respected representatives of the people. They disrespect women and unconsciously laugh at their failures to protect themselves, a set-back in the fight for equality.
The uproar stemming from a Supreme Court justice candidate who said that he would not consider handing down a death sentence to a rapist because rape might be consensual, is just another example of the weakness of women in the social structure.
Violence against women is shown in the media almost every day. Individual, cultural, institutional and/or structural oppression continues to push inequality and injustice for women.
Indonesian women are surrounded by at least three aspects that have become major sources of their daily problems. First, patriarchal ideology influences everyday life. The traditional and patriarchal family places women lower than their male counterparts, such as when it comes to accessing higher education, decent jobs and exercising their political rights. Staying at home without making any significant financial contribution often prompts poor parents to arrange early marriages for their daughters.
Second, poverty is another common issue of developing countries. Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that about 30 million Indonesians still live in poverty. Using the United Nations standard of poverty (US$2 per person-per day), the poverty-stricken population will reach 130 million. The sex ratio is 101 male and 100 female and 70 percent of the poor are women.
Inaccessible education and training skills have forced women to enter informal, low-paying, even “dirty” jobs. Therefore, it cannot be denied that resource quality improvement for women remains unfinished,
especially for government officials.
Third, globalization policies have transformed women into a commodity, intertwined with family and state roles. Feminization of domestic work and the global labor market channels their “specialty” or skills to serve families and countries by working as overseas domestic workers. In return, they are considered heroines for contributing financially to both parties.
Transnational domestic work business involves many actors and billions of dollars. But, female migrant workers are still at risk and vulnerable to abuse and human rights violations. If the authorities are willing to address the problem, they should guarantee the protection of a woman’s right to health and safety in workplaces. In addition, the government should raise their status from unskilled to skilled workers to b protect them under international labor laws. Training to improve their skills and help them adjust to a new life should be mandatory prior to their departure.
The question then is: How can we solve these complicated conditions experienced by women and other marginalized groups? Lots of programs and policies have been implemented to improve human capacity. However, violations keep occurring due to lack of control, commitment and cooperation among stakeholders.
As Indonesian cultural values are tightly bound by kinship, family should be considered a fundamental partner in finding solutions. To achieve this, we need programs to help strengthen families, to help them increase their incomes and heighten awareness among parents so that their children can have a better future. Of course, the voices family members should be heard and accommodated during the process of state intervention.
Communities have their own leaders who guide their members’ social, religious, economic and political lives. Additionally, community and religious leaders should improve their values, fight for social justice and have equality for all groups. They are supposed to serve as spokesmen for the people’s needs, interests and concerns, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, class, religion and organizational affiliation. If this is done, a sense of community and community resilience will develop and work effectively in response to any problems that arise in their daily lives.
Finally, the government, NGOs and the private sector should work together to support efforts to improve people’s lives. Engaging families, the youth and communities as partners will improve the effectiveness of public programs and services.
Creating one-stop services or integrative services for assistance can be realized through inter-professional leadership, collaboration and partnership. Applying this approach will help public services, avoid overlapping programs and simultaneously improve the efficiency of public programs and policies.
The writer is a PhD candidate at the school of social welfare, State University of New York in Albany, US and is a lecturer at Syekh Nurjati State Islamic Institute (IAIN) in Cirebon, West Java.