Gender Identity and Unpaid Carework: An Ethnography of the Lives of Female Indonesian Postgraduate Students and their Families in Australia

Ms Valentina Yulita Dyah Utari1

1University Of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

This paper is based on a PhD project on the everyday lives of Indonesian women engaging in postgraduate research studies in Australia, their husbands, and their children. I am investigating how Indonesian PhD students and their husbands negotiate their domestic responsibilities during their temporary migration. Once overseas, most of the student families lose their external support for domestic responsibilities that they had usually received in Indonesia. The dominant gender ideology in Indonesia prescribes gender expectations: a woman is a mother/housewife; a man is a breadwinner/leader. This state ideology was actively promoted by the New Order administration (1965-1998). The ideology, I argue, has been very much alive among today’s Indonesians, including among those living overseas. In relation to that, I am investigating how the students, their husbands, and their children perceive gender identities through unpaid carework. I propose that values related to religion, ethnicity, and politics play an important role in the negotiations between the students and their partners. This study uses in-depth interviews, direct observation, story-telling and picture-drawing. It will contribute to discussions on Indonesian women pursuing higher education overseas and the global scholarship on professional female migrants, unpaid carework and gender identity.


Utari is a PhD student in Asian Studies, School of Social Sciences, FABLE at UWA. She is in her first year. Her project is about the lives of female married Indonesian postgraduates and their families in Australia. She is inspired by female students/workers who often find it hard to balance their academic/work and domestic responsibilities.

Utari works as a qualitative researcher for The SMERU Research Institute, a research organisation based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Her interests cover gender and development, education, and social protection. She holds a master’s degree in development studies (gender and development) from the University of Melbourne.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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