Indonesia in the Atlas of Global Injustice

Book Review

  • Title: The Atlas of Global Inequalities
  • Authors: Ben Crow and Suresh K Lodha
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Number of pages: 128
The Greek philosopher Aristotle said 2,300 years ago that “there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people”. This illustrates not only the fact that there is nothing new about inequality as it has been the phenomena since thousands years ago, but also explains what equality is: it’s all about equal opportunity.

Recent publication of The Atlas of Global Inequalities (2011) provides a global perspective on what are the key problems of inequalities we are facing today at global level. The atlas gives shape and meaning to statistics, making it an important resource for understanding global inequalities, and provides perspective for social and political action.

The authors, Ben Crow and Suresh K Lodha, carefully define inequality by describing the goal of equality which expresses the idea that each person should have comparable freedoms across a range of dimensions. Inequalities, according to the authors, are constraints that impede accomplishment of those freedoms; it is the differences in society which considered unjust, violate a moral norm, and when it is capable of being changed (p.9).

Four causes of inequality

Crow and Lodha who are Professor of Sociology and Professor of Computer Science at the
University of California Santa Cruz respectively, briefly explain four key causes of inequality. First is exploitation which is an extraction of value by a superior group from an inferior group, such as employers using low-paid labor. Second is exclusion, that is the discrimination by one group excluding another such as racism. Third is distantiation which reflects in economic mechanisms such as the bonus culture that result in a widening distance between low-ranking workers and CEOs. And fourth is hierarchy, which is a number of advantages or privileges within formal organizations such as rank within an administration, corporation, or army (p.9-13).

Categorized in thematic parts, The Atlas of Global Inequalities maps a comprehensive picture of inequality that underlies many of the challenges facing the world today. It covers seven key themes with all their issues and dimensions: (1) economic inequalities, (2) power inequalities, (3) social inequalities, (4) inequalities of access, (5) health inequalities, (6) educational inequalities, and (7) environmental inequalities. By presenting a concise narrative, showing innovative and eye-catching graphics, and intriguing world, regional and country maps, the authors unravel the complexity of every single issue of inequalities in the global context.

Under economic inequalities, the issue of “work and unemployment” provides the fact that in
China and India the contribution of agriculture fell with an increase in service and industry (p.22), which also applies to many Asian developing countries including Indonesia.

Developing countries like
Indonesia has a higher proportion of its population employed in agriculture than in industry and service, but agriculture does not add as much to the economy as industry and service do. The graphic in this section shows the sectoral contribution to world’s GDP: 63 per cent from service, 31 per cent from industry, and 6 per cent from agriculture (data 2007, p.23). This part also underlines that in some countries more than 70 per cent of people are employed in the informal sector, which is also the case for Indonesia.

Women, child and hunger

“Gender” issue under social inequalities explains a serious problem of discrimination against women. It is the most widespread and longest standing inequality. The section highlights that the “bias against women is reflected in their unequal political and economic participation and influence, in their longer hours in unpaid work, and in the preference for sons over daughters” (p.41).

China in 2007, for 100 boys aged 0-4 years there were only 80 girls (p.41), and women in India spend 9 times the hours of men on domestic work (p.40). Although in this issue Indonesia is not specifically highlighted, many researches have found the prevalence of the discrimination against women in the country.

The authors also describe how inadequate health services, unsafe water, and barriers to education that hinder people’s ability to attain their wishes and live their lives to the full. Women and children are the most vulnerable to most of inequalities, particularly to the incidence of chronic hunger that related mostly to power and politics rather than scarcity of the food.

As more than 60 per cent of chronically hungry people are women, and a child dies every 6 seconds from hunger and related causes, the issue of hunger is one of the most devastating dimensions of inequality.
Indonesia is among the highest rank in child mortality and malnutrition, as 54 per cent of child deaths in the country are attributable to the effects of mild to sever malnutrition (p.55).

graphic for this part illustrates the regional incidence of chronic hunger during the period of 2003-2005, which shows not less than 849 million people in the world were suffering from chronic hunger. Despite the ratio of people who are hungry has generally been declining, the actual number of malnourished people has been increasing. And even though the countries with the highest prevalence of under-nutrition are largely found in Sub-Saharan Africa, but India contains the largest number of undernourished people (p.54-55).


Rapid deforestation is another dimension of the global inequalities. It has a negative environmental impact and threatens the livelihoods of a quarter of the world’s population, and especially for some people forest is essential for their life: 60 million indigenous people in the world depend completely on forest, while 350 million others depend heavily on it.

However, deforestation, particularly in
Indonesia and Brazil, is shrinking the forested areas, putting hundreds million of people’s life on stake. Brazil and Indonesia accounted for 68 per cent of the world’s deforestation or 178 thousands hectares per year! (p.90-91).

Overall the atlas is rich in data and information. Like many other atlases, it is more descriptive rather than analytical. Among other key statistics provided in country-wise, it included with the latest statistics of total population, GNI per capita, Gini index, Human Development Index, food expenditure, military expenditure, and national minimum wage (p.102-117).

Depending on our purpose, for instance by comparing specific statistics of
Indonesia with other countries, it will tell us where is Indonesia’s position in the global injustice, which provides us understanding and perspective on what would be our social and political actions.
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