SRH and Society


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What is gender?

Gender refers to what society considers appropriate for girls, boys, women and men. This means that it is sometimes considered separate to the binary categories of biological sex.For example, if you were to ask a person their sex, this would technically be asking them whether they have female, male, or other anatomy. If you were to ask this same person their gender, it does not have to be the same answer they gave for the question relating to sex - their gender identity and sex may not be the same.

However, one’s individual sex identity interacts with the expectations around gender in their society. Different societies have different expectations around the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities which exist for different genders. Ultimately, gender is a social construct, meaning one’s gender is contributed to by learned behaviours from society. This means that a society can create strict gender boundaries and norms, or it can contribute to equality by allowing for individuals to practise whatever constitutes their gender preference, whether it be typically female, typically male, or a combination.

Gender roles and gender norms

Both men and women experience gender norms, and these gender norms can have negative impacts upon health. The rights of females can be hindered by legal barriers, patriarchal culture and religious conservatism.

  • Legal barriers – women in Indonesia tend to be paid less than males, as a result of various factors including labour force participation, employment, areas of employment, and status of employment, as well as gender roles and norms constructed by society.
  • Patriarchal culture – a system where men hold most of the power, meaning they tend to dominate in leadership positions, politics, moral issues, social status, and ownership of property.
  • Religious conservatism – religious beliefs form part of society, meaning they contribute to the systems which create gender roles and norms.

These factors often all contribute to gender norms – there is not one particular factor which is necessarily more influential than the other for all people. Gender roles and gender norms do not stay the same forever. Women and men can and have lived lives where they do not only do typically male or female things. Yet, norms still tend to disadvantage individuals. In Indonesia, these norms tend to prevent women from being able to fully participate in public life.

Romantic Relationships and gender stereotypes

Historically, men in Indonesian families have been considered the leaders of their household and traditionally, women in relationships with men require permission from the man to do certain things in life, including joining the workforce. This gender norm has meant that modern laws and institutions create difficulties for women in being acknowledged as a leader of their household. Although there are norms and roles around men and women in relationships, not every relationship must follow these norms – a man does not have to be the leader of a household, and a woman does not have to adhere to the instructions of a male leader of a household if that is not their wish.

People of any gender should not feel any pressure to act a certain way in a romantic relationship based on their gender. Women do not have to be submissive, quiet, or obedient, and men do not have to hide emotions, act as leaders, or any other gender norms someone may feel pressured to adhere to.

Gender Equality

Gender impacts one’s experience of the world. It is a factor which drives:

  • Inequalities
  • Discrimination
  • Marginalisation

Gender does not always exist as a single driver of these things, but intersects with other factors such as ethnicity, wealth, status, disability, age, location, sexual orientation, and other factors. Though women used to have lower rates of educational attendance and completion in Indonesia, they now have effectively equal rates to men. However, even with similar educational attainment, women tend to be paid less than men, as previously mentioned. Indonesian women also often find:

  • It more difficult to attain work than men
  • It more difficult to attain work in areas which provide more income and more secure work
  • They work less hours than men

Outside of the workforce, Indonesian women do not have the same access as men to:

  • Health
  • Participation in society
  • Decision-making

Gender-based violence

In Indonesia, laws have been introduced to reduce gender-based violence:

  • Law on Domestic Violence 2004
  • Victim Protection Law 2006
  • Law on Anti-Trafficking in 2007
  • Law on the Protection of Women and Anti Gender-based Violence in 2009

Other strategies have also been established as part of efforts to reduce gender-based violence. These have occurred due to the problems which continue to exist in relation to violence. One in three women in Indonesia aged 15-64 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. Structural causes of violence refer to the systems which contribute to or allow for violence against women, including social norms and laws. The structural causes for violence do not justify the actions of violence. Just because there are reasons why such violence may occur, does not mean that this violence is okay.


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