Tri Widayati is the first woman in her family – and her village too, she thinks – to find employment. At 18, soon after graduating from high school, she left her small village in Klaten regency in Central Java for Bekasi, a satellite town of the capital, Jakarta.

“Every woman in my village, once they get married, they just stay at home and look after the children,” including her mother and sister, Tri said.

“I wanted to come here for self improvement. If I had just stayed in the village it would be the same old life and there’d be no progress,” she said, sitting in the office of a workers’ union in Bekasi.

It was the end of March and I was in Bekasi to speak to female migrant workers employed in hundreds of factories here. I wanted to get a sense of how they live and work, what they thought of the imminent parliamentary elections and where they see Indonesia heading on women’s rights.

The polls, taking place today, April 9, are the fourth since Indonesia emerged from three decades of dictatorship under President Suharto in 1998. Presidential elections are due in July. The pictures of party leaders and presidential hopefuls in voting booths remind me of the numerous women I interviewed during that visit.