Unpaid care work in Indonesia

Indonesia is one of two focus countries in the unpaid care portion of the Sida funded IDS Participation and Gender Justice programme 'Connecting local voices to global arenas for equality and rights'. IDS and the SMERU Research Institute in Indonesia are working to ensure inclusion of unpaid care work into national and global policy agenda.

SMERU aims to show how Indonesia’s current development process, involving women’s increased economic participation, makes it important to put unpaid care work into gender equality discourse and development agendas. Some key findings from Indonesia around this area are:

  • In 2010, approximately 54.8 million Indonesians (around 22.7% of the total population) performed unpaid care work activities - around 93.7% of these were women.  
  • Indonesia has seen an increase in female labour force participation in the last ten years, but economic crisis and consistent price hikes have forced more women (especially low-middle income groups) into the labour market in search of additional income for the family. Women are moving into low-paid and unregulated sectors, such as industry, as well as migrating to find work abroad.
  • These shifting employment structures have begun to impact on the distribution of care within the family: unpaid care work that was traditionally done by women is now very slowly shifting to other household members, including men; there are more female breadwinners – due to high demand from garment industries - so in some of those households, men perform home-making activities as “men home maker”.
  • In many other cases, the unpaid care work responsibilities could have been shifted to grandparents, as some workers send their children to live with grandparents in their home town. 
  • However, the extended family system that has played important informal safety nets for many families, especially in rural areas, will not last forever. The industrial development that occurred along with rapid urbanisation will change the existing kinship system.

A potential entry point to get care on the agenda in Indonesia is to use the '3 Rs':

  • Recognise - measure unpaid care in household or labour force surveys, prioritise action to protect against shocks, and design social protection to recognise domestic and care work.
  • Reduce -  invest in, among others, water and sanitation, better cooking technology and fuel, housing quality, and transportation.
  • Redistribute - encourage men and boys to do their share, investing in high quality early childhood care and elderly care facilities, and providing accessible medical care. 

SMERU has been invited to planning meetings by the Government of Indonesia for the Medium Term Framework as part of the new Five Year Plan for Indonesia (2014-19), specifically to talk about how taking unpaid care work into account may support better and more gender-sensitivity in economic development planning. It continues to participate in the series of consultations around these issue, and has presented findings of its work on women’s unpaid care to this high-level planning group.

SMERU is also building on ongoing research with Oxfam GB and IDS on global economic volatility to extend the primary research and data collection activities on unpaid care work.

Photo-diaries of care work and a short film showing unpaid care activities are in their planning stages.

Latest updates

21.06.16Women and development - Who cares about care work?

Gender equality is also a critical means for achieving all other development goals, as they necessitate systemic attention to the needs, priorities and contributions of both women and men. Deviana Wijaya Dewi discusses the role of care, including arguments from Deepta Chopra and Caroline Sweetman that care is central to human life.

The Institute of Development Studies has published a story of influence about its work to make women's unpaid care work more visible in development policy and practice, working with partners in Asia and in international civil society and policy spaces. 

The SMERU Research Institute has produced three video stories which illustrate different aspects of unpaid care work experienced by women in the lowest welfare group in Indonesia. The promote the recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work. Discussion questions are also provided which have been designed to generate dialogue about gendered divisions of labour and the inefficiencies of unpaid care work.

Gender Equality in Indonesia

Indonesia has introduced a number of reforms to progress gender equality, including violence against women legislation. But significant challenges remain, particularly in relation to discriminatory laws and practices around to marriage and family. Indonesia has made advances on women and girls’ education, coming close to achieving parity for primary, secondary and tertiary education.  However only 53 per cent of women are active in the labour market, compared to 87 per cent of men.

Female representation at the national and local parliament has remained low, and particularly inadequate in critical areas of public service and decision-making. This is still occurring despite the enacted law of 2003 that request political parties to nominate least 30% female candidates for the national and local parliament for each electoral district.

Important efforts have been made to increase women’s access to health services but Indonesia still has a high maternal mortality rate. The ratio of women living with HIV/AIDS jumped from 2.5% to 25% in the last ten years, with the majority being infected by their partners. Women with HIV/AIDS are reported to have experienced violence such as sexual abuse and forced sterilisation.

The average annual growth of women entering the labour market is higher than men but women continue to face high unemployment rates, poor quality work and wages and a higher level of economic informality. An increasing number of women are being pushed to find opportunities outside the country, and these migrant workers continue to face abuses in terms of working conditions, low wages and abuse.

In 2012 Indonesia was ranked 91 out of 154 countries in the Social Watch Gender Equity Index and 32 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.


OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) 2012 http://genderindex.org/country/indonesia

Social Watch Gender Equity Index  http://www.socialwatch.org/taxonomy/term/527

World Bank (2013) Indonesia - Kesetaraan gender. Indonesia Gender policy brief no. 1. Washington DC : World Bank. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2013/01/17559650/indonesia-gender-equality-indonesia-kesetaraan-gender (accessed 25 September 2013)

World Bank, Data Indonesia http://data.worldbank.org/country/indonesia (accessed 23 Sep 2013)