From time to time, someone asks me where my current interest in equality, inclusivity and diversity comes from. (See my previous LinkedIn article.)
Indonesian moviegoers have had something to talk about these past two weeks. A top box-office movie by director Joko Anwar, Satan’s Slave, has a hair-raising ghost, called “Ibu” or “Mother”, haunting almost 2 million viewers. The millions were scared of “Ibu”, but I have scary data haunting Indonesian women and these ghosts are real.
In the annals of Indonesian folklore, female ghosts take centre stage. The country has kuntilanak, sundel bolong and Si Manis Jembatan Ancol. Most female ghosts in Indonesia were loving mothers or ordinary women before they started haunting the world with dark agendas.
Among the most popular ghosts are kuntilanak and sundel bolong; their narratives are reproduced in pop culture products, most notably movies.
Kuntilanak was a woman who died at childbirth (or died delivering a stillborn, according to another version). Sundel bolong was a woman who was raped and became pregnant, then died at childbirth.
Kuntilanak is said to have a penchant for haunting women during delivery and stealing newborns, while sundel bolong terrorises men walking alone in the dark of night.
The third one is Si Manis Jembatan Ancol, loosely translated into The Pretty One Haunting Ancol Bridge, referring to Ancol, an area in North Jakarta. Men were said to have raped and killed Si Manis in North Jakarta when she escaped her husband.
A different kind of female ghost, an outlier, is Nyai Roro Kidul, believed to be the ruler of the southern sea of Java, who becomes the mystical wife of each Mataram king.
To know more about the issue of women in Indonesia’s ghost folklore, read Indonesian fictions, Sihir Perempuan (Black Magic Woman) and Kumpulan Budak Setan (Devil’s Slaves Club), by author, scholar and feminist Intan Paramaditha.
There’s a thread connecting the female ghosts beyond their gender: most of them are victims.
Of course, no scientific evidence supports the existence of these ghosts. But the background story of each ghost shares similar themes. These women were victims of gender inequality and sexual violence. They also had poor access to healthcare.
Indonesian Health Ministry data show the maternal mortality rate in 2015 reached 305 per 100,000 live births. The average rate in the Asia-Pacific region in 2015 was 127, while the average in developed countries is 12 per 100,000 live births.
The ministry data showed the top two causes of deaths in 2013 were post-partum bleeding (30.3%) and preeclampsia (27.1%). These deaths could have been avoided had the women had access to proper care.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s data on sexual violence, experienced by both Si Manis and sundel bolong, are also harrowing. The Central Statistics Bureau surveyed 9,000 women respondents in 2016 and reported that one in three Indonesian women aged 15-64 has experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.
But “Ibu”, the woman in the movie set in 1981, would probably have a better fate today compared with her fate then. She was lying helpless for three years without a proper diagnosis. In 2017, at least, she would probably have received a better diagnosis thanks to Indonesia’s universal healthcare, BPJS Kesehatan, implemented since 2014.
Of course juxtaposing the stories of Indonesian female ghosts with real data is only a way for me to highlight an important issue using folklore and a popular culture product.
But the popular ghosts’ stories reveal the close connections between violence against women and access to healthcare for women in the distant past. As the maternal death rate shows, the state of healthcare for Indonesian women today remains grim.
Perhaps, we would not have the story of kuntilanak haunting young mothers and their newborns had more real live Indonesian women survived child labour and deliver healthy babies.
Si Manis‘s violent rape and murder story is said to have originated from a true story in Dutch colonial time. Today, the streets of 21st-century Jakarta are not yet safe for women.
Sundel bolong’s unwanted pregnancy, a result of rape, could have been avoided if she received adequate reproductive healthcare. Indonesia has issued a regulation legalising abortion for rape victims, but its implementation remains elusive.
Harsh punishment for rapists would have also spared sundel bolong from having to haunt those villains on her own. An online survey by women NGOs last year revealed 93% of rapes were not reported. Data from a 2013 masculinity survey by women’s crisis centre Rifka Annisa showed only 21.5% of respondents who admitted to committing sexual violence suffered legal consequences.
The plights of these women ghosts, as told by the older generations, serve as a warning about the state of Indonesian women today. The numbers and data should be scary stories for Indonesian women.
Policymakers should pursue systematic changes, or we will forever see more women sharing the plights of sundel bolong, kuntilanak and Si Manis Jembatan Ancol.
If we don’t improve reproductive health services for women and let impunity reign among sexual violence perpetrators, we will continue the legacy of the female ghosts to our next generation. Not only in movies, but in real life as well.
Gita Putri Damayana, Researcher at PSHK and lecturer at Jentera Law School, Indonesian Center for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK)
In UK universities there are far fewer women in senior posts than men – particularly at professor level. Putting aside teaching, to reach this status, an academic typically needs to have completed a considerable amount of research. Research takes time, and if people want to succeed in academia, they have to apply for funding. This is where one key difference lies.
Women receive less funding than men, and they also apply for smaller grants than their male counterparts. Our study investigated the amount of research funding awarded to male and female study leads across over 6,000 studies related to infectious disease research in UK institutions. Around 75-80% of the funding was awarded to male principal investigators – a huge difference. In addition to the differences in total sums of money, there are also clear differences in the size of the grants secured.
So what’s the barrier to women getting funding? It’s unlikely to be widespread gender bias from the funders themselves. One of the most famous papers that did highlight clear biases in this area was a 1997 article published in Nature which pulled no punches in highlighting the problem in the peer review process of the Swedish Medical Research Council.
But this analysis is now 20 years old and does seem to be an outlier in an increasing pool of evidence. Most other analyses suggest there is no observable gender bias on the part of the research funders. For example, evidence reported by the Foundation for Science and Technology suggested there is no significant difference in the proportions of successful grant applications led by male and female researchers from the major UK funders, such as the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.
So why are women getting less by way of grant amounts? With seniority comes big bucks. The more senior the person applying, the bigger the grant they are likely to be requesting. But with fewer senior women out there to apply for something big, it’s a Catch-22.
There are initiatives within, and involving, universities that may help. The Athena Swan programme encourages institutions to consider inequalities and disadvantaged groups, and often focuses on the issues surrounding women in science. There is some evidence to suggest it is having a positive effect. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), one of the major UK funders, now insists that university departments and faculties must have at least a silver award from Athena Swan to be eligible to apply for their funding streams. Recipients of an Athena award have demonstrated through work practices and workplace philosophy their commitment to gender equality and supporting women in STEM careers.
There is also an interesting clause in the guidance of the NIHR autumn 2017 call for research professorships (a prestigious and significant award in the career of any aspiring health researcher). Institutions can put forward a maximum of two candidates, and at least one of the two candidates must be female.
I am not aware of other major research funders yet taking a similar approach (though they may do). It would be interesting to hear their views. As universities are increasingly strapped for cash, research income is important, so no doubt many faculties would be happy to jump through hoops to be eligible for all funding streams from the big players.
Funding applications aside, there are good reasons for female academics to be disheartened about their chances of competing on a level playing field. A 2012 US-based study revealed how identical CVs with a male name at the top were favoured over those with a female name. Then there is the evidence that female lecturers are rated lower than their male counterparts by students, without there being any obvious difference in the standard of their teaching. It takes an extra level of tenacity and determination for a woman to make it to the top in a world that is naturally skewed towards men.
There are many additional factors that come into play as to why there are clear differences between the careers of men and women in an academic environment. Digital Science’s new report, Championing The Success of Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, and Medicine (STEM), explores many of these issues from a range of perspectives, as well as considering other areas where inequality is a problem. It also examines potential ways forward, including the use of mentors, feedback from the academic community and cultural changes that ensure there are more women into senior roles.
But what is very evident is that higher education institutions can prioritise the promotion of equality and still be successful in keeping their heads above water during the ongoing storm of funding cuts, Brexit and general political disdain towards experts.
This laughable 2012 video by the European Commission to encourage teenage girls to take an interest in science underscores the kind of problems that exist in the way women are perceived in terms of science. There was some furious backpedalling by its creators soon after its release, but it is shocking to think it got approved in the first place. But at least its desperately hackneyed approach lays bare some of the sexist, outdated and demeaning attitudes that women have to endure in male-dominated environments.
Women’s role in science has been hotly debated and discussed in recent decades. Policy-oriented and scholarly studies have explored a range of topics on the issue. From girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); to how women are represented and perform in STEM occupations and women’s access to technologies – it’s all been studied.
But only one study has examined women’s representation and participation in national science academies. This silence is ironic. These academies honour scientific excellence and synthesise scientific findings to support evidence-based policymaking. This means they are well placed to contribute towards strengthening their countries’ national innovation systems. They can advocate to get more girls and women participating in STEM, and advise on system-wide application of the gender lens in research and innovation.
So one of the first steps, surely, would be for academies to address their own gender gaps. But there’s a data problem. Academies simply don’t know how they’re doing when it comes to the representation of women compared to their counterparts within the science-policy environment. So they’re unable to monitor their progress.
That’s why the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences embarked on a study to collect baseline data about women’s representation in the membership and governance structures of national science academies. We chose academies affiliated with the academy international umbrella body, the InterAcademy Partnership. It represents more than 110 national academies of science in both the global North and South.
A common message emerged from our research: with one or two notable exceptions, women are massively underrepresented in national science academies compared to their male peers.
The information was gathered through two separate but related online surveys during 2014 and 2015.
The InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences surveyed the partnership’s 19 national science academies in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. The South African academy surveyed 84 academies in the other world regions: Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific, Western and Northern Europe, South Eastern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe.
There was a response rate of 63%: 65 of the InterAcademy Partnership’s 103 national academics provided us with data. A full table of the data is available in this article published in the South African Journal of Science.
The Cuban Academy of Sciences (27%) and the Caribbean Academy of Sciences (26%) had the highest representation of women in their membership. A “member” was taken to mean any person elected into the academy. The national science academies of Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras and Canada also featured on the list of the top 10 academies with the largest shares of women members – between 16% and 23%.
In Africa, meanwhile, women comprise on average 10% of academy members. Academy of Science of South Africa is the only academy on the continent that ranks among the top five organisations for women membership (24%). The Uganda National Academy of Sciences was second in Africa (13%), followed by the academies of Ghana and Cameroon (both 11%).
The average share of women members, across all 63 national science academies that responded, is 12%.
Interestingly, women fared better when it came to national science academies’ governing bodies. Here the average was 20%. In Africa, the Academy of Science of South Africa recorded the largest share of women in academy governance (31%).
It’s not clear why and at this stage we can only speculate about possible reasons. For instance, there could be a general recognition among academies that women need greater representation. A logical first step would be to include those already elected into the academy in the governing body. An equally plausible hypothesis is that women volunteer their time more readily.
The Academy of Science of South Africa arm of the survey also asked whether academies had either a committee to address gender or diversity issues, or at least someone to advise on them. The answer was “no” from 61% of academies. A third – typically academies with a larger share of women in their membership, specifically in North and Latin America – had a dedicated committee. The remaining 6% of academies relied on individuals’ input and guidance.
We would have liked to obtain more data. But we believe the number and spread of participating academies provide a good base for future surveys. Based on the data, we propose several recommendations for the InterAcademy Partnership and its affiliated academies.
First, member academies should annually collect, analyse and report gender-disaggregated data. This should then be published in the partnership’s annual report. The document can then be used to discuss the gender dimensions of its membership activities. It’s also important for member academies to establish permanent organisational structures related to gender. These can provide strategic direction and implement the academy’s gender mainstreaming activities.
Several aspects of women’s representation in science weren’t explored in this study. How much of a role does unconscious bias play in academies’ election or selection as members? Are the criteria for membership limiting women’s chances? What about socio-cultural aspects? Many cultures have male and female work spheres, confine girls to less valued “women’s work” and underestimate women’s intellectual and technological capacities.
This bias can be replicated in the processes of nomination, evaluation and selection of women and men, for example, for research grants, fellowships, prizes, key aspects that contribute to building the scientific excellence that is associated with honorific recognition of an individual by an academy of science.
These are important questions and issues. Further qualitative research will help to engage the unsettling narrative which emerged from the data in our study.
*Authors’ note: We would like to acknowledge the work of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World, one of our partners on this project._
If you’re a man, read this too: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/women-interrupted-men-app/
A paragraph for those who won’t click:
“A study from Brigham Young and Princeton Universities found that men tend to dominate 75% of the conversation during conferences. A writer for Slate Magazine found that men in the tech industry interrupt women at twice the rate women interrupted men. An article in the Harvard Crimson student newspaper found that women’s voices were significantly underrepresented in law classes.”