Who is this modern Indonesian woman? What are her attributes and beliefs? What differentiates her from her predecessor? Today’s modern Indonesian woman is driven to create her own identity. She is tech-savvy, educated, optimistic and action-oriented. She is conscious of her physical fitness and mindful of the food she eats and serves to her family. She is modern yet traditional and radiates charm and tries to balance work and home life and is free to learn, travel and raise her children as responsible citizens of tomorrow. She is the nucleus of a happy home. We met some women to see how they were handling multiple roles and responsibilities as mothers, wives and career women.
IndoConnect spoke to several women members of the diaspora in Singapore to see how still relevant is Ibu Radeng Adjeng Kartini to the women here today. Nomita Dhar, first spoke to Ni Nyoman Mahaswi Astama, the wife of HE I Gede Ngurah Swajaya, the new Ambassador of Indonesia who shared her story and thoughts on the matter with us.
Ni Nyoman Mahaswi Astama
Indonesia Ambassador’s Wife
Looking After Family & Country’s Interests
Ni Nyoman Mahaswi Astama is a perfect amalgamation of tradition and modernity. While, in her smile she still retains the school girl charm, her education as a lawyer and her lifelong learning through her travels worldwide, make her a beautiful representation of today’s Indonesian woman. She has all the attributes of Ibu Kartini, the prominent Indonesian national heroine from Java, who has been idealised as the country’s own “Dream Woman”.
Ibu Mahaswi was born in Denpasar, the capital of the beautiful island of Bali, known to her friends as Ibu Swi, she has been in Singapore for over two months and says while she is more than settled, her mantra for all her postings has always been, “ to accept and adapt to the host country and make a conscious decision to be happy, be active in enhancing people-to-people contact, improve ties and make everlasting friendships”.
“I studied law in the University of Udayana, Bali where I met my husband, but as he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was unable to practice law and I have been supporting and following him, in his agenda to promote the interests of Indonesia and my education has come in handy “. She has done inspiring work in promoting the interests of Indonesia when she followed her husband to the Indonesia Embassy in Bonn, Germany, in Bonn; the next foreign posting was in New York where was part of the Indonesian Permanent Mission to the United Nations; next was to his first posting as Indonesia’s Ambassador to Cambodia and by 2010 she found herself back in Jakarta as her husband became Indonesia’s Permanent Representative at ASEAN where she was also the President of the ASEAN Women’s Circle.
She takes her role as the wife of the Ambassador seriously as she also seek to inspire their two children, son Putu Prima Apri Swajaya and Made Bella Octavina Swajaya, who are both perusing careers of their choice: Prima is a business consultant based in Surabaya and Bella in advertising in Jakarta. “These days the children are different, you cannot ask them to choose a career of your choice, like become a doctor, or diplomat, but you have to advise them to do their best in what they choose to do and not only do well at work but contribute to the society and lead a meaningful life”.
I am happy to be celebrating Ibu Kartini’s birthday here in Singapore, Kartini’s concerns were not only in the area of the emancipation of women, but also other problems of the society. Kartini saw that the struggle for women to obtain their freedom, autonomy and legal equality was just part of a wider movement; it was very futuristic. She would be happy to see how far Indonesian women have come.”
The ideals that Ibu Kartini represents are universal and there is no denying women’s rights have come a long way since the era when Ibu Kartini lived in the 18th century. Today, Ibu Mahaswi is focussed on helping her husband – as his wife and life-partner – build on the ties of both countries. She felt that even though Indonesia and Singapore are next door neighbours, there is still tremendous scope to get to know each other even better, “Indonesia is rich in culture and has so much natural beauty. I would like more Singaporeans to visit my country. I have visited Singapore, many times before this posting, for example, the medical care here is very good, the doctors take special care of patients. With their very positive and caring attitude, you feel immediately better! There is a lot of scope for Indonesia and Singapore to work together.”
Survivor Who Never Gives Up
Lita Kadartin was born in Jakarta, the oldest of four children. She loves swimming and dancing since the time she was able to walk; so much so that her mother enrolled her in a dance school when she was just five years old!
Academically she excelled graduating from Gunadarma University in Information Management. But it was her love of dancing that saw her participated in a cultural dance delegation to Bogota which was where she met her husband, Ridwan Hassan, who is now the Indonesian Embassy Charge d’Affairs in Singapore.
Family commitments (they now have three children) and diplomatic –related activities have scaled down greatly her favourite pastime dancing but she recalled there was nothing growing up that had stopped her from pursuing and becoming anything she wanted to be and she felt that this is one of the legacies Indonesian women enjoy now thanks to Ibu Kartini.
Lita has met many challenges in life and appreciates how just like Kartini one must never give up the fight. A cancer survivor, she was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2004 and she received a double blow when she learnt at that time too that her twin daughters were mildly autistic. “Because of so much love from my husband and all my family, I eventually recovered. I also have to thank Dr Aisah Dahlan’s self-healing course that helped me to manage the pain and stress so that I have been able to also take care of my children. Today, my eldest son who is 19, is studying in one of the best universities in Indonesia and the twins are coping well with being in the mainstream classes at Sekolah Indonesia Singapura… Alhamdullilah. And no, they have not taken up dancing like their mother but they like singing, music and painting instead.”
She also shared her favourite quotations from Albert Einstein who said, ‘Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them’ and Dale Carnegie who was quoted ‘Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.’ This determined ‘daughter of Kartini’ declared, “I never give up in anything.”
Eva Rina Indrana
Family comes first
Eva Rina Indrana’s family was originally from Medan. Eva holds a Bachelor in Economic Development degree and has worked as the Bank Manager and later as a director in a finance company. But her impressive educational and work background has not detract her from her current goal in life. She says, “My main interest in just to make my family happy.” She moved to Singapore with her three daughters to be with her husband, Pak Dwi Kurnia Indrana Miftach, who is in-charge of the Indonesian Embassy’s Information, Social and Cultural section. She sees it as an a natural extension of her role as wife and mother to first support her husband in his endeavours and take care of the family. For her, the main difference between the era Kartini lived in and today is, “Indonesia has already proven to the world that it respects gender equality when the country voted for a woman president. This is further seen in the many women lawyers, dentists, doctors, high ranking officers in the police and military forces. They were not around during Kartini’s time.”
On what can be done to build on Kartini’s achievements for the women of tomorrow, she replied, “We should keep up our focus on religion – do not let this slip and remain respectful to our husband and parents. Have a strong will to keep on trying, do not ever give up or surrender easily for our rights and everything that we want to achieve.”
Monique Patricia MM
Enterpreneur & Performer
Unique Mix of Business & Artistic Flair
Arts is definitely in her blood with outstanding talent in the performing arts. The beautiful soprano voice of this Ambonese lady, blossomed by professional vocal training in a music school. She had a golden opportunity to get a singing scholarship in London as the best student from the school but forego that, bearing the responsibility as the eldest child of six in the family and they were raised by only by their mum when she was 14 years old. Her musical talent mixed with her dancing knowledge of traditional Javanese and ballet-jazz made her able to produce and direct a number of musicals and concerts in Indonesia and Singapore.
She has worked in multinational companies such as Philips Indonesia, the Medco Group of Companies and the last position she had was at Andalan Artha Advisindo, a security company (finance non-bank) as the Head of Administration after the company sent her for studies in Hongkong for her qualifications in Human Resources for Financial Institution for a better understanding of business and management.
Blending her business, management and arts’ experiences, gave her the capability and courage to eventually establish her own company, Xnique Biz, then later Pan Premix International Pte Ltd. Her gutsy philosophy in business is, “I believe a person who never made a mistake has never tried anything new”. A real fighter, who with support from her business partner, Kian Tjoa, now runs Pan Premix Netherlands BV. It is an event and travel management company in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The start-up scored a feather in its cap when it successfully managed to organise the Indonesian Pavilion for the Indonesian Ministry of Trade supported by Indonesian Embassy in The Hague at the Ethnic Food Europe 2015 at Amsterdam RAI. “You have to keep your relationship with your God. HE is the one who guide me and gives me strength!”
Presently, she is also the Treasurer General of Indonesian Diaspora Network (IDN) Global and the Advisor of Forum Komunikasi Masyarakat Indonesia di Singapura (FKMIS)/IDN Singapore which she was also the co-founder and the President in the period of 2013-2015.
Talking about Kartini, she told IndoConnect, “Maybe I have missed a father’s figure, but I have a caring husband, Chris Natahusada, and I was surrounded by lots of powerful women! My late grandma, Oma Jo; my aunt, Josta Rumahlaiselan; my mom, Wilma Patiinama; and my high school principle, Sr. Francesco Marianti, OSU were those who gave me a strong influence to become who I am at the moment. So, my Kartini were them especially my mom. She once said to me that only dead people could not do anything more, but as long as we are alive, we could do anything we have to do and do it with integrity!” One of Kartini’s inspirational phrases that has inspired her is “Aku mau” (I can do it). “You have to have that positive attitude. I believe it will help drive you to reach your goals. I can see that my only daughter, Chrischantelle Natahusada (almost 9 years old), is having this kind of spirit, too….”
Sri Astuti Sholikhin
Strength and Belief in Education
Ibu Astuti is an embodiment of the strength of the human spirit and the devotion of a mother’s heart. IndoConnect asked what inspired her about Kartini? She said like many other Indonesian mothers, she has big dreams for her children and just like Kartini, she firmly believed that education is the key to succeed in life. So in 1989, she had to leave her family behind to come to Singapore to find the means to fulfil her children’s aspirations financially.
After working as a domestic helper here for decades, she will be retiring this September and returning to her family in Indonesia to spend a well-earned rest with her happily married and well-employed children. They are Asma Khozin (eldest, of age 37), Ita Asni and Sri Uliani have off springs of their own now, making Ibu Astuti a grandmother of seven. She said she was glad that it will soon be going to be a happy ending.
However, like in every fairy tale, she intimated that there first come the times that were very difficult and tragic. She is most proud of her special achievements in life – her children, whom she has played an enormous role in their success today. A few years ago she asked her elder two children whether they wanted to go to university and vowed to them that she would ensure they would have enough funds.
She spent years doing back-breaking work and whenever it was time to pay admission fees she would borrow money from her employer and work for months to make up for that money by working on a heavily reduced salary. Her determination to give her children a fair shot at life led to both her children graduating from university. Her elder son is a graduate from Universitas Islam Indonesia in Jakarta. Her second daughter is more family-oriented and chose not to go to university but rather stay focussed on her own children and work. However, even today Ms Astuti says despite her age, she would work to fund her third child through university if she ever changes her mind.
She is indeed a reflection of the immense struggle countless mothers face when they come to Singapore in the search of work; and more importantly, how they return triumphant.
Homemaker & Jewellery Designer
Busy Working Mum
Jakarta born and bred, Diana Brunner, moved to Singapore with her Swiss husband in 2010. She is today the proud mother of two sons (5 and 3 years of age) who were born here. Though the family loves living in the island republic, there are plans move back to Zurich for the children’s education as the parents want them to complete their tertiary studies in Switzerland. Cosmopolitan, well-travelled and already familiar working in the corporate world before moving to Singapore, she shared her concerns about how Kartini’s contributions to women’s emancipation will not result in working women being so caught up in their careers.
She said, “But sometimes, many of them are just too busy chasing their own careers and neglect their natural role as wives and mothers. Many of them might not even be interested in marriage and having children. I was working and enjoying a good career in the logistics industry. I helped expatriates from many big companies in Indonesia but when I met my husband, I knew that I just want to be a wife and a mother.” It did not mean, though, one needs to stop working completely. “I slowly build on my passion in making jewelry from home. I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful husband who is very supportive in what I do.” By 2013, she founded Amedes Jewelry, where she designed and marketed her line of jewelry in Singapore, Bali and Jakarta. If Kartini was alive today, she felt that one thing that the Indonesian national heroine would encourage is learning from travel, “Our family loves to travel and I would like to take my children to as many different destination as possible, I want them to see the world, traveling will open their minds, creativity and thinking outside the box.”
Floral Stylist & Hospitality Specialist
From Housewife to Business Owner
Leli came to Singapore in 1995, and worked as a Singapore Airlines stewardess before she eventually married to a Singaporean pilot. She now has a 17-year old daughter. In 2015, she opened her own floral boutique – Twig and Twine. Her family and friends firmly backed her to turn her passion in flower making into today a successful business venture catering from weddings to corporate events, flower orders, conducting workshops, taking part in many charitable events and collaborating and partnering with companies. She has learnt much on her own in the business world. Her philosophy is one does best if whatever one does is with love, passion, and faith. She now is also involved in the annual Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix Hospitality Team and villa rental business in Bali.
Leli admits she has been inspired by the life of Kartini and she also owes some of her entrepreneurial spirit and courage embarking on new ventures by Kartini’s life story. She said, “Thinking back on what a woman could do back then, or rather, was allowed to do, I truly believe that Indonesian society has changed and evolved quite a bit. Women are not just playing their duties as wife and mother any longer, but as partners, fellow colleagues, and people whom you can discuss with, in nearly in all aspects of life. One very important landmark for us, is that women are given the same opportunity to achieve the same level education as men. And in Indonesian women history, the name Kartini is a truly heroic one. She was the first woman who fought for women’s emancipation, that women has equal rights as men, in education, social treatments and job opportunity.
“Of course, as a woman, my priority is still family, everything else comes second and third and so on. Thus, life balance is essential if you are to reach out for other opportunities beyond family matters. And I truly believe that this is what Kartini wants us, women, to be.”
Indonesia Offers Better Opportunities
Rita Mulani was born in Surabaya but her grandparents came to Indonesia during the Hindustan-Pakistan war. Rita’s dad was just three months old when the migrant family settled in Indonesia. He grew up and married a woman from Solo who gave birth to Rita. The second generation Indonesian Mulani went to a nursery school in Surabaya before moving to Jakarta for formal schooling. She loves Indonesia, speaking Bahasa fluently and greatly identifies with its culture and food. Rita married and settled in Singapore in the mid-90s, going into business with her husband, Mohan Mulani, to run a chain of themed food and beverage restaurants and bar as well as a hotel. In 2012, they sold their shares in the business and she concentrated on managing a children play and music centre franchise here. She also travels often to the Sub-Continent to visit relatives there and can compare the opportunities offered to women in Indonesia and says that she feels lucky to have been brought up in Indonesia. Rita recalled schooling in Jakarta, “We celebrated Hari Kartini Day in school with celebrations such as dances, essay competitions, dramas, to appreciate women’s education – and we were in a co-ed school!
“Education is so important to a women’s self-esteem. Her education and exposure should empower her to go out into the world and help others. Becoming just successful in a job does not make her a complete woman if she ignores her home and children.”
Homemaker & Charity Activist
Working on Worthy Causes
Irvina hails from Jakarta but her father is Bugis and mother is from Aceh. A graduate from the Hosta and HIM Hotel Management School in Switzerland, she had worked for hotel chains such as The Mandarin Oriental (Jakarta and Surabaya) and the Ritz Carlton Bali. Her last position was as an Assistant Director of Sales. She is married with two daughters and her husband is British and the family has been living in Singapore for almost 16 years. She is also the founder and past President of PWIS (Persatuan Wanita Indonesia Singapura). She keeps herself busy with many activities in her free time, from playing golf, flower arrangement, making jewellery and cooking. But what she enjoys most is doing charity work, “I love to spend time with the less fortunate, especially disabled children, much of this in Batam and Bandung. Seeing them grow and make progress in their lives gives me so much pleasure each time I visit. I feel content at how they appreciate all of our help.”
Being an Indonesian wife and mother has changed much since Kartini’s time, she says, “During Ibu Kartini’s time, we had no rights to receive any education, or even give our own opinion on anything. We lived to cook, clean the house and raise our children. Now, it’s so different. Women nowadays can receive the education that they deserve and pursue any career that they choose. As a mother of two daughters I want to become more than a mother, I want to be their best friend who they can chat with whenever they have any problems or concerns, either with their school, home or social life. As a wife, I believe we should all be open to our husbands, respect each other and always be open to each other because that is the key for a successful marriage.” Her answer to what is the one quality she would like to see in the daughters of tomorrow, “I want them to value their life, to be more appreciative of what they have now and I want them to share it with others, especially with the less fortunate children. I also want them to respect all individuals and treat them equally no matter who they are and where they come from.”
CEO WOWZ TV Station & Amazonia
Corporate Chief Asserts Women’s Rights
Rany hails from Jakarta, of Javanese descent on her father’s side (Solo) and her mother is from Padang. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from University of Melbourne and Master of Mass Communications from Deakin University Melbourne. Married to Colin Moran, they are blessed with two sons and have been living in Singapore for 11 years. Rany is the founder and CEO of Wowz Entertainment which covers a TV station, family entertainment centre Amazonia and F&B bistro in Singapore, Jakarta, KL and India. She is also a Director of Adavale Harner Resource, a family company with interests in mining, trading and commercial and hospitality properties. She is also the co-founder and actively committee member of Loaf Charity which is presently focussed on children education and health in Indonesia and Cambodia.
She feels that today’s world has seen great improvements in the social, economic, political and legal strength of (Indonesian) women, “We have achieved equal rights and we can freely live our life with a sense of self-worth, respect and dignity, and have complete control of our life, both within and outside home and workplace. We can make our own choices and decisions, we have equal rights to participate in social, religious and public activities. We have equal social status in the society, we have equal opportunity for education and employment opportunity without any gender bias in Indonesia
Women are even considered irreplaceable for certain jobs.
My hope is that young Indonesian women have a positive attitude and self-confidence to truly believe that anything is possible. It is also important they put forward their views. It is a very competitive world and you must speak up to defend your ground to succeed. They must be determined and at the same time be kind and compassionate. Use all these qualities positively along with their talents, skills and education as their role to be a good mother and educator for their children, daughter for their parents, wife for their husband, friends for their society and good leader for their community and nation.
From the Catwalk into the Design Studio
Riri Florance hails from Jakarta, of mixed parentage – her father and mother from Tegal (East Java) and from West Java (Bogor and Holland). She started a career in professional modelling at 14 while still schooling. “This was during the period when I also had the opportunity to work with famous models such as Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell when they visited Indonesia.” Her height, talent and exotic looks resulted in here being known as one of Indonesia’s earliest ‘supermodels’ and eventually winning the country’s top model award in 1987. She said after giving birth to her first son, she thought it was a good time to wind down modelling and pursue her passion in fashion design. She enrolled at the French fashion design school of École Supérieure Des Arts Et Techniques de la Mode (Esmod) majoring in Fashion Design and Pattern Making and has also learnt from such iconic designers such as Iwan Tirta and Oscar De La Renta. These amazing designers motivated her to
follow a career in fashion. She started her own boutique in Kemang, Jakarta designing and producing wedding dresses and haute couture for ladies attending the many balls in Jakarta. She said, “When I moved to Singapore I decided to keep my production facilities in Jakarta but design for my own ready-to-wear line instead called Riri by Riri.”
On what she feels about women’s emancipation and the how Kartini has affected the role of Indonesian women in society today, she shared: “Their roles are being affected by many factors including increasing modernisation in Indonesia, globalisation, improved education and advances in technology, while still upholding traditional
family ties and legacies.
“Indonesian women are taking a much more active role in Indonesian society as evidenced by the number of women ministers and even a women president. Like myself, they are adapting to the new roles in society of having a career as well as maintaining the traditional family role around husband and children. Many Indonesian men are also becoming more accepting and adapting to women’s new roles in society – this is a gradual change.
“This is a substantial shift from the days of Kartini where it was the exception for a woman to have a role outside of wife and mother. Polygamy was still common in those days.”
“I like to see myself as a mother who can teach my three children to become nurturing and to grow up and pursue their goals in life. I try to spend as much time as I can with them, even doing little things such as dropping and collecting them from school, preparing healthy food and helping them get as much exercise as possible by taking them on picnics to the beach and other excursions. I believe that giving them as much attention as possible will make them better people. I also try to show them that women can be mothers as well pursue their own careers and be financially independent.”