Women's Labor Activism in Indonesia

29 November 2016

In her discussion of working‐class women’s labor activism in Thailand, Mary Beth Mills argues that an understanding of the “diverse ideological effects, structural constraints, and contested identities within women’s labor struggles requires close attention to participants’ own gendered and place‐based politics” (2005, 140). In the Indonesian context, geography and life experience are indeed important, but class remains a major determinant of women’s approaches to gender politics within the labor sphere. Labor became a strong focus for middle‐class feminists in Indonesia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when women’s groups began to organize campaigns around issues concerning female industrial workers and international labor migrants (Ford 2002). More recently, however, there has been a dramatic increase in women workers’ activism on their own behalf. This new wave of activism presents a dilemma for feminists because it is not always framed in feminist terms. In contrast to middle‐class feminist activists in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), who regard female factory and migrant laborers as women first and then as workers, many union women believe the international feminist agenda is secondary, or even irrelevant, to their struggles for better conditions at work.