Cover Story / March 2019

Leading and Defining Indonesia

From high-ranking government officials shaping Indonesia’s national policies, to an accidental face in the fight against sexual harassment; from chief executives of the country’s largest corporations to the technology startup founder committed to providing job opportunities for the disabled; from critically acclaimed film directors, to the self-proclaimed “Trash Princess,” women across Indonesia are leading and defining the country’s government, corporate world, professional landscape, tech ecosystem, creative sector and social activism.

Their voices, achievements and stories have been an inspiration to millions of Indonesians, both male and female. GlobeAsia’s inaugural list of Indonesia’s 99 Most Inspiring Women pays homage to half of the country’s population that are all too often underrepresented. Indeed, this year marks the first time we at GlobeAsia diverged from creating a list of Indonesia’s 99 most powerful women, instead choosing to highlight the members of our society through a more exhaustive and comprehensive lens: their inspirational impact on the Indonesian psyche.

Had we simply continued to publish the list of Indonesia’s most powerful women as we have done since 2007, we would not have been able to highlight the plight of Baiq Nuril, a schoolteacher in Indonesia’s far-flung province of West Nusa Tenggara, who was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of Rp 500 million ($35,000) by the Supreme Court for sharing a voice recording of the former head of the school where she worked verbally harassing her. Nor would we have been able to profile Tatong Bara, the re-elected mayor of Kotamobagu, a little-known city in North Sulawesi, which under her leadership has won 49 national accolades between 2013 and 2017, including awards for good governance, urban planning and as Indonesia’s cleanest city in 2016.

By listing Indonesia’s most inspiring women, we are also able to salute the likes of Rini Soemarno, Indonesia’s minister of state-owned-enterprises, who was instrumental in the recent sale of PT Freeport Indonesia to state-owned mining holding company PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium (Inalum).

The stories of these women that fill GlobeAsia’s first quarterly publication in truth represent a small fraction of the inspiring stories that can be found around us daily, the stories of our mothers and daughters and sisters, of our peers and employees and leaders. By highlighting the stories of Indonesia’s 99 Most Inspiring Women, the GlobeAsia editorial team envision that year by year, issue by issue, the nation’s women will be better represented, better treated and better served. For as inspiring as the stories of these women are, there is still much to do to ensure that Indonesia’s future is equally led and defined by women.

Underrepresented, Underutilized, Underserved

It is evident that this future is still far from being realized. From Indonesia’s public arena to private sector to society as a whole, Indonesia has insufficiently capitalized on the potential, and inadequately protected the rights, of women. The Indonesian government currently suffers from low female representation. Only 17 percent of seats in the House of Representatives are filled by women. The April legislative election will hopefully improve this statistic, as all 16 national political parties have met the government regulation requiring a minimum of 30 percent female candidates. Across the country, only 9 percent of regional leaders are women. In the judicial branch, representation is comfortingly higher, with 27 percent of judges nationwide being women.

Yet overall, these low numbers realistically mean that Indonesia is limiting the possibility of greater holistic national development. A case study in India by the Poverty Action Lab and the United Nations revealed that increased women participation in government has led to “heightened police responsiveness to crimes against women, improvements in children’s nutrition and educational outcomes,” in addition to progressive health care, public good and labor reform.

In the private sector, the numbers also paint a less than ideal picture. With women making up nearly 50 percent of Indonesia’s population, the workforce participation rate of women amounts to only 52 percent of the female workforce, compared with the 82 percent participation rate of males. As Indonesia enters a period of so-called “demographic bonus,” where we are meant to enjoy a surge in the working-age, productive segments of the population, the low participation of women in the workforce could potentially turn this phenomenon into a curse of high unemployment rates. The International Labor Organization also noted that Indonesia’s informal sector is predominantly composed of women, leaving them unprotected and undocumented, and exposed to increased risk of discrimination and abuse.

Much like the inherent limitations imposed by low female representation in government, businesses are also likely to suffer without a balanced gender mix. A Harvard Kennedy School study from as far back as 2013 clearly showed that “teams of employees with lower percentages of women have lower sales and lower profits than teams with a balanced gender mix.”

A recent conversation with Indonesia’s minister of labor, Muhammad Hanif Dhakiri, revealed a commitment to improving the working landscape for women. While several proposed programs were discussed that positively impact both men and women, including skills training and improved unemployment benefit schemes, a handful were geared specifically to improve female participation in the workforce. Such laws include one that incentivizes the promotion and protection of part-time workers. Given their biological role in child-bearing, and cultural role in child-rearing, part-time work is an arrangement often preferred by women. Realization of this plan will work towards shifting women away from the undocumented and unprotected informal sector.

Yet sadly, even on the most basic level, Indonesia has not done enough when it comes to the protection of women both at home and in the workplace.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women, or Komnas Perempuan, noted last year that the reported incidents of violence and abuse against women continue to increase year by year. Oddly enough, this statistic may actually positively reflect that Indonesian women are now more willing to report such cases, as the reality is a significant number go unreported due to cultural restraints.

Regardless, the situation remains intolerable, as the country’s minister of women’s empowerment and child protection, Yohana Yembise, stated in October 2018: “one in three Indonesian women between the ages of 15 and 65 experienced abuse within their lifetimes.” Baiq Nuril’s profile serves as a reminder to Indonesia that such cases of abuse against women abound, and like her, we must set an example in our daily lives to speak up and act to safeguard against such practices.

Be it in the private or public sector, from the boardroom to the courtroom, at the office and at home, the role of women must continue to expand.

Ironically, in an ideal world, GlobeAsia would not need to publish this list of Indonesia’s 99 Most Inspiring Women. Doing so begs the question of why we felt the need to specifically highlight women, as if they would not be able to be compete on a list that was blind to gender. This is not the case. The fact remains that Indonesia has a long way to go before reaching a point where equal opportunities and representation and protection are given and achieved and experienced by women. So long as this mismatch exists in Indonesia, this list will remain relevant, as it serves to not merely laud the achievements and stories of the women that shape this country, but also as a reminder of the difficult journey these inspiring women are spearheading in expediting a future equitably led, defined, and enjoyed by women.