Women take on Leadership in Safety, Despite Hurdles

28 Apr 2022

Factory worker Siti Indah Anggraini vividly recalls the day her friend accidentally cut herself as she was cutting fabrics with a pair of scissors. She remembers the sight of blood dripping on the factory floor. Siti said her friend was new to the company at the time of the incident. Besides inexperience, new employees can be exposed to a number of pressures and circumstances.

The accident motivated Siti to join her factory’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Committee (P2K3) to prevent similar accidents, adding that the cutting division is relatively dangerous compared to other divisions. She said she feels happy to be the person who can give voice to her colleagues’ concerns about safety.

“The factory cares about OSH, so we want to take part in conveying the message that we must be safe and healthy at work and when we go home from work,” said Siti. Siti works at bag manufacturer PT Kanindo Makmur Jaya in Jepara, Central Java. P2K3 members like Siti play a key role in enforcing OSH precautions in Indonesian companies through social dialogue that takes place between workers and factory managers. However, Siti is part of a small minority of women – out of 28 OSH committee members, only six are women, despite being in a factory that employs mostly women.

A 2021 International Labour Organization (ILO) report cites a similar systemic gender gap within social dialogue institutions in Asia. Data shows that female membership in national social dialogue institutions ranged from merely 20 to 35 percent. A landmark ILO report on gender equality additionally suggests that time demanded by unpaid care responsibilities, as well as male-dominated institutional cultures, both constrain women’s participation in leadership. Women are also often expected to take on administrative tasks and are less likely to be identified as leaders or given the training and opportunities necessary to develop leadership skills

Echoing such roadblocks, Siti admits she feels undervalued at times when trying to advocate for OSH protections within the company. She expressed the feeling that colleagues do not listen to her as readily as her male counterparts.

While women in leadership positions like Siti are still advocating for more progress, her company has made important OSH improvements to address the needs of women workers. Environment, Safety and Health Department Head Utang Nurdiana said that P2K3 rarely receives inputs on women-related issues at the workplace. In other words, issues brought by women or affecting women are rarely brought to the committee. Nevertheless, he said P2K3 has informed employees about the factory’s facilities for women workers and are open to inputs.

He explained that the company provides a breastfeeding room and a clinic that remains open as long as there are workers in the factory. The clinic provides reproductive health services and menstrual cramp remedies. It employs three nurses, two midwives, one ambulance driver and two doctors who are available during the day and on-call during night shifts.

PT Kanindo Makmur Jaya is not a lone example in its effort to support women workers. PT Sumber Bintang Rejeki also provides a breastfeeding room. Workers can also label and store their breast milk in refrigerators and retrieve it when they go home. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the firm also organized pregnancy yoga and exercise sessions with the nearby government health agency’s help, said Puji. The company has also partnered with community health centres to provide services for pregnant women.

“We pay a lot of attention to our workers, considering that most of our workers are women,” said Pudji Astuti, the factory’s Human Resource Development and General Affairs manager, adding that women make up 92 percent of the total workers in the company. The two firms show that Indonesia is making progress in managing female-related OSH issues. Better Work Indonesia has also reported that most companies under its guidance address safety and health risks to women workers, such as pregnancy or nursing.

One of the six PT Kanindo Makmur Jaya P2K3 women members, Wiwit Handayani, 31, has a positive take on the factory’s efforts. She says her workplace’s commitment to implement OSH makes her feel that her company pays attention to her needs.

“I hope that in the future OSH can be further promoted in the workplace to reduce the number of work-related accidents,” said Wiwit. While there are improvements in the health facilities, accidents are still relatively common on the factory floor. Leaders like Wiwit and Siti continue to work to have their voices heard when it comes to key components of making their workplace as safe and healthy as possible.

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