Addressing barriers to decent work in Indonesia


As the average population of Indonesia grows older, more and more older people continue to be productive and contribute to the economy.  

However, evidence regarding decent work in Indonesia is limited and particularly lacking when it comes to informal work in rural areas.  

Decent work

Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for all, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

Older woman Indonesia

Examining decent work in Indonesia

To identify the challenges and barriers to decent work, HelpAge International, Yayasan Emong Lansia Indonesia and SurveyMETER conducted a research study on businesses and working conditions of older women entrepreneurs in Central Java, Indonesia.

The focus was on their quality of work, motivation to develop their businesses and key challenges they are facing. 

Access the report here

Our research has thrown up some interesting findings: 

  • Most older women entrepreneurs in rural areas are still working to earn money and be financially independent. 
  • Barriers to business are mostly related to economic factors, such as limited market demand, market competition, high operational cost and cost of materials. 
  • Three out of five older women entrepreneurs in the study work excessive working hours.
  • Older women entrepreneurs with junior high school or higher educational level are likely to have a higher income (more than IDR 1,500,000/USD 100) compared to women with lower levels of education. 
  • Older women aged 70 and above, and especially those with a higher level of education are more likely to have a health insurance. 
  • Those living with a larger number of household members and working in the service sector tend to not have sufficient savings for retirement. 

Savings to kickstart their business 

In rural areas, most older women dip into their savings (63 per cent) to launch a business, with just 16 per cent taking a loan to start a business. Most older women entrepreneurs did not take loans for their business needs in the last 12 months, mainly because they did not want to be burdened by debt. This indicates that the absence of loans is their own choice.  

Limited support from family 

Society perceives older women to have limited abilities and lack business development expertise. Additionally, older women encounter limited support from their family to continue working, primarily driven by concerns for their health and wellbeing.  

Economic barriers to business 

Older women entrepreneurs face many economic barriers in running their businesses, especially limited market demand and higher competition.  

Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have changed their buying habits. As the markets become quieter, older women entrepreneurs have experienced a decline in sales.  

They also face intense competition from younger rivals who have more energy and excel at performing tasks swiftly and efficiently. As a result, older women feel a sense of helplessness, recognising limitations in what they could do. 

Unsafe working environment 

About 50 per cent of the older women entrepreneurs have an unhealthy business location and are not using any personal protective equipment. The majority undertake physically burdening business activities.  

Financial benefits 

Most older women entrepreneurs (89 per cent) have low income. However, almost all agree that their businesses provided financial benefits. And so, they often endure challenging working conditions when running their businesses.  

Emotional effects 

The proportion of older women entrepreneurs who feel sad/burdened is high for those who work outside their home. They might be worried about their safety, especially because of unfavourable conditions like bad weather.   

But, thanks to their business, social connections are forged as well. A trader at the market explained that interacting with other people makes her job more enjoyable.  

She said: “It is nice when customers keep coming to my kiosk, either to buy or just to chat with me. They also give an update about what is happening right now.” 

Low social protection 

65 per cent of older women entrepreneurs in the study are not saving for retirement. This is concerning because only 8.52 per cent of older people’s households in Indonesia have a pension guarantee.

HelpAge and partners in Indonesia distributed food and hygiene kits during COVID-19.

Recommendations to overcome barriers to decent work in Indonesia 

  • Empower older women to improve their welfare and increase their income 
  • Provide education to older people’s carers and family members to support older women entrepreneurs’ wellbeing
  • Provide financial management education including the importance of savings for retirement 
  • Raise awareness of the importance of health insurance and a healthy work life 
  • Revise loan and credit regulations especially regarding the maximum age limit (59 years) for borrowing business capital 
  • Improve public infrastructure, taking into consideration the needs and physical condition of vulnerable groups, such as older people
  • Enhance supporting environmentsSupport from family members can help address existing constraints and challenges, which is especially important for older women motivated to expand or develop their business.