Sunday, May 6, 2018

Why many 'Kartini' study abroad: A reflection from Australia.

By Gena Lysistrata

The contribution of the national heroine RA Kartini, especially her efforts to improve women’s education, remains with many of us, though some question her controversial acceptance to a polygamous marriage. Today many modern “Kartini” pursue higher education abroad. According to research by the Australia International Education Department in 2015, almost 14,200 Indonesians were enrolled as students in Australia and 48 percent of them were women.
Why abroad? Why not study in our home country with the support of affordable domestic helpers and family members?  Although many factors contribute to their decision to study abroad, including education quality, many Indonesian women find support from many stakeholders is vital during their study.
The Indonesian government has recently started to acknowledge women’s needs in parenting and workforce through paternity leave for civil servants. It is a small yet meaningful action for Indonesian women amidst a strong culture of patriarchy. Nevertheless, the government also needs to step up support for higher education attainment for married women; Australia provides a good example. 
  A significant number of Indonesian women under Australia ’s scholarship who bring their families to Australia are eligible to apply for child care rebate and child care benefits. This is really helpful considering domestic burdens and obligations as full time student in Australia.  Moreover, community centers in every suburb have parenting and family programs, playgrounds and social workers to support students with families. 
Further support for married women studying in Australia comes from the universities as the education service providers. Most lecturers allow women to bring their children to class, and even extend deadlines for them in some circumstances. This reflects acknowledgment and appreciation for women pursuing higher education among the education providers.  Some spots on campus are designed to be child-friendly or have parenting rooms.
Further, the universities offer various services for maintaining women’s well being such as free counseling services. With higher demands for students in Australia compared to those in Indonesia to actively engage in discussions, tutorials, journal readings and produce good quality of writings, academic life could be much more frustrating for women with children. Talking to psychologists might be a good way to ease women’s burden as a student, mother and wife. The free on-campus counseling services are linked with government services.  Thus the psychologist may refer students with domestic abuse problem to the government’s women and children protection department. Likewise, the psychologist may recommend students with critical mental problems to seek help from hospital or community centers. Partnership between campus and government is the key to ensure students’ wellbeing as best as possible.   
Last, from observation, most Indonesian husbands who accompany their wives to study abroad could escape from pressures and expectation from patriarchy at home, which helps them understand the consequences to share roles and responsibilities in their households when their wives are students. Some even leave their career behind along with the stigma in Indonesian community which perceives men as superior and breadwinners. This support is essential to maintain women’s confidence, health and well being during study period.
To conclude, higher education for Indonesian women is a complex issue entangled with government capability, education service providers, even with cultural and religion context. However, it seems too pessimistic if we say that such abundant support as found by foreign students in Australia are impossible to be implemented in Indonesia.  It indeed takes much effort from multi-stakeholders to enable more women achieve higher education. While efforts to fight patriarchy must continue,  acknowledging women’s higher education contribution to poverty eradication should be a basic motivation on all sides.
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The writer is a professional in children education, community development and poverty research. She is pursuing a Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development at the  Australian National University and a recipient of Australia Awards Scholarship. She can be reached via glysistrata@gmail.com

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