Gender Bias and Indonesian Education System

By Aquarini Priyatna on

“No industry or country can reach its full potential until women reach their full potential.” (Sheryl Sandberg)

Within the legal formal context, Indonesian women have equal rights to the access to education. However, in practice and in reality, as reflected in the UNDP Human Development Report 2015, women’s rate of participation to education in all levels is far lower than that of men’s. Indonesian women lag behind compared to men in the education they complete. Population Census in 2010 shows that the percentage of women obtaining higher education is only 6.62% compared to 7.12% of men. The latest report of UNDP in 2015 shows that only 39.9% women actually complete their secondary education compared to 49.2% of men. This means that roughly only one of three women finishes their secondary education compared to one of two men obtaining theirs.

While in term of literacy rate Indonesia is doing considerably well with 98.8% for both females and males, and is doing even better than Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines (UNDP Human Development Report 2015), Indonesia is only at the 110th place in the category of gender development index. According to the report, the mean years of schooling for females in Indonesia are merely 7 years compared to 7.9 for males, making quite a significant gender gap of 0.9 year, which is the largest gap compared to other ASEAN countries such as Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Obtainment of higher education also reveals another aspect of gender gap, namely the geographical gap. The percentage of the population obtaining higher education the urban areas is higher than that of the rural population while still consistently showing the gender gap between that of females and males in both areas. In urban areas, 11.20% of male population complete their higher degree education compared to 10.24% females (National Census 2010). The same tendency is shown in the rural areas where 2.95% males obtain their higher education compared to 2.9% of the females. In the specific context of higher degree education, according to Thulstrup and Koswara (2001), there were only twenty five thousand people having doctoral degree in 2000 (out of the 205 millions of Indonesian population at that time), and only 15% of them were women.

Various researches, for example  the doctoral thesis of Suyanto (2015) and Priyatna (2013), show that higher education and other academic ventures expose women to a more complex and complicated situation compared to that faced by their male counterparts. According to Prof. Dr. Arief Rachman of the Chief of Indonesian National Commission for UNESCO- the Ministry of Education and Culture, citing the data from the Directorate of Higher Education, only 7% of women graduating from bachelor degree continues their education to Master’s Degree, and only 3% of those obtaining Master’s Degree continues to their doctoral degree education. This clearly represents the fact that gender gap is a reality of the education system in Indonesia.

Susan Blackburn (2007), a prominent Indonesianist, argues that gender issue has not been dealt adequately in Indonesian education system. She further states that gender biases embedded in the education system in Indonesia reflect the conservative values endemic among Indonesian people. This can be translated that Indonesian women are endowed with patriarchal values and norms not only within the private domain but also in the public domain, including in their efforts to earn their higher degree education.

As many have pointed out, from Queen Rania of Jordan to Malala the Nobel laureate, education for girls and women is a highly beneficial venture and its effects are long lasting; that educating a girl means empowering the whole nation. However, pursuing a higher degree education is a project that may create a lot of challenges. At times it can even be risky and dangerous. Local values that continue to establish ideas that women’s place is in the kitchen, in domestic spheres, significantly contribute to the constant unnecessary challenges to the advancement of women’s education are well-documented by many researches.

It is thus our collective responsibility to build a more women and girl-friendly education system so as more girls and women can benefit from higher education, and from education of all kinds. Collectively, highly educated women will bring advantages to human development both through their participation in public arenas and through their work in domestic spheres as wives and mothers of their children.

It is high time that local values that are no longer relevant, manifested in the comments such as “no matter how high your education is, you will end up in the kitchen”, must be reevaluated and dismissed if necessary. My previous researches on mothers doing higher degree education shows that women having the support of the family strove better in undergoing their education. My other research on girls’ experience in college also shows that despite the regulations that treat girls and boys as equal, girls still face challenges and discrimination both at home and in campus prior to their entering the college and during the time of the study.

Within the world where patriarchal values sustain, ‘objective competition’ between females and males may actually be unfair. The fact is in many cases girls and women are still endowed with social and cultural duties that perceive them as secondary and inferior to men. Girls and women find themselves in constant efforts to negotiate the different positions they embody. This means the burden a girl and/or a woman carries during the time of their study is consequently more challenging, some even find it difficult to resolve. It is important to remember that girls and women who pursue their higher education are they who, as Robert Frost wrote, take the road “less traveled by”. And as the poem goes,  “that has made all the difference.” After all, education for women and girls is the sine qua non for the advancement of the nation.

Works Cited

  • Blackburn, S. (2007). Indonesia. In S. Joseph, A. Najmabadi, J. Peteet, S. Shami, J. Siapno & J. I. Smith (Eds.), Women and Islamic Cultures (Vol. IV, Economics, Education, Mobility and Space). Leiden & Boston: BRILL.
  • Priyatna, A. (2013). Negotiating and Rethinking Local Culture: The Narratives of Indonesian Women Juggling Higher Education, Work, and Domestic Roles. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, 19(4), 95-123.
  • Thulstrup, E. W., & Koswara, J. (2001). Participation of East Asian Women in Higher Education with Particular Emphasis on Science Based Fields. The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 21(1/2), 72-83.

Aquarini Priyatna is a lecturer at Faculty of Arts, Universitas Padjadjaran.

Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia via Compfight.