Gender Issues: Japan and Indonesia

By Anissa Ratna Putri - Januari 23, 2018

As a girl, I was raised by a working mom. Contrary to what most people believe: working mom will make the child feels lonely - having a working mom results with nothing but a self-reliant me. What's more - my mom never, for a minute, forgot about her family - not even in her busiest working days. From her, I learned that it is possible, for a woman to manages career and family, side by side. This has shaped my perception of women: how they should be able to have the opportunity to work, anywhere they want. Growing up, I realize it is not 'every woman has to be able to work' that I should emphasize. Instead, I believe that when it comes to gender issues, every woman has to be able to have the opportunity to choose. To choose to work in the office. To choose to work from home. To choose to be a full-time mother. To choose anything that aligns with their dream. 

In this post, I want to share some of my experience and my (short) research on gender issues in Indonesia - my home country, and Japan - my current place of living. The background was simple: I was taking an online class, then this gender map showed up and there's a green color for Japan and red color for Indonesia. Comments from my instagram friends who watched my online class gender map came out right after I shared the picture.
 "Isn't Indonesia better than Japan in this gender issue? Why Japan is green and Indonesia is red?"
Source: UNDP, 2015 (from The Age of Sustainable Development course of Columbia University on
Their question and comment brought me to an endless browse and read on gender issues in both Japan and Indonesia. I then decided to write a post about gender issues in both countries, despite my minimum knowledge, for a simple reason: I want those who encouraged me to look for this matters to also have a chance to read what I read because they unintentionally had made me learned so much.

I am trying my best to write this in a casual-kind-of-way instead of a paper-kind-of-way because this is a lifestyle blog, not an academic journal :p Hopefully it meets the expectation.

Japan and Indonesia in the Perspective of Gender Index
It is quite new to me, learning (a little bit) deeply on this gender issue. Through my learning, I met two indexes related to gender inequality: the Gender Inequality Index (GII) established by UNDP, and the Gender Gap Index (GGI) established by World Economic Forum (WEF). The aforementioned map was using GII from UNDP.

I was tracking the data used for the map, for the sake of answering the question: "Why Japan is better?" For those who had experience living in Indonesia and Japan, they must understand how the society seems like put more pressure on women here in Japan, compared to Indonesia. But the map shows differently. To clarify this, let's talk about statistics.

I found the data used for the GII map of UNDP, as shown in the table below. The numbers showed here clearly tell me why Japan rank is higher than Indonesia: there are more women achieve higher level of education, and there are less mortality case. Even though the rate of labour force participation is higher in Indonesia, but the gap between male and female rate of employment is smaller in Japan (21.1%) than that in Indonesia (33%). Only in the political empowerment Indonesia exceed Japan.

In the meantime, since the GII latest data was for 2015, I browsed for a more up-to-date data and found the 2017 GGI data from WEF. Then, it came to me that this two index has resulted in a different way.

The lower rank indicates imparity and higher rank indicates parity
As you see, for the year of 2015, the rank of Japan is higher than Indonesia in GII but lower than Indonesia in GGI. Why?

The UNDP GII, as stated in their website, measures combined loss to achievements due to gender inequalities. Meanwhile, the WEF GGI, as stated in their report, focuses on measuring gaps in outcome variables, and rank countries according to gender inequality instead of women empowerment. I believe, the different focus that they mentioned playing some role in the different result of the rank.

Furthermore, even though these two indexes using similar parameters, yet to the best to my knowledge, the GGI from WEF covers more sub-parameters than the GII from UNDP - something that I conclude by seeing both of their reports: here for UNDP and here for WEF. (If you check out their report, you may also see that they use different method to calculate)

So, which one is the correct one?

In my perspective, I would say I prefer the GGI from WEF because it has more sub-parameters that even UNDP website admit that they lack. But again, I am not an expert, so anyone understand this issue better than me, please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

What does the index mean?
Instead of going deeper on talking about which index is correct and which one is wrong, I think it is more interesting to discuss what does the index mean. The index has four parameters: economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. When discussing this, I would like to use the most updated data, so I will show you another table. The discussion below will refer to this table, which taken from 2017 GGI report by WEF.

On economic participation and opportunity
Source: Asia Times
As you see on the table above, Indonesia exceeds Japan in this matter. There are some good points from Japan that can be an example for Indonesia, such as they have non-discrimination law in hiring women. However, in the practice, Japan has a quite high number of female that discouraged while doing job seeking, and in the economic leadership, there are still very few women holding top managerial positions in Japan. In terms of wage, on average Japan male earns 27% higher wage than their female counterpart, while in Indonesia, on average, the male earns 20% higher than the female. The participation on work, according to ILO estimation, is on a quite the same number: 50.6% for Japan and 50.7% for Indonesia (of the total female population in the country for the year 2016). Yet, the gap between female and male participation in work is higher in Indonesia (31,3%) than that in Japan (20,3%), because there are more Indonesian men work (81.9% of men population) than that in Japan (70.9% of men population). By the way, if you see Japan graph, you may notice something: there is a declining number of men working, and there is a quite significant rise on the number of women working in 2012-2016. For those who curious, find the answer in another interesting discussion of Japanese current condition on my next post!

On educational attainment
It's almost 5 years ago!
Japan exceed Indonesia in this matter, and they exceed it wonderfully. Japan achieve 99.8% primary education and 79.3% of secondary education for female adults (age 20-64), while their male counterparts achieve 99.9% in primary education (0.01% gaps) and 82.1% in secondary education (2.8% gaps). This means, most of men and women in Japan finish elementary school, junior high school, as well as high school. Even more interesting: there are more female (52.9%) engaging in tertiary education (diplomas, undergraduate, graduate school) than male (48.6%). One article here stated that "Japanese women are typically more highly educated than their male peers. But they generally leave the workforce and the career track after a few years to have a family." Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with that choice. But it is only not wrong, in my perception, if it is truly their willing to do so - not because of the social pressure or the uneasy working environment etc.

How about Indonesia? Indonesia, unfortunately, still struggling to achieve a better education - both for female and male. The primary education level of adults is at 73.6% for female and 81.7% for male (8.1% gaps), while for secondary education is at 28.5% for female and 36.1% for male (7.6% gaps). The low level of secondary education most likely caused by the gap between the younger generation (58% for age 25-54) and the older generation (14.3% for age 65+). While for tertiary education, the number for age 25-54 is low, but showing some hope: 11.6% for female and 10.7% for male. Clearly, Indonesia needs to boost more effort on this issue - not only in narrowing the gaps between female and male education but also in achieving more people to be educated.

On health and survival
Again, Japan exceeds Indonesia in this matter. To put my personal experience: I often got sick in Indonesia - I am known for having typhoid several times since I was a child until now. But in Japan, living for two years, I barely have any sickness at all. Other than the different climate, I believe the condition of infrastructure, as well as the hygiene, matters. Japan, after all, is the world's leading country in life expectancy according to WHO.

Indonesia, in this case, still have a high mortality rate - which affects more male than female, almost in all parameters: on mortality of children under age 5, on non-communicable disease, on accidental injuries, and on intentional injuries and self-harm. Of all parameters, Indonesia mortality case exceeds Japan's - except for intentional injuries and self-harm. The parameter also measures how birth is handled - which mention that Indonesia (87.4%) is behind Japan (99.8%) in the parameter of 'births attended by skilled health personnel'.

On political empowerment
The last parameter shows that Indonesia exceeds Japan in this case - almost half rank better than Japan. Most likely, this is because Indonesia once had one female as the leader of the state. But what's more, it is also mentioned that Indonesia has election list quotas for women both in national and local level, while there is no such information mentioned in Japan status.

Personal note 
Other than the discussed statistics, from my browsing time, I understand there are so much more issues on gender that still need to be considered. Since Japan has a quite complex and related-to-each-other issue, and I am so into this, I decided to write another post - summarising all my reading. To put briefly: either Japanese women or Indonesian women has some issue with social and cultural values when it comes to economic participation or political empowerment, but the struggle is somewhat different.

In Japan, it is not only the social value that put pressure but also the office culture. Since Japanese office which values long hours and presenteeism, it makes very difficult for women to have family and career at the same time. In Indonesia, although the office culture value capabilities and contribution instead of the one used in Japan, it is the women itself that believed to limit themselves, when it comes to a career opportunity. Two women leaders here mentioned that Indonesian women tend to underestimate their skills and tend to consider family life factors before deciding to take any promotion - because they assume higher position means less time for their family. As a native Indonesian, I can also say that the perception of 'working women cannot do housework well/someday will put career above all and abandon their family' is still exist. No wonder, women in the workforce think twice before deciding to take any career opportunity. While in fact, I have seen some examples in my daily life that show the contrary to such misleading perception.

Closing remarks
Writing this, I realize that maybe the reader will assume that I am such a hardcore feminist. That I want everything to be equal between men and women. That it is okay for me when one good parameter is exceeded for women and one bad parameter is exceeded for men. This actually not true. I am fully aware that, biologically, a woman is designed to have to spend more time with her child, and that in Islam, there is an obligation for a man to feed his family - and this obligation is  not applied to a woman (correct me if I am wrong). Thus, it is quite normal for me, that we are more familiar with 'housewife' than 'househusband'.

My initial purpose to write this is to share fruitful knowledge on gender issue in Indonesia and Japan. But beyond that, through this writing, I hope those who still making a perception of women, either about women in the workforce or about women as a housewife, will stop doing so. Let's not judge people skill and commitment based on their title and let's respect others' personal choice. Because really, with an open-minded society, we will live in harmony.


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