Indonesia's challenge

Indonesia’s challenge

Much diversity, little unity.

Indonesia, a majority Muslim country, is an archipelago of over 13,000 islands, with a population of over 238 million people. It is the world’s fourth most populous country. A founding member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), it is also the largest economy in South East Asia with an estimated GDP in 2012 of nearly $1 trillion. While its strong economic growth presages development dividends including reduced social inequality, the challenges the country faces – in terms of fragmented ethnic and linguistic groups, decentralised and semi-autonomous regions, sectarian discontent and a poor record on women’s rights and violence against women – remain immense.

Its legal system is a case in point. Indonesia has several legal systems that operate in parallel much of the time – state (civil/criminal) law, religious law, and ‘adat’ or traditional law. One of the most salient features they all share is a strong bias and discrimination against women. This has only been made worse by the derogation of powers to the provinces (a political policy to end authoritarian central control after Suharto’s fall in 1998) which included devolving law-making powers to more than 1000 local legislatures and executive officials. The result is that while there are 50+ Acts at the national level discriminating against women, there are now more than 342 Regional Regulations that discriminate against women in the name of religion and morality, according to Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, Chair of the National Commission of Violence against Women, Komnas Perempuan.

“These restrictions culminate in violence against women and loss of access to livelihood resources for women. These discriminatory policies emerge in various areas because the central government does not immediately harmonize policies with reference to the constitution,” explains the Commission. Komnas Perempuan, in concert with women's rights groups, is working hard to repeal such laws, but so far only a couple of regions (Tangaran, Bantur) have been successful in getting their cases before the Supreme court.

A group that have perhaps been most negatively impacted by legal discrimination against women have been poor women who work as domestic helpers. "Domestic workers in Indonesia still experience inadequate and inhumane working conditions," states Komnas Perempuan in a submission to the UN Human Rights Committee. The reason is that under Indonesian labour law, domestic work is not included as a form of labour and domestic workers are not recognised. Not only, therefore, are these marginalised women unable to enjoy welfare and economic/wage protection, but they have little or no ability to take abusive or violent employers to court.

In a research visit to Indonesia earlier this year, Sisters For Change met with the tiny grassroots NGO Jala PRT, a group who conduct national advocacy on behalf of domestic workers (there are now 7 small domestic worker unions for women across Indonesia), to talk to them about access to law and outreach to workers across the country. They estimate there are around 11 million domestic workers in the country and say that ensuring a legal minimum wage is their most critical objective (in Jakarta, domestic workers currently earn about 20% of the average minimum wage, or less than £24/month). Jala PRT has been lobbying since 2004 for a Domestic Workers law, and although one has been on the books since 2010, it still has not been passed by the legislature. In terms of employer abuse, Jala PRT's Executive Director Lita Anggraini says that more than 60% of the cases their members bring to them involve multiple types of abuse – verbal violence, non-payment of wages and sexual harassment or violence.

While Jala PRT attempts to support its members and introduces them to legal aid organisations where possible, a significant gap exists, not least because of the lack of literacy and awareness among many domestic workers. This is an area where Sisters For Change will help through our Mobilise 3X initiative. We have made domestic workers one of our priority groups for outreach, information programmes and access to justice initiatives.

To extend our work and achieve the impact required, we need your help. Be part of the global movement for change and support us today to provide support and help to more women in Indonesia and beyond.