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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Women and work in Indonesia from 1970 to 1985 : capitalism and gender inequality in perspective Elmhirst, Rebecca Jane


This thesis is written in the context of studies of women in the Third World. Broadly, concern is given to contemporary critiques of Western feminist theory which question the capacity of general theory to speak to the specificity of women's positions in places other than the West. In order to engage with women's different experiences of gender inequality, without losing a sense of a general feminist problematic, this study uses a theoretical framework that emphasizes the ways in which ideologies concerning gender inequality are constructed and experienced in locally specific ways. These issues are examined through a consideration of women's position in the labour market in Indonesia. The 1970s and early 1980s were periods of considerable economic restructuring and rapid social change in Indonesia. Within the labour market, income-generating possibilities shifted from agricultural production to the service sector and, to a lesser extent, to industry. More recently (the early 1980s), employment in the industrial sector has been further curtailed as Indonesia entered a period of economic austerity in response to declining world oil prices, among other factors. Taking this situation as a point of departure, this thesis examines changes and continuities in women's position in the labour market from 1970 to 1985, using data from the Indonesian census and Intercensal survey, and from various ethnographic accounts of women in the workforce. Women's labour force participation and their concentration in particular sectors and occupations is interpreted as a response to capitalist restructuring and also to the construction of an ideology of gender which, through state rhetoric and development policy, is redefining women as wives and mothers: according to a particular conception of what those roles entail. It is argued that the ideology of familialism has re-ascribed tasks, tools and conditions of work as "female" or "male". Within an already constrained situation brought about by capitalist restructuring in Indonesia in general, income-generating possibilities for women are even more limited. According to the familial ideology that is being promoted by the state, women are being encouraged to leave the waged workforce, or are able to work only at its margins.

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