Thursday, July 12, 2007

RI pays for gender discrimination: UN

Business and Investment - April 19, 2007

Ary Hermawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

While Indonesia's culture has traditionally been patriarchal, the lack of effort to change that tradition is causing potential losses of about US$2.4 billion to the country annually, a United Nations-sponsored report says.

In its 2007 report titled Surging Ahead in Uncertain Times, the U.N. Economic and Social Commission on Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), says that the prevailing culture of gender discrimination in the region, including Indonesia, is costing between $42 billion and $47 billion per year as a result of restrictions on women's access to employment opportunities.

"Indonesia loses about $2.4 billion a year due to inequalities in the labor market participation of men and women," Amarakoon Bandara of UNESCAP said Wednesday during the launch of the report in Jakarta.

The report argues that higher female participation, meaning an increase in the employment rate, would serve to increase the growth rate, with the most significant effects being felt by countries where female labor-force participation has been persistently low.

"Increased employment could boost production, especially in labor-intensive sectors. Higher income from new employment could also stimulate consumption and domestic demand," the report says.

Indonesia's female labor-force participation rate stands at about 51 percent, compared to 85 percent for men. Women account for 42 percent of professional and technical workers, and 17 percent of legislators, senior officials and managers.

These figures place Indonesia in the median range at 67th of the 115 countries surveyed by the 2006 global gender gap index for economic participation and opportunity. The Indonesian figure is slightly better than Malaysia's, but far behind the Philippines, which is one of the top 25 countries covered by the index.

According to UNESCAP, Indonesia should benefit to the tune of $2.4 billion, amounting to an additional 0.56 percent of GDP, if it raised its female labor-force participation rate to the same level as the United States (87 percent).

However, Bandara pointed out that in order to benefit from higher female workforce participation, a country first had to be able to provide jobs and ensure there were no entry barriers keeping women out of the jobs market.

"Women have to be educated first and jobs should be available," he said.

While Indonesia had succeeded in maintaining gender parity as regards enrollment in secondary education, there was still a slight gap at the primary level -- 93 percent for girls against 95 percent for boys. Nevertheless, Indonesia was among the worst 25 in the gender gap index for educational attainment.

StrategicAsia program director Prabowo, one of the speakers at the launching of the report, warned the government of what he called "jobless growth", urging it to implement special programs to reduce unemployment and poverty rates.

He doubted that the government's 6.8 percent growth forecast for 2008 would be enough to provide anywhere near enough jobs to reduce unemployment amid a rapidly swelling labor force.

UNESCAP said it expected the Indonesian economy to grow by 6.2 percent this year, with inflation slowing to around 7 percent.


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