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 on gender equality is about payment. Simply giving the same wage to the same type of job for both women and men does not solve the entire issue of gender inequality in the workplace. Gender inequality is the outcome of persistent gender norms that put women in a disadvantage position instead of the root cause of the problem.

Gender pay gap is a long-standing issue in the workplace realm. It is rooted from the concept of women’s complementary position in the society compare to men. Generally, society perceives women primary responsibility is at home, as homemakers and caregivers. This role does not automatically amended when women entering the paid work sphere. Thus, women income is continued to be seen as complementary to men breadwinner’s income.

Some likely argue that in this modern era, women and men are equally valued based on their competence/merit. Also, in practical reality in countries where minimum wage apply, there is no room for providing lesser wage for women. These arguments likely ring true in some contexts. Nonetheless, the arguments could not be used to answer the broader questions about gender pay gap. It has been asserted worldwide that in a situation where women education participation rate is higher than men’s, gender pay gap is still existed. In Indonesia, for instance, even the education participation of women is higher than men, on average Indonesian women are paid around 30% less than the similarly qualified men.

Record shows that in Indonesia, women who have primary education level earn on average 43 percent less than of men’s. While, in the junior and senior high school level women average earning is 26 percent and 25 percent respectively.  Women and men in these groups of educational level are often perceived as those who earn at least the minimum wage; thus, gender pay gap likely apparent. It is also worth to mention that at the doctoral level, Indonesian women average earning is still 16 percent less than men.

So what is the real issue of gender pay gap? Is it because of socially construed norms of gender roles? Is persistent gender roles only about operational side of family responsibility? Or is it about how society pressures that distort, even more, women own perception of their monetary value  and rights in the paid work realm?

In practice, these question may simply disregarded when organizations apply equal payment policy. Whether or not after this type of policy applied across the board, in all types of industries, the problem still persist is the next question. I, myself, argue that if the above questions left unanswered; if society continue to judge women roles in paid work, any equal payment policy would not crack down the problem of gender pay gap. Let alone, gender inequality.


State Initiative on Workplace Gender Equality

For decades, state laws have attempted to address the detrimental issues surround gender inequality at the workplace. Some argue that public policy could not effectively redress gender issues as it is socially rooted, a way of life that the society has perpetually embraced and implemented. Others, however, assert that without state interference, gender inequality at the workplace would stay persistent as 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. In Addition, 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 child bearing, 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 of 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 are continues disadvantaged women as they are perceived as 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 to obtain tangible outcome. Insufficient knowledge of the regulatory agencies and stubborn social tolerance of gendered attitudes and norms increase complexity on the implementation of gender equality state policies.  Uniform  regulatory agency approach on the issue could also contribute to ineffective outcome, particularly in a country consisting of numerous traditional norms and 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.