Gender Roles in Indonesia

Jun 26, 2019 | Pulse

Gender roles are deeply ingrained in Indonesia with a clear understanding of what the man must do and the woman must do. It is a sharp demarcation of roles with no ambiguity whatsoever. The man is the provider in the family and the woman the nurturer. These roles are guided by religion and tradition and one is socially conditioned to perform these activities without challenging or questioning them.

However, things are changing. With rapid urbanisation and growing economic compulsions, we often see women working and contributing to the family income, either with full-time or part-time roles. They are as busy as men, earning as much as men do, if not more. However, their role at home has not changed. They continue to cook, clean the house, do laundry and all other back breaking household chores. That a large part of the day is spent in the daily commute and work outside the home does not change the fact her primary responsibility is her home. Looking after her children, husband and other family members is not merely a responsibility but also a religious duty.

This puts women under considerable pressure. They are extremely busy, time pressed and stressed out. It does not occur to her nor her husband, in most cases, to ask for help or co-opt other members of the family in household chores. Often, the husband does not even attempt to help, as it is demeaning to his status in the family. Being the leader (Imam) of the family, helping to cook, for example, undermines his position as the head of the family. It also makes the woman feel inadequate.

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In these circumstances, we are noticing that women are suffering doing thankless jobs, and their role is being taken for granted leading to silent resentment and bitterness. Domestic violence, passive aggression and divorce are not uncommon in Indonesia.

Brands like ABC are attempting to change this dynamic, challenging the status quo, and encouraging both men and women to become partners in kitchen.

But in a situation where men do not want to change the status quo and women are not actively challenging it, how does a brand become the catalyst of change?

The key questions to ask are:

Should the brand tip toe around the main issue and gently prod or encourage men to take pride in cooking?

Should the brand disrupt and provoke discussion around gender roles. Should it take a strong feminist view?

How must the brand counter age-old traditions and religious views without attracting a backlash?

These are some of the big questions that brands face in Indonesia moving forward as society continues to change.

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