Christy, 29, is an Ambonese local who was introduced to me through Tasya, a local young doctor who assisted throughout our two weeks in Ambon. Both of these women were educated and accomplished, which sparked my curiosity to learn about the role and expectations of women in Indonesian society today. I felt that as we were all at similar life stages, still unmarried and with no children, there was something interesting in uncovering the goals and challenges of women in their twenties in Ambon. Christy is a civil engineer and recently spent 18 months in the Netherlands to gain work experience as well as travelling around Europe.
The role of a civil engineer is laborious and generally requires being outdoors in the heat of the sun for long hours, a job which in Indonesia is generally male dominated. From her early teens Christy wanted to pursue this unusual career path for a woman and received criticism from her father as he expressed to her “you’re a woman you cant do that. You need us”. As many Indonesian women do, Christy lives with her father and younger sister, whom she is expected to care for. I noticed that when recounting her response to her father, she had great confidence and assertiveness in her voice, saying to him “if I need your help I will simply ask, but this is what I want”. Christy pointed out that in Java many women will go to university but will marry immediately after graduating, with the average age of marriage in Indonesia being 19.7 years old (Jong, 2015). In Ambon however, she has found that amongst her friends, many women are choosing to pursue a career and personal goals before choosing to marry and have children.
After four years of study, Christy was offered a position as a civil engineer in Amsterdam and was unsure how her family would react to such news. Hesitantly, she waited until a week before her departure date, and told her parents the news, to which they responded surprisingly well. Both incredibly anxious and excited, she set off to The Netherlands for 18 months. Through working and living in shared housing, learning Dutch and travelling through Scandinavia, Italy and Spain, she had what she now sees as ‘the greatest hands-on life experience’. Although this incredible trip through Europe is simply not feasible for many women of Ambon, it was insightful to hear a very different version of what success and life goals look like for an Indonesian woman. I noticed that her anecdotes about her trip abroad were told with such a lust for life and passion, which was refreshing to hear.
With 40 percent of Indonesia’s population still living near or below the poverty line (Harilaou, 2016) it is simply unreasonable of course to expect women to drop everything to pursue expensive international travel or to stop supporting their families. It is stories like Christy’s however that may begin to shift the role of women in a society where for so long marriage and children have been the ultimate measure of success.
When asked if she had any advice for young Indonesian women wishing to redefine their aspirations and see outside of their own reality, she suggested that travel is the best way to get first hand experience.
“Get your backpack and just go. Don’t think too much.”
Jong, H. (2015). Govt to raise age of marriage. [online] The Jakarta Post. Available at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/02/10/govt-raise-age-marriage.html [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
Harilaou, B. (2016). Women’s Empowerment In Indonesia: Where To Now?. [online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/bridget-harilaou/womens-empowerment-in-indonesia-where-to-now_a_21587980/. [Accessed 29 January 2019].