Indonesia: Briefing to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Women and girl domestic workers

January 1, 2011

Indonesia: Briefing to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Women and girl domestic workers

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Domestic workers tend to start very young – when they are 12 or 13 years old. According to the Javanese or "ngenger" tradition, it is normal to send children from poorer backgrounds to wealthier members of their extended family, or to people who will commit to providing the child with a decent education and a place to live.(4) In exchange, the child helps with household work. In public perception, domestic workers are considered members of the family and not employees.

Although some of the girls and women interviewed by Amnesty International(5) wanted to continue secondary schooling, they were forced to drop out at the age of 12 or 13, due to limited financial means. Many told Amnesty International that their families could no longer pay the required tuition fees and other related costs.(6) A few of them reported that the 1998 economic crisis had further worsened their situation and compelled them to work earlier than expected to help their parents or allow their younger siblings to go to school.

Indonesia is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which guarantees the right to education regardless of a child’s sex.(7) Indonesia’s own law recognizes the equal right of boys and girls to education.(8) However, a common belief that boys have a higher status than girls and will be better able to make use of the education they receive means that low attendance rates for girls are not necessarily regarded as a problem. Although Indonesian figures on gender parity in education compare favourably with the global average,(9) the Indonesian government acknowledges in their combined fourth and fifth periodic report to CEDAW that girls have higher rates of illiteracy (on average girls and women are twice as much likely to suffer from illiteracy than men(10)) and lower enrolment and participation in higher education than boys. They also admit that the curriculum and teaching methods reflect gender bias. The Indonesian government reports that they have launched a few initiatives in the field of education to counter this trend, which Amnesty International welcomes. They have taken special measures such as quotas, fellowships, subsidies and guaranteed admission for girls to schools and institutions of higher education. They have also undertaken to revise textbooks, curricula, teaching and learning methods to make them more sensitive to gender.

Many girls are forced by their economic condition and other factors to work before they reach the age of 15, losing – sometimes for life – opportunities for education. Similarly, women who marry young are likely to end their education early, thereby limiting their job opportunities. This situation is further worsened by the high level of unemployment in Indonesia(11) which strikes girls and women more than men. According to government statistics, the unemployment rate was almost 14% for women and girls in 2006 against almost 9% for men and boys.(12) Once women and girls have started to work as domestic workers, they will find few other job prospects along the way.