A vast archipelago country, Indonesia is a mosaic of diverse cultures, languages and traditions. As the world's fourth most populous country, it is a thriving hub of socioeconomic activity and a vibrant tapestry woven with a blend of ancient traditions and contemporary ethos. The country is home to a rich tapestry of ethnic groups and languages, reflecting its expansive history and evolving social fabric.
Boasting a population of approximately 278 million, Indonesia has seen steady growth in the last decade. Its ethnic diversity is profound, with over 1,300 distinct groups; however, 95 percent identify primarily as Native Indonesian. The Javanese, making up 42 percent of the total populace, dominate as the most substantial group, and the Sundanese make up about 15 percent. Other significant ethnic groups in Indonesia include the Batak, Minangkabau, Betawi, Bugis, Acehnese and Dayak.
While Indonesian serves as the official language, the collection of over 700 languages and dialects spoken represents the depth of its cultural diversity. A developing nation, Indonesia skews younger, with 24 percent of the population under 14 years.
Accessibility in Indonesia
Indonesia has very little supportive legislation and few programmes for people with limited mobility, making it a problematic destination for anyone with a disability to live and work in. Very few buildings, including international hotels and offices, have disabled access. Public transport is not well adapted for those in wheelchairs, and pavements are riddled with potholes, loose maintenance holes, parked motorcycles and all kinds of street life. Even non-disabled people walk on roads rather than negotiate sidewalks. Things are better in the centre of Jakarta, but the city's suburbs and the rest of the country remain challenging.
Soekarno-Hatta International Airport is accessible, but many passengers opt for paid premium services as ground handling staff are not always fully trained. Onward travel is by the DAMRI bus, Railink train or taxi, but using a taxi is recommended for expats. Wheelchair-adapted taxis can be pre-booked. The trip to Jakarta Central takes around 60 minutes outside of rush hour.
Many taxis are suitable for wheelchair users, including Lifecare cabs. These should be booked in advance. Whilst there is no Uber, local versions such as Grab enable ride-hailing in urban areas – but with minimal access for those with restricted mobility. Private companies operate minivan services, and it's advised to agree on fares upfront before travel.
The principal bus service, Transjakarta (also called Busway), can be frustrating for those with impairments. The service is considered the world's largest single bus service, carrying over 10 million passengers a month – so it can get hectic. Bus shelters (stops) are often in the middle of the highway, accessed by steep, raised bridges. Much of the vehicle fleet has been renewed with low-floor entry, but journeys must be well planned ahead of time.
The Jakarta Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is relatively new, travelling around 10 miles (16 km) from north to south via 13 stations. The second and third phases are planned or under construction on an east-to-west route. Fares are payable using Jelajah, a contactless smart card. The system has won awards for accessibility and includes priority elevators, access ramps and toilet facilities.
International car rental firms and local franchises are available, but few foreign visitors choose to drive themselves. Car and driver services are popular and safer than testing one's driving skills on Jakarta's congested streets. During much of the day, the average traffic speed in the city is slow, so well-planned travel using taxis or car hire tends to be the best option for getting from A to B.
LGBTQ+ in Indonesia
LGBTQ+ people in Indonesia often face challenges and prejudice, despite the country being a modern Islamic one compared to many others. Traditional society disapproves of homosexuality and transitioning, which limits progress in public policy, although this can vary widely between urban and rural areas.
In December 2022, Indonesia instituted a new law criminalising extramarital sex. Since same-sex marriage is not recognised in Indonesia, this definitionally criminalises sexual activity between people of the same gender. In some provinces, homosexuality is punished by flogging or imprisonment. Interestingly, transgender identity is more accepted than gay, lesbian and bisexual identity – where Waria (men born with the souls of women) live openly in daily life.
Gender equality in Indonesia
Indonesia has long been a patriarchal society. Progress has been slow to counter inequality, but the government is committed to change. It has instituted the National Gender Mainstreaming Policy to improve equality in research, policy, dialogue and legislation.
Female literacy rates and educational attainment are relatively high, but executive opportunities are limited. Many women drop out of the labour market and return as small-scale entrepreneurs or self-employed workers. Women own about 60 percent of Indonesia's micro, small and medium enterprises – faring far better than in the corporate world.
Women in leadership in Indonesia
Overall, the country is on the right track as it acknowledges the crucial roles women play in developing national infrastructure and the economy. The number of female directors and commissioners present in companies listed on the Indonesian Stock Exchange is high and growing. Women in leadership in public and private companies make up around 20 percent. In government, over 21 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women.
Mental health in Indonesia
It isn't uncommon to experience problems with one's emotional well-being through concerns about work, family, finances or the future – including neglect or abuse. Although mental health awareness has increased in Indonesia in recent years, stigma and misunderstandings of mental health exist, especially in the country's outlying regions and smaller cities.
Mental health support is quite limited in Indonesia due to the low number of professionals working with such a large population. The Covid pandemic created new online pathways to care and wellbeing support, and access is now almost universal to those who can fund treatment.
Unconscious bias in Indonesia
Unconscious bias refers to the prejudices absorbed when living in unequal societies. Preconceptions around gender, age and ethnicity inhibit effective hiring, limit development and lower staff morale. Some international organisations in Indonesia deploy training to counter ingrained thinking. It is considered less of a priority for smaller domestic enterprises, in line with many attitudes across Asia.
Diversification of workforce in Indonesia
Workplace diversity is becoming more recognised as a foundation for innovation, creativity and competitive advantage in the region. Diversity initiatives in Indonesia are focused on gender as the priority, followed by religion.
However, research reveals that Indonesian attitudes highly emphasise ethnic and family backgrounds. Although Indonesia's motto is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), it matters if a prospective manager is Javanese, Sumatran or Moluccan – or from further afield. While less than 2 percent of the population is Chinese, they play a crucial role in business and own over half the nation's private capital.
Safety in Indonesia
With literally thousands of islands to explore, including the world's best snorkelling and scuba spots, Indonesia is an outstanding place to visit or make home. However, it still has its dangers, from natural disasters to petty crime and some of the worst air pollution in the world. Though crime rates aren't a big issue, expats should still take care to be mindful of different customs and cultures. However, most visitors and residents spend their time in Indonesia peacefully and problem-free.
Women's safety in Indonesia
Expats are advised to dress modestly, especially in conservative Islamic areas. In Aceh, women are expected to wear headscarves and cover their arms whether they are Muslim or not. Indonesian men are generally very courteous, but a macho minority exists that is largely ignored by visitors and residents alike.
Festive dates in Indonesia
Indonesia has four holiday types: religious, national, international and commemorative. Those designated 'Tanggal Merah' ('red date on a calendar') signify national holidays when government, schools, banks and most businesses are closed. There are also extended holidays called 'Cuti Bersama' when most forms of transport are fully booked, typically during Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Christmas and New Year's Eve.
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