The Essence of Experience - Twenty-three former migrant worker women recount their journey overseas and how it shaped their entrepreneurial spirit

Made Mastianta Nadera • Rofi Uddarojat
Discussion paper Center for Indonesian Policy Studies • January 2017 Indonesia • Malaysia • Saudi Arabia

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(English, 12 pages)


In the largely traditional Indonesian community, especially in the rural areas, the labor division between males and females is clearly pronounced. The expected role of a husband is to provide for the family and to serve as the main breadwinner. This role has been challenged, among other things, by the practice of female migrant workers seeking employment overseas and thus becoming the main revenue earners. Among the many workers currently residing overseas the records shows that 62% are females and 38% are males. Working in 152 countries from Saudi Arabia to neighboring Malaysia, they mostly work in low-skilled jobs, with being caregivers and domestic helpers topping the list. This feminization of workers happens for some reasons that include the fact that in the rural areas females do not usually own land and it is difficult to secure long-term employment in the agricultural sector where men dominate the field. Out of the 31,70 million people working in agriculture, men dominated with 76.84% while there are only 23.16% female farmers and farm laborers.

Migrant workers send remittances back home and help sustain the economic growth beyond the boundaries of their villages. A study by CIPS found that the total amount of remittances between 2000 – 2007 had reduced poverty by 26.7% and lowered the poverty gap by 55.3%. The total remittances recorded by the end of 2016 amounted to 7.48 billion USD, after an all-time high record in 2015 of 9.42 billion USD.

Despite the significant contributions of these workers, there remain concerns about their safety during their tenure overseas. This has been largely fueled by mistreatments from their employers that have been widely circulated in the Indonesian media. Between 2011 and 2013, 0.5% of the total number of migrant workers has suffered from abuse and mistreatment. These cases need to be investigated and the migrant workers abroad need to be properly protected. On the other hand, it must also have been seen that the benefits that migrant workers bring for their family and home villages are enormous. In addition to the total remittances that have been used to build houses and to finance other necessities, the money has also been used as the initial capital to finance small businesses.

This essay presents the experience of twenty-two migrants who after their return home started a local business on their own. They come from cities in West and Central Java known to have supplied significant numbers of workers: Kendal (2 respondents), Purwakarta (5 respondents), Indramayu (5 respondents), Wonosobo (4 respondents), Semarang (2 respondents), Majalengka (2 respondents), Bandung Barat (2), Purwokerto (1). The latest statistics from the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian workers abroad (BNP2TKI) show that in 2016 the district of Indramayu sent 15,128 workers, Kendal sent 5,749 workers and Majalengka sent 2,962 workers. The provinces of West Java in total sent 46,698 workers and Central Java supplied the total of 43,965 workers.





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