Jokowi praised for record number of women in Cabinet

Whether by choice or accident, Indonesian President Joko Widodo's 34-strong Cabinet has a record number of eight women ministers, earning him praise for raising the profile of women as some hold important portfolios.

They comprise a mix of politicians and bureaucrats, and include surprise picks like high-school dropout turned successful owner of charter plane company Susi Pudjiastuti as maritime and fisheries minister and diplomat Retno Marsudi as the first female foreign minister.

"At least five female ministers are in key ministries and in a strategic position to reduce or even eliminate poverty to which women are vulnerable," said Ms Dian Kartikasari, secretary-general of the Coalition of Women, a women's advocacy group.

Immediate past president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had four women ministers in his first Cabinet and six in the second. These included highly respected women like his finance minister and now managing director of the World Bank Sri Mulyani Indrawati and first trade and then tourism and creative economy minister Mari Elka Pangestu.

While South-east Asia's largest economy has been booming in the past decade, women are still paid less than men and tend to work in the informal sector.

Activists say there is neither enough awareness nor importance placed on raising women's issues in government.

However, they are hoping that the increase in female ministers means these issues will be more adequately addressed.

The eight women ministers make up 24 per cent of the Cabinet, putting Indonesia above the global average of 17 per cent, according to data from the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, an association of the world's Parliaments.

This is higher than Britain's five women out of 22 ministers and three out of 16 in the United States, but lower than France's 17 or half of its 34-member Cabinet. Singapore has one female minister out of 18, or about 6 per cent.

"Indonesia is largely a patriarchal society, but we are getting progressive in the region in terms of campaigning for women's rights," said Ms Nelly Armayanti, a gender studies lecturer at Medan University Indonesia.

She pointed out that Indonesia is among a few countries in South-east Asia that have had a female president. Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri became president in 2001, and before that, Mrs Corazon Aquino of the Philippines was president in 1986.

But the appointment of the eight women has not been without criticism.

Sceptics say some of the choices were more a result of political interference by Ms Megawati, the chairman of Mr Joko's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), than of the women's own capabilities. They cited as examples the appointments of Ms Megawati's daughter Puan Maharani as coordinating minister for human development and culture, and her former trade and industry minister and loyalist, Ms Rini Soemarno, as state-owned enterprise minister.

But Ms Puan has rebuffed these allegations, while Ms Rini's predecessor, Mr Dahlan Iskan, defended her credentials, saying she was an effective CEO at carmaker Astra.

Meantime, Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi, a mother of three who sports tattoos on her legs, was flamed online when it surfaced that she had kicked off her heels after Sunday's declaration of the Cabinet line-up and sat on the presidential palace's lawn to smoke.

She was also slammed for the tattoos.

"I am a bit upset because it affects my concentration," she was quoted as saying in response to the personal attacks. But she added: "I will prove (that) if I have a responsibility, I will carry it out."

Those who defended her said her hard work was more important than awards or educational qualifications. "The tattoos are her personal matter. More importantly, she is not a criminal, and that she became successful because of her hard work," said netizen Eddy Yusran on Facebook.

Female politician Sumenep Dwita Andriyani from National Mandate Party also defended Ms Susi, and said Mr Joko's choice of women like her and Ms Rini showed he was not thinking along gender lines, but selected ministers based on their capabilities.

"Success is not dependent on the level of education. So far, these women have shown that they have been successful in their chosen fields.

"As women, we also want them to show that women are as capable as men, without compromising our natural differences," she was quoted by Republika daily as saying.

Susi Pudjiastuti, 49, Maritime and Fisheries Minister

A MOTHER of three, she is the founder-owner of Susi Air Charter Plane and ASI Pudjiastuti Marine Products, a fish distribution company with processing facilities that supply lobsters, fish and prawns under the "Susi Brand" label.

A high-school dropout, she spied an opportunity to make money by supplying fish to wholesalers after buying them from fishermen off the Pangandaran coast in south Java.

As demand soared, she started Susi Air to deliver the freshest fish to clients.

At present, Susi Air has as many as 50 small planes comprising Cessnas, Avantis and Porters, carving a niche by flying to remote regions not served by larger jets.

Retno Marsudi, 51, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Indonesia's first female foreign minister is a career diplomat with a bachelor's degree in international relations and a master's degree in law.

The mother of two has served as the Foreign Ministry's director-general for Europe and America, and as an ambassador to Norway and the Netherlands before she was appointed as foreign minister.

She is expected to reinforce Indonesia's interests as a maritime power in line with President Joko's vision, as he attends multilateral forums such as the ASEAN Summit, East Asia Summit and Apec in the coming weeks.

Siti Nurbaya, 58, Minister for Environment and Forestry

A CIVIL servant since 1979, she started her career as head of planning and regional development in the farming community of Lampung in South Sumatra.

The mother of two has a master's degree from the International Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences in the Netherlands, and a doctorate from Bogor Agricultural Institute.

Ms Siti, who was named a role model civil servant in 2004, has received state honours and medals from the president in 2010 and 2011 for her contribution to the service. Last year, she resigned from the civil service to join politics full-time with the National Democrat party (Nasdem).

She has pointed to fighting forest fires as her first priority as minister.


This article was first published on Oct 31, 2014.
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