If the next president really wants to empower the nation’s women, he or she could start by doing away with the State Ministry for Women’s Empowerment, economist Faisal Basri said on Friday.
The critical comments were seconded by Gusti Kanjeng Ratu Hemas, wife of presidential hopeful and Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X.
Faisal, a lecturer at the University of Indonesia’s School of Economics, and Hemas were speaking at a discussion in Jakarta on the role of women as agents of change.
Faisal said that the ministry had not only failed to help women, it had played a role in marginalizing them.
“Women activists don’t need to demand that the next president install a minister for women’s empowerment,” he said, adding that it would be better if the president ordered all government agencies to treat women as equals with men.
Faisal said that Indonesia could be twice as prosperous if women had the same access to strategic jobs as their male counterparts.
He cited statistics showing that the number of women entering the workforce rose during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and decreased as the economy improved. Similarly, the number of women working is rising in the current global recession, he said.
“This shows that the rising number of working women is not because of an effective women’s empowerment movement, but because more women have to work to provide an income for their families,” Faisal said.
No statistics were available, however, on women’s roles and participation across the sectors, he said.
Hemas agreed that the ministry was of little use, saying that “all governmental departments must provide access for women.”
She said that most women in the country, especially in rural areas, had limited access to the crucial factors that could improve their lives and empower them, including education and health care.
Hemas said that poor rural families often preferred to send a male child to school over a female child if money was an issue.
“Discrimination against women starts early in childhood, and girls have to face cultural, religious and social pressures,” she said, adding that female role models were needed with the commitment to make positive changes in many professional fields.
Faisal said he believed that some female government officials appointed to fight for women’s rights had turned out to be a negative force. “Do not always appoint a woman to fight for the cause of women,” Faisal said.