United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton once said, "The 19th century was about ending slavery, the 20th century was about ending totalitarianism, the 21st century is about ending the pervasive discrimination and degradation of women and fulfilling their full rights."
Girls and women in Indonesia make up half of the country's total population. Yet if the degradation and discrimination that Indonesian girls and women suffer is the moral challenge of the century, the opportunities girls and women deserve to have in political and economic participation should be greater than the current statistics -- 118 million voices are seriously too big to be underrepresented.
Next month, I will spend a week in Mexico City as the Indonesian delegate at the 3rd Annual G(irls)20 Summit. The Summit will convene 21 girls ages 18 to 20 from each of the G20 member nations and Africa Union and will focus on the opportunity gained in terms of strategically engaging women in agriculture and the opportunity lost as a result of violence against women. Representing 118 million Indonesian girls and women is a daunting yet serious task, but I commit to make the best of this learning opportunity and then adapt the lessons to advance the ability of girls and women to access the constituents of development.
Agriculture accounts for 15 percent of Indonesia's GDP and 61 percent of rural women are engaged in agriculture sector. ADB claims that it directly supports the rural population where agriculture is the main industry and it plays an important role in the country's exports. However, while women contribute to 75 percent of farm labour and have a major role in farm management, it is mostly men that get invited to training sessions. Similar treatment also happens in fisheries, forestry and livestock industries.
A study by Mugniesyah indicates that women have taken additional jobs to increase family income for food security. Fluctuating climatic conditions and frequent droughts and floods affect women and children severely, making them the most vulnerable groups with significant decrease in education, health and nutrition. When women are trained, own assets or earn increased incomes, they will invest 90 percent of the earnings to their families (as opposed to 10 percent for men) and the money is more likely to be allocated towards education, medicine and nutrition. What's more gratifying is that women and girls are more likely to share the knowledge they earn and adapt new technologies to their communities than men.
This is just an example of many other benefits when women are given more economic opportunity. Increased access to employment, property rights, education, and control of their financial assets and other types of investment will also impact girls and women to be less vulnerable to be victims of gender-based violence because increased access means improved economic status.
However, if we only rely on economic empowerment to bring change and to close the disparity gaps, it will not suffice because of gender-related stereotypes and the lack of representation for women at the high political and corporate positions. In Indonesia, though tertiary education enrollment for female is almost as high as male's, there remains a low percentage of women holding senior positions in the workforce (World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report, 2011). Most rural Indonesian girls and women work as domestic and migrant workers and they have a significant contribution in the economy. Sadly, there have been criticisms and scrutiny towards the government because of high numbers of these workers being physically and mentally abused. Last month, the Parliament released legislation to protect these workers. This is good news, but keep in mind that the numbers are often underrepresented. Affirmative, gender-responsive policies and incentives that give grounds for the role of women to development growth must be encouraged. One way to realize this is by having the leaders of the world's most powerful nations in the G20 to recognize the importance of girls and women in development and leverage them by putting this issue in the G20 Summit agenda. This is ultimately what my 20 peers and I are currently striving for.
Having both political and economic empowerment for women and girls in Indonesia would signify that the country utilizes women and girls as important catalysts of development and progress. The kind of empowerment I would like to see is the increased access of skills and assets of women and girls to be involved, influence, control, be transparent, held accountable and make decisions that affect the families, communities and the country. This way, everyone can benefit from it -- it helps achieve economical prosperity and can shift the common perspective of girls and women being a vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle.
Speaking of empowerment, I co-founded a youth empowerment project called Strawberry Generation? Call us Changemakers! along with Xi Ying Soo, Zin Nwe Win, Jacqui Joseph and Min Zai Dau Ze. Our objective is to eliminate youth apathy, inspired by the notorious term Strawberry Generation, which defines youth skepticism in Asia in the 1980s. The project currently runs in Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Burma. The project is trying to spotlight inspiring global changes with local subjects by cascade community trainings, volunteer channeling and postcard project highlighting inspiring youth activists and their projects from around the world.
I cannot wait to meet my peers from the other 20 nations in person, engage in meaningful discussions, and actively be involved in innovating tangible and pragmatic solutions; then upon my return, I will continue advocating the cause I deeply care about: women and girls rights. I am excited to represent Indonesia at an international stage in a groundbreaking Summit, speak up for the pressing issues of 118 million girls and women of my country and prove that women and girls are key to a virtuous cycle -- because they are not the problem, they are the solution.
I invite you to join G(irls)20 Summit What's Your Number? Campaign by signing up at www.girls20summit.com/whats-
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