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More women putting in late hours, commuting at night

Jakarta Post - March 8, 2008

Tifa Asrianti, Jakarta The clock reads 10:15 p.m. as Evi, a shop attendant at a perfume store, walks out of Plaza Senayan in South Jakarta. The 30-year-old woman is not alone, as hundreds of other female employees exit behind her.

"We change shifts every week, with one week on the morning shift and one week on the night shift. Coming home at these hours is a regular thing," Evi said.

More women than ever are joining Jakarta's workforce. The city's statistics agency says the number of female workers rose by 269,000 between August 2006 and August 2007. The overall workforce rose by about 311,000, to 3.84 million, during this period, so women accounted for an overwhelming majority of that increase.

With more women in the workforce, more female employees are commuting late at night, a phenomenon that used to almost exclusively involve men.

Evi said she always went home by bus because it was the cheapest form of transportation. She said the buses always lined up in front of the shopping center at night, waiting for workers rushing home.

"I think they (bus drivers) know we need them to get home because we can't afford taxis, which are too expensive," said Evi.

Anti and Nana, who both work at Plaza Indonesia, also take public transportation home. "My husband is often busy with his job, so I usually take buses, a motorcycle taxi (ojek) or sometimes a taxi. But my brother-in-law is picking me up today because I am working a double shift. I guess he felt bad seeing me go home this late," said Nana, a resident of Blok A, South Jakarta, who is three months pregnant.

Anti, who lives in Slipi, West Jakarta, said she had to go home alone because none of her colleagues lived in the same area. Some of these women face additional difficulties traveling home at night.

Tangerang, for example, has a bylaw that prohibits women from being on the streets after dark. The stated aim of the bylaw is to curb prostitution. Women workers who live in Tangerang have to take extra care if they don't want to be detained and accused of prostitution.

Evi, who lives in Tangerang municipality, always travels with colleagues if she has to work at night. She said she had yet to have any trouble from public order officials despite traveling at night.

"It depends on how you present yourself. I go straight home after working hours. I quickly hop on the bus, sit next to the bus driver and never talk to strangers," she said, adding that if the bus had a lot of male passengers, she waited for the next bus. She said this strategy also protected her from harassment or assault on her way home after the night shift.

Anti and Nana said they had developed similar strategies. The 18-year-old Anti said men sometimes tried to tease her, but she ignored them. Nana added that women would get respect if they respected themselves. "If we don't wear skimpy clothes and are well-behaved, people will not trouble us," she said.

While Evi, Anti and Nana must go home on their own, another night-shift worker, Novi, 20, said her husband, Yanih, was able to pick her up every night.

The 28-year-old Yanih waits in front of the shopping center, along with dozens of other men there to pick up their wives, sisters or friends, after the stores close at 10 p.m.

"She doesn't have any trouble going home because our house is nearby. She has never experienced any harassment. But I still pick up my wife because I care about her," said Yanih, a resident of Palmerah.

Some of the women said their families did not want them working at night, but financial need and the desire for independence overrode these concerns.

Anti, who only started working two months ago, said her parents opposed her decision to get a job when they learned she would have to work at night. "They finally gave in after I told them how much I wanted to have a job," she said.

Novi said her desire to work convinced her husband to allow her to leave their only child with her parents. "I like having a job. It makes me feel useful because I can help my husband to make ends meet," Novi said.

Nana, who has been working for 14 years, said she could not imagine being a stay-at-home mom because she liked having new experiences every day. "I like trying new recipes during my spare time. Being a working women means I can bake cakes or try new recipes without having to ask my husband for money," she said.

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