A gender perspective to value chain analysis for wood-furniture industry upgrading: A case of Jepara, Central Java - Indonesia

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Furniture making is an important economic activity in Indonesia most especially in the central Javanese regency of Jepara. Jepara's pedigree in furniture making is embodied in the wood carving skills that date many centuries ago and today Jepara has evolved into a furniture industrial district in Indonesia. Although furniture making has been a mainstay of most inhabitants in Jepara; the intense local competition has compromised the profitability of this industry. Thus it is crucial to find ways for upgrading if the livelihoods of the dependents are to be improved as well as the industry's contribution to national economic growth optimized. A six months (March through August; 2010) socio-economic study intended to complement the ongoing upgrading process was conducted to bridge the knowledge gap of the place of the prevailing gender relations in this industry's upgrading process. A total of 139 observations involving the main actors in the chain are informing this study. The study reveals that both male and female workers are actively involved at every node of this value chain conducting mainly primary and support activities respectively. However; more males than females are engaged in furniture value addition at the moment. Furthermore; both male and female workers' skills are lacking although women's skills may be much poorer than men in this regard. This skill gap between male and female workers in Jepara affects considerably their respective returns to labour. Additionally; women's active involvement in furniture value addition is further constrained by socio-cultural environment that dictates gender and the resultant family power relations. However; both male and female skills can be enabled in order to achieve cost and differentiation advantages respectively. Such advantages may drive down costs of production considerably thereby forming a major competitive advantage for this industry. But for women to increasingly get involved; the socio-cultural environment needs to be upgraded first.

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