Social, economic and political context in Indonesia

Key facts

Capital: Jakarta   
Currency: Rupiah (Rp)   
Population: 237,641,326   
Urbanisation: 50.7% of total population    
GNI: 1.188 trillion PPP dollars   
GDP: 878 billion USD    
Female life expectancy at birth: 74.59 years
Male life expectancy at birth: 69.33 years   
Male to female sex ratio: 0-14 years: 1.04; 15-24 years: 1.04; 25-54 years: 1.02; 55-64 years: 0.89; 65 (+) years: 0.78
Religions: Muslim 86.1%; Protestant 5.7%; Roman Catholic 3%; Hindu 1.8%; other or unspecified 3.4%

Political and economic context

Following a failed coup in 1965, General Suharto was formally named acting president in 1967, becoming Indonesia's second president in 1968. He ruled for a thirty-year period (1968-1998) also known as the “New Order”. Right after the attempted coup of 1965, Suharto banned the communist PKI party. It is estimated that some half million supporters of the PKI lost their lives during the first years of Suharto’s rule.
Indonesia set forth economical and foreign relations policies that radically transformed its economy and brought financial assistance, foreign aid, and foreign investment from the Western countries and Japan into Indonesia.

Rapid industrialisation led to an unprecedented economic development in the country. Until 1982, an annual economic growth of at least five percent was maintained. By early 1990s, Indonesia was considered an 'East Asian Miracle', 'High Performing Asian Economy' (HPAE), and an 'Asian Tiger' in terms of both its economic size and projected growth.

However, the same centralised system that allowed its impressive economical growth gave place to high level of corruption, nepotism, collusion in government and formidable abuses against human rights perpetuated by authorities. Following the Asian financial crisis of 1997, a series of upheavals, rioting and manifested public discontent against Suharto’s regime put the government into crisis. The pro-democracy movement that started since early 1990 took momentum, and played a major role in confronting the regime. Suharto announced his retirement in 1998, being succeeded by the Vice-president Habiebie.

A number of reforms followed Suharto’s fall, which limited the power of the country’s president, allowed direct election of presidents and removed military seats from parliament. Restrictions on civil society and citizen participation were largely removed, and new political parties, labour unions, and other civil society organisations began to emerge. The reform process and democratic transition started by Habiebie were followed by the presidents Abdurrahman Wahid (1999–2001), Megawati Soekarnoputri (2001–2004), and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004–present).  

Indonesia is now regarded as a middle-income country given its sustained economic growth in the past 15 years. In recent years Indonesia has shown an increase in the Human Development Index (HDI), corresponding to improvements in most social indicators.

Civil society

Ever since Suharto’s fall, civil society groups have been flourishing in Indonesia in the form of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and NGOs, covering a wide range of topics. A number of laws have been enacted which enable and instigate civil society participation.

Since the pro-democratic movement of 1998, many women’s organisations have been challenging discrimination against women and traditional roles in the Indonesian society. These efforts greatly contributed to the adoption of the Violence against Women legislation and the establishment of a Commission on Violence against Women (AusAID 2012). New issues such as responsive public services, women’s political participation and female migrant workers have been increasingly receiving more attention. In 2010, 17.5% of the total NGOs registered in Indonesia addressed women’s rights issues or implement a gender programme.


Foreign aid and pledges in 2012 doubled from 2010 levels to $4.21 billion. Yet, in spite of this large increase, total development assistance to Indonesia represents 1 per cent of the country´s GDP. The top five donors in Indonesia are the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Australian Agency for International Development and the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Indonesia is now evolving from a foreign aid recipient to a granter of development assistance. It has provided approximately US$42 million of foreign assistance in the last ten years. Humanitarian assistance has been given to Japan following the 2011 earthquake, to Australia after the Queensland floods and to New Zealand after Christchurch earthquake.

Gender equality and women's rights

The transition to democracy had an overall positive effect on the situation of women’s rights and gender equality. This advancement has been manifested in the ratification of international agreements, passage of laws and the formation of institutional policies and programmes that address women’s issues. Most Indonesian laws emphasise the importance of gender equality, but their implementation remains a challenge and secular law co-exists with Islamic principles continue to discriminate against Indonesian women.

Key facts on gender

  • Indonesia has a Gender Inequality Index (GII) value of 0.494, ranking it 106 out of 148 countries in the 2013 index.
  • The participation of women in the present political term accounts for 18.2% of parliamentary seats.
  • Approximately 36.2% of adult women have reached a secondary or higher level of education, contrasting with the 46.8% of the male population. However the number of boys and girls attending primary school are more alike.
  • Female labour force participation is 51.2 % compared to the 84.2% for men. Women also constitute most of self-employed, unpaid family workers, and migrant workers. Only 8.8% of the female population were land owners in 2011.
  • For every 100,000 live births, 220 women die from pregnancy related causes, and approximately 0.5% of the live births come from an adolescent mother.

National gender mechanisms

The Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection

Legal and policy framework

Indonesia has ratified the following International Conventions:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Convention Against Torture (CAT)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

National legislation and policy instruments include:

  • Establishment of National Machinery for the Advancement of Women with the Presidential Decree of 1978
  • Presidential Instruction Number 9/2000 on Gender Mainstreaming in National Development;
  • National Action Plan for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
  • Inclusion of gender-mainstreaming policy in 38 programmes of the National
  • •Development Programme (2000-2004)
  • Presidential Decree Number 88/2002 on National Plan of Action on Elimination of Trafficking in Women and Children
  • Law no. 12/2003 on General Election in which each political party participating in a general election should consider at least 30% of women representation in the nomination of its members of national, provincial and local representative council
  • A Gender Equality law is in draft

Despite mainstreaming efforts, gender inequality is still rooted in national and local laws. At the national level, the Marriage Act of 1974 which states that men are the heads of households, allows polygamy, and sets the minimum age of marriage for girls at 16. At the local level, discriminatory bylaws limit the ability of women to exercise their rights.


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