Guardian's consent to work: A story of stubborn gender norms in Indonesia

For the past 15 years, I have conducted social compliance and labour standards audits in numerous companies, mostly apparel and footwear-a highly women populated industries, in Indonesia, South East Asia and China. There are always some labour practice differences between individual company and between countries. At first, I assumed that the distinction of the labour practice is connected to the operational model, the goods each individual company produce, the country economic condition and the legal systems. Never had I linked the distinction to the socio-cultural values.

One of the unsubtle difference in the garment and footwear manufacturers in Indonesia is in regard with the recruitment practice. To be clear, of the documentation that applicants usually enclosed in their work application. All the personnel records of selected sample workers (women) always include a letter of permission from their guardian, either husband or parents. Unconsciously, I accepted this as the common practice. There was no underlying issue. It is not against any state regulations. So, for those 15 years of auditing, I never give a second though about it.

However, now that I tasted a bit of education about gender and workplace. This “normal” practice teases my thoughts about what is common in the gendered labor practices in Indonesia. What I know is generally a guardian written permission is not one of the required recruitment requirements, if you are an adult.  Only if you are below the age of 18 a guardian consent is legally required. However, somehow these adult women still think that a written consent from a guardian is required when applying for a job. What is more, these companies are accepting this document without feeling the need to clarify that that type of document is not really required, or do they?

Looking at the systemic issue, I then make an assumption that implicitly such consent letter is actually required by the companies as part of document checking. Perhaps, if there is no guardian consent, companies worry if objection arises from the guardian of women workers that may or may not disturb the production process. The drawback of this implicit requirement is clear: without a written guardian consent, women would not dare to apply for a job.

My second assumption is that this common practice, at some degree, reflect the socio-cultural gender norms in Indonesia. Women place, traditionally, is at home; as homemakers and caregivers. As feminize industry such as garment thrives, demand of women workers peaked. However, the swift in labour force demand in particular industry does not affect the traditional value of gender roles. Although, women participation in paid work increases, in the eyes of the traditional society women place is still at home. Thus, consent of those who are perceived have the ultimate rights to deviate the cultural norms is needed to stop any ripple effect.

The most important take away from this for me is that as a working woman I must be aware of the limitation that society put on women to freely and fairly access economic resources. That in practical reality women’s rights to seek financial independent is stubbornly obstructed by social construed gender roles, by unconscious gender bias. Whether I choose to accept this social values, break the barrier or circumvent the situation by playing a submissive role; it is entirely up to me.

For all the working women out there or women who aspire to participate in paid work, as a human being, we have the same rights as men to fairly access economic resources. Being born as women should not strip away our economic rights and independence. It should not reduce our value as a part of a productive society. Then again, I do understand the barrier, I experience the burden. Sometimes, the door is so heavy, it will not budged. In the end, we have to choose our war.  Thus, I would like to suggest, before anything else, be more sensitive of the indicators of society unconscious gender bias in the workplace. Do not take the situation for granted or pretend that this is something normal that we should faithfully accept. And maybe with our awareness, comes the courage to change the adverse norms.

Indonesian Gender Profile

Indonesia has a population estimated at 260 million in 2016, out of whom about 23 million are youth (15-24 years old) . The population ratio between women and men is almost equal, with 51% for the former and 49% for the later. The total working age population (15yrs +) of Indonesia in 2016 was estimated to be slightly over 189 million people.

The 2016 Human Development Index report shows that Indonesian women development index stood at 0.660 while the index for men stood at 0.712. Women in Indonesia have lower human development index due to their low participation, among other things, in employment and politics.

The International Labour Organization report shows in 2016 only slightly more than 50% of working age women participate in the labour market compared to more than 80% of men. This trend has remained virtually unchanged over a decade. The labour force participation rate of women at 50.8 percent in 2016 was almost identical at 50.7 percent in 1996.

The proportion of the working age population that have completed senior school, diploma, and tertiary level education increased in the last decade. More and more women enrolled in the formal education, nearly closing the education participation rate gap between women and women. The literacy rate of men and women age between 15-14 years is almost the same at about 99% . However, there is still a significant proportion (41 percent) of the labour force in 2016 that had only completed primary school or never been to school.

Gender pay gap is still persistent in Indonesia. On average, women earn 30% lesser compare to similar qualified men. Pay gap even existed between women and men who completed higher education, at about 14%. Stubborn socio-cultural values on gender roles likely one of the primary causes of the issue in question.


Gender Pay Gap, a Social Inequality Problem

The narrowest perception of gender equality in the workplace is about payment. Pay women and men the same wage for the same type of job, unfortunately, does not solve the fundamental issue of gender inequality. This because pay inequality is the outcome of persistent gender norms that put women in a disadvantaged position instead of the root cause of the problem itself.

The gender pay gap issue is rooted in the normative concept of women’s complementary position in society compared to men. Generally, society perceives women’s primary responsibility is at home, as homemakers and caregivers. This traditional role does not automatically subside when they enter the paid work sphere as women’s income is seen as complementary to men’s breadwinner’s income.

In this modern time, women and men are equally valued based on their competence or merit; some might argue. Also, employers could not pay women lesser pay than their men counterparts if the statutory minimum wage applies. These arguments, although logical, could not fully answer fundamental questions about the persistent pay inequality.

Many global studies show that in a situation where women’s education participation rate is higher than men’s, the gender pay gap still exists. In Indonesia, for instance, even when the education participation of women is higher than men, Indonesian women earn around 30% less than similarly qualified men. Further, studies show that women with primary education receive about 43 percent less than men. Women with junior or high school diplomas receive about 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively, lesser than men. Women and men in these groups of education earn at least the minimum wage; thus, the gender pays gap likely apparent.

To further elaborate on the stubborn gender pay gap issue, Indonesian women’s average earning is still 16 percent less than men’s even when they hold a postgraduate diploma.

So what is the real issue of the gender pay gap? Is it because of socially construed norms of gender roles? Are persistent gender roles only about the operational side of family responsibility? Is it about societal pressures that distort women’s perception of their monetary value and rights in the paid work realm?

In practice, the above questions are likely unanswered once an organization applies an equal pay policy. However, implementation of organizational pay equality unlikely suffices to redress the underlying issue. I argue that if organizations did not strategically identify the root cause of gender inequality in their organization, they could not systematically resolve it. As such, there would always be inequality of pay in the paid work sphere.

Regulatory Initiative on Workplace Gender Equality in Indonesia

For decades, state laws have attempted to address the detrimental issues that surround gender inequality in the workplace. Some argue that public policy could not effectively redress gender issues as it is socially rooted, a way of life that society has perpetually embraced and implemented. Others, however, assert that without state interference, gender inequality at the workplace would stay persistent as the grass-root changeover is time-consuming and likely ineffective against stubborn traditional values.

Indonesia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of All Women (CEDAW) on 28 February 2000; and the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) on 7 June 1999. Also, the Government implemented the United Nation’s Beijing Platform for Action through the introduction of an Indonesian 9 (nine) National Action Plan.[1] With this, the government is legally required to formulate national policies aimed at ending discrimination in the workplace.

Discrimination against women and pregnant women is prohibited by many national laws including Labour Act No. 13 of 2003 and Human Rights Act No. 39 of 1999. Protective women’s reproductive regulations such as menstrual rest time of 2 days, maternity leave of 1.5 months before and after childbearing, unpaid breastfeeding break, and other women-related safety and health protection are included in the Labour Regulations and National Policy are in place to support women participation in the labour market.

Further, gender mainstreaming in public policy has been nationally adopted with the issuance of the Presidential Instruction No. 9 of 2000, stipulating that gender component should be included in all steps of the National Development from early planning to monitoring and evaluation.[2] In 2009, a pilot program for gender-responsive budgeting was implemented in seven ministries including the Ministries of National Education, Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Health, Agriculture, Planning, Public Works, and Finance.[3] Also, Presidential Instruction No. 3 of 2010 and several other regulations of the ministry concerning gender mainstreaming further regulate efforts towards equitable development and inclusivity.[4]

Despite the above initiatives, Indonesia still has a significant gender wage gap with women being paid around 30% less than a similarly qualified man. Discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment of women at the workplace are still reported. Protective regulations for women at the workplace continue to put women a pitfall as they are perceived as an additional burden for business.

National policies often time face barriers in the implementation stage. For instance, women equality-related initiatives are likely barren at the regional level because they are inadequately translated into practical strategies. Lack of adequate resources is also one of the major obstacles in obtaining a tangible outcome. Insufficient knowledge of the regulatory agencies and stubborn social tolerance of gendered attitudes and norms increase complexity in the implementation of gender equality state policies. A uniform regulatory agency approach on the issue could also contribute to an ineffective outcome, particularly in a country consisting of numerous traditional norms and religious values such as Indonesia.

[1] Nathan Associated Inc , viewed on 7 November 2017 <file:///C:/Users/User/Desktop/Nathan%20Associates,%20Inc..pdf>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Word Bank, Public Policy Brief Gender Equality, viewed on 7 November 2017 <;

The 2018 Indonesian Provincial and Municipal (Regency/City) Minimum Wage

The workbook contains the 2018 provincial and city/regency minimum wage figures. Some cities/regencies either have not or would not issue the 2018 minimum wage, or the head of the regional government has not yet published/signed the Decree/Regulation in regard with the 2018 minimum wage.

The 2018 minimum wage workbook also list the 2016-2017 provincial minimum wages, and 2017 municipal minimum wages.

We will separately post the 2018 sector-based minimum wages once the regional governments issue the figures.

Buku kerja terlampir berisi angka upah minimum provinsi dan kota / kabupaten 2018. Beberapa kabupaten/kota tidak memiliki atau tidak akan mengeluarkan upah minimum 2018, atau kepala pemerintah daerah belum menerbitkan/menandatangani Keputusan/peraturan sehubungan dengan upah minimum 2018.

Buku  kerja tentang upah minimum 2018 terssebut juga mencakup upah minimum provinsi 2016-2017 , dan upah minimum kabupaten/kota tahun 2017.

Kami akan menerbitkan upah minimum sektoral tahun 2018 secara terpisah setelah pemerintah daerah menerbitkan angka tersebut.