Narrowing the Gender Gap for Motherhood-friendly Higher Education
Narrowing the Gender Gap for Motherhood-friendly Higher Education

Dzuriyatun Toyibah, Sociology Professor and Dean of The Facultuy of Social and Political Science UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta


Women’s Day, which is celebrated nationwide today, owes its origin to the first women’s congress organized by activists from Java and Sumatra on Dec. 22-25, 1928. The government declared Dec. 22 as Women’s Day only in 1959, through Presidential Decree No. 316/1959, to recognize the spirit and efforts of Indonesian women in improving the nation's well-being.


The commemoration of Women’s Day this year has a special significance for women in higher education in general, and in particular for Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN), which is inaugurating 15 female professors today. This is a milestone in the country’s campaign on women having a bigger role in higher education, which in itself indicates improvement in the quality of Indonesia’s education. UIN Jakarta had only four female professors in 2012, and 11 years later, the number has increased sixfold to 24. Such an achievement is extraordinary, considering that UIN Jakarta is a university that falls under the Religious Affairs Ministry and that religion, especially Islam, is often regarded as a factor legitimizing the patriarchal culture.


Although the number of female professors has increased significantly, a yawning gender gap still prevails, as the university has 104 male professors. The proportion of women recognized for achieving the highest academic position accounts for less than 19 percent of their opposite gender. Gender-based inequality also exists in other aspects too, such as differential treatment between male and female scholars in terms of job satisfaction, prestige, legitimacy and recognition, as well as gaps in terms of leadership, funding and resources. Psychologically, female scholars perceive themselves as less suited to the current academic standards, which are rooted in masculine values. In fact, the gender gap in higher education is a global phenomenon. The issue is a major concern in Western countries that rank high in the gender gap index (GGI). In education, Indonesia scored 0.97 in 2022, on a par with the global average. In countries with low GGI rankings, inequality is taken for granted because many other issues are deemed more important. The global pressure to achieve gender equality and reduce inequality, as stated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), should not be ignored. Gender equality in higher education, as the center of science and civilization, is a significant indicator of how global civilization is measured. The difficulties facing women in surviving in the public domain, including academia, can be explained by the concept of a glass ceiling, an invisible but very real phenomenon. Many narratives have been developed, as if that is something that should be tolerated. Academic standards are often considered gender-neutral and designed without bias, which have been proved wrong. The leaky pipeline theory shows that no matter how many inputs women provide in the public sphere, their achievements are very few. When water is poured into a leaky pipe, water will continue to seep out and never reach its destination. This is demonstrated by the increasing number of women who can access higher education and make impressive achievements. However, due to the above process, only a few women survive and consistently achieve success in the learning outputs of higher education institutions (HEIs). The human capital theory, which is frequently used to explain why the gender gap persists, explains that the problem is inherent in women. Women are perceived to invest less in education, resulting in lower achievements than the expected standard. Most female academics have limited research skills and lack autonomy and research funding. Programs for women related to capacity building, such as mentoring and training, are often offered to solve these problems. Building the capacity of female academics is critical, because the academic standards and requirements are nonnegotiable. Academic activities include teaching, research and publishing, and community service. Comparable and even more important are those associated with gendered structural aspects. Academic standards, for example, have so far been considered too masculine. The achievements currently targeted by higher education are extremely neoliberal in their orientation, marked by university rankings, quality control and internationalization. Masculine values often do not suit the societal construct of women, especially in Asia. In Western countries, various studies have demonstrated how the highest academic achievements coincide with the emergence of child-free trends or the choice to remain single to focus on a career. In Indonesia, such choices are rare, although they are starting to happen. Beyond the efforts to make HEIs and academic standards more equal, structural factors also must be addressed, regardless of whether they exist in structures outside HEIs. The institution of family, for example, strongly influence women's public roles. Women's reproductive function is also an inevitable factor for women in higher education. Family and academia are two needy structures that require an individual’s full commitment. It needs mutual awareness of the fact that women's reproductive function is inherent to the two structures, and any program related to capacity building must also pay attention to this fact. To prevent the family from becoming social capital solely for male academics, universities should embrace gender mainstreaming and promote equal relationships inside the family. Universities should also facilitate female academics at work, thinking about academic standards that integrate women's needs. The neoliberal orientation should be restricted, and this is the job of the government and HEIs.