Women working at Indonesian cracker factory (courtesy DMahendra, Flickr)
By Menghan Liu, A14, IR Program Intern
The Tufts International Relations Program is currently researching issues of gender inequality in the Indonesian workforce and how social impediments inhibit women’s access to employment. The project’s initial phase launched this year with the objective to establish a foundational framework for policy change. Laura Babbitt, one of the project’s lead researchers and a recent PhD recipient from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, spoke with the program about her recent experiences in the field.
(Ed. note: Data from the field will soon be open to students and faculty for research purposes. To learn more and participate in bi-weekly Friday seminars this fall, contact IR Program Administrator John Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org).
“It was a challenge,” recent psychology PhD Laura Babbitt laughed when asked to describe her trip to Indonesia in September as one of the lead researchers for the Tufts Women in Indonesia project.
The first research project conducted by the International Relations Program, Women in Indonesia is an interdisciplinary and open-access project uniting the collaborative efforts of Tufts University, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The project seeks to examine the unequal employment status of women in Indonesia with a long term view towards policy change.
Laura’s experience and knowledge of social psychology landed her with the task of survey design, requiring two trips into the field this year during the project’s 2012 preliminary phase. Laura’s first trip in June aimed to identify barriers Indonesian women face, especially in terms of transitioning from the informal sector to the formal sector and receiving equitable treatment and pay. Assisted by the ILO, Laura and her team conducted key informant interviews with workers, employers, and trade unions about their day-to-day experiences. The rest of summer was then spent designing a survey that would target questions of demographics, work experience, and attitudes toward women.
Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia (courtesy Laura Babbitt)
The second trip in mid-September sought to train local enumerators to conduct the hour-long survey and collect data using new tablet computers. Laura spent a week each in the regions of East Java and North Sumatra training two teams of university students recruited by the ILO. 15 students from the University of Brawijaya would conduct 750 surveys in East Java and 13 students from the State University of Medan would conduct 250 surveys in North Sumatra, the sample size totaling 1000.
Here the project’s trajectory took a few unexpected turns. Technical setbacks, translation issues, and cultural differences posed various challenges during the training process. The first hiccup occurred when two tablet computers kept crashing for no apparent reason. Without extra tablets or any technical support on the ground, it took Laura almost the full first week to identify and then fix the problem – outdated graphics cards.
The students also helped identify necessary changes to the survey, including mistranslations and cultural gaps. For example, one survey question originally asked participants to distinguish between blue and green shapes on their tablet screens. However, because certain Indonesian subcultures do not differentiate between these colors, they were modified to red and purple. Similarly, one potential survey location was dropped because its residents did not speak the national language, and interpreters could not be used. “Plenty of problems had to be solved along the way,” Laura said.
Laura also encountered challenges when explaining survey methods to the students. In addition to language barriers, cultural norms occasionally conflicted with ethical norms such as informed consent and confidentiality. For example, in Indonesia it is considered rude not to enter a person’s house if invited in, although survey etiquette requires enumerators to conduct their surveys outside the home. To practice navigating such circumstances, students spent two days in the field after the initial training period and then reviewed the experience with Laura. “I think going into another culture will always present problems that are unforeseen,” Laura said. “There are always going to be technical problems as well.”
Despite unexpected complications, Laura’s team ultimately achieved their objectives. “I would just work through as best I could,” she said. “I was there to problem solve.” She added that she enjoyed herself overall because of both the time she spent with the students and the experience of implementing a research project in another country. “It was really exciting to see that we could design something and take it all the way across the world and implement it there,” Laura said.
Data collection from East Java and North Sumatra wrapped up in October, and the project’s next step will be to consolidate the information from all eight survey versions into a usable format by mid-December. This data will then be analyzed and used to inform pilot programs by the ILO. In the meantime, an ongoing seminar discussion by the IR Program invites faculty and students to participate in the research by making the data available for anyone at Tufts to study. For more information on the seminar, email John Taylor at email@example.com.