On 1 December, Indonesia took over as chair of the Group of Twenty (G20), an intergovernmental forum that aims to address challenges facing the global economy. Considering the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Indonesia has adopted the theme ‘Recover Together, Recover Stronger’ for its presidency.
The global pandemic has impacted men and women differently. Women have been disproportionately affected by job loss because they are overrepresented in the informal, precarious and low-paid sectors that have been hit hardest by the pandemic – such as accommodation, the food industry and retail. Simultaneously, the pandemic has caused an increase in unpaid care work, particularly by women.
Research suggests the estimated loss of income for women globally as a result of the pandemic was more than $800 billion. Consequently, UN Women has said it expects the pandemic will push more women into extreme poverty – widening the gender poverty gap. Worse still, UN Women has reported that violence against women, particularly domestic violence, has intensified during the pandemic.
In 2020, the G20 Women 20 (W20) summit recommended that a gender lens must be applied to the global economic recovery agenda to ensure that it tackles the pandemic’s disproportional impacts on women. If Indonesia is going to lead global economic recovery, recovery plans must address gender inequality.
Social protection measures and digital financial inclusion
Indonesian women play a key role in economic growth and development in Indonesia. They own and run more than 50% of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) across the country. But a survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) in 2020 found that two-thirds of MSME owners suffered reduced income as a result of the pandemic. About half (46%) reported that they struggled with paying bills and debts.
Responding to this, the Indonesian government has allocated financial assistance to support women running their businesses in its National Economic Recovery program. Additionally, social protection programs such as the Family Hope Program (PKH) and Program Sembako (a program offering cheaper access to nine staple foods) have been expanded to support women’s socio-economic recovery. There have been challenges, however, in making sure that these measures have been distributed to those who need them the most, particularly female-headed households.
In preparation for assuming the G20 presidency, Indonesia prepared a six-point finance priority agenda. The fifth priority, ‘digital financial inclusion’, explicitly targets underserved communities, including women. To increase productivity, the government is also promoting open banking, enabling data exchange between banks and financial technology companies. This strategy is also in line with the government’s target to integrate 30 million MSMEs into the digital ecosystem by 2024.
Though this digital financial inclusion initiative, the Indonesian government hopes to increase economic productivity and empower women, who operate most of these MSMEs, and reduce the gender-poverty gap.
Increasing violence against women
While social protection measures and digital financial inclusion initiatives demonstrate government efforts to empower women, it has a lot more work to do to address other issues detrimental to the progress of gender equality at home.
Like many countries around the world, Indonesia witnessed an increase in gender-based violence during the pandemic. For example, in 2021, the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) received more than 4,200 complaints by the beginning of October, compared to 2,389 complaints for all of 2020.
Despite increased violence against women during the pandemic, women’s rights activists have struggled to convince legislators about the urgency of passing the long-discussed bill on the elimination of sexual violence (also known as RUU PKS). Conservative Islamist political party the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) has consistently opposed the bill, resulting in it stagnating in the legislature. In the absence of sexual violence bill, victims of gender-based violence have no access to justice, allowing perpetrators to escape justice.
When women are victims of violence, they can suffer both physical injuries and psychological trauma. Negative social stigma associated with gender-based violence exacerbates the consequences, as many women choose not to report violence against them. As a result, victims often experience job losses and reduced productivity, affecting economic growth.
Before Covid-19, the cost of violence against women was estimated to be about 2% of global gross domestic product (GDP), and up to 3.7% in some countries. These figures would only have increased since the onset of the pandemic. They would be higher still if the intergenerational consequences of domestic violence, including transmission of violence and declining children’s health outcomes, are taken into consideration.
An important recent breakthrough to address violence against women in Indonesia was Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology Regulation No. 30 of 2021 (Permendikbud) on the Prevention and Handling of Sexual Violence in Higher Education. But this, too, has faced a backlash from conservative Islamic groups, which have puzzlingly argued the regulation would endorse or encourage “free sex”.
What should ‘Recover Together, Recover Stronger’ mean?
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has battered the global economy and heightened gender inequality. The G20 has an important role to play in the global economic recovery from Covid-19 and the advancement of gender equality. As it assumes once-in-a-generation leadership of the G20, Indonesia must show the world it has the capacity to lead the road to resilient, sustainable, and inclusive global economic recovery.
‘Recover Together, Recover Stronger’ implies a collective effort to recover from the global pandemic and that must include women and girls, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Indonesia’s leadership of the G20 next year must therefore reflect gender-sensitive recovery strategies. Inclusion of digital financial inclusion in Indonesia’s G20 action plan could improve women’s contribution to economic growth and development, but this is not enough.
Echoing the recommendations from the G20 Women 20 (W20) summit, gender-sensitive recovery strategies should include increasing women’s participation in decision-making, improving access to social protection measures, and establishing adequate legislation on gender-based violence.
If Indonesia is to encourage G20 members to adopt these strategies, it must demonstrate its willingness to do the same at home. Considering the alarming rise of violence against women in the country, it should, at a minimum, pass the bill on the elimination of sexual violence, while continuing to expand its efforts to empower women economically.
Without taking gender-based violence seriously, the call to ‘Recover Together, Recover Stronger” rings hollow.