Inspiring Indonesian women

Once upon a time in the late 1800s, there was an Indonesian woman whose ideas were revolutionary and ahead of her time. Although at that time women were fettered by tradition and were not allowed to go to school, she ignored the limits and fought for the rights of local girls and women to be given basic education. 

Her name was Raden Adjeng Kartini, and for over a century, her spirit and fearlessness are still widely celebrated every year on 21st April, which is known as Kartini Day. 

Keeping her spirit of heroism alive, these 8 inspiring Indonesian women have broken the glass ceiling and further contributed to gender equality and female empowerment in the country. 

1. Sri Mulyani – the first and only female finance minister

Image credit:@smindrawati

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, famously known as Sri Mulyani, is the first female and also the 2nd longest-running Finance Minister of Indonesia. Presently, she still holds the position and is the only woman to be given this role so far. In her tenure, she has helped increase Indonesia’s annual economic growth to 6.3% in 2007 as reported by Country Economy, the highest rate since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, as well as increasing the country’s foreign exchange reserves to $50 billion – the highest amount thus far. 

She gained worldwide recognition when she was appointed as Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer for the World Bank in 2010, which landed her numerous media coverage such as in the 2014 Forbes Magazine where she was ranked as the 38th most powerful woman in the world. 

2. Alexandra Asmasoebrata – the first Indonesian female race car driver

Image credit:@alexandra.asma

Alexandra Asmasoebrata has managed to infiltrate this male-dominated profession of race car driving, and became the first Indonesian woman to do so as well. 

Since debuting at the age of 12 as a GoKart 60 cc racer and winning her first race, she has bagged several achievements such as the 2005 National Kart Championship, 13th World Championship Junior Rotax Max, and even managed to receive the pole position for the 7th and 8th Formula Campus Championships at the Goldenport Motorpark Circuit in Beijing, China. 

This 32-year-old was awarded the Museum Rekor Dunia Indonesia (World Of Records Museum) award on 21st April 2007, coinciding with Kartini Day, for becoming the first female Indonesian race car driver.

3. Moorissa Tjokro – autopilot software engineer for Tesla

Image credit: Moorissa Tjokro  

Data science graduate Moorissa Tjokro is the only Indonesian woman to work as an autopilot software engineer for Tesla. At only 26, Tjokro, along with other Tesla engineers, was given the responsibility to develop the full-self-driving feature in Tesla cars. Tjokro revealed to Kompas that this life-changing feature was not easy to develop and that she used to work up to 60-70 hours per week to co-develop it. 

Tjokro’s interest in technology started at an early age, and besides winning many honors in the engineering field, she was even nominated for the Helen Grenga Award in 2014 for best all-around female engineer while at university. Before joining Tesla, she had even worked at NASA for a year as a researcher. 

4. Putri Tanjung – the youngest presidential expert staff member

Image credit: @putri_tanjung 

Many Indonesians may be familiar with Putri Tanjung as the daughter of media mogul Chairul Tanjung, but in recent years she has made a name for herself as the youngest expert staff member in President Joko Widodo’s administration as well as an entrepreneur.

At the age of 23, she was selected for this role to provide assistance and advice on innovation and millennial interests. 

Putri with President Jokowi at a bazaar
Image credit: @putri_tanjung

Besides holding the position as an expert staff to President Jokowi, Tanjung is also the head manager for CXO Media- an online news platform, and the founder of talk show program Creativepreneur that discusses creative innovations by millennials. In addition, she also hosts the podcast show Ngobrol Sore Semuanya that discusses self-care topics such as maintaining mental health, and improving work-life balance.  

5. Hillary Brigitta Lasut – the youngest parliament member

Image credit:@hillarybrigitta

At only 23, Hillary Brigitta Lasut was appointed as a member of parliament for the 2019-2024 term and holds the honor of being the youngest female parliament member. Born into a political family where both her parents were regents in Sulawesi, she was inspired by her parents to continue the family legacy in politics and did so by campaigning on malpractice and human rights issues such as drug and human trafficking. 

Lasut began her interest in politics as the head of her high school student organization, and then went on to graduate with a law degree from the University of Pelita Harapan and a master’s degree in international law from Washington University. 

Image credit: Hillary Brigitta Lasut

These days, Lasut is busy developing her anti-bullying campaign in support of women across Indonesia and gathering votes for her party’s election.

6. Dian Mirza – award-winning TV presenter and entrepreneur

Image credit:@dianmirzaofficial

The name Dian Mirza may be familiar to many news watchers in the country. She started her journalistic career as a reporter and then a television presenter in one of Indonesia’s oldest channels, RCTI. Regularly working odd hours to report sensitive news such as conditions of refugee camps during the Mount Merapi explosion and victims of mass flooding, she quickly made a name for herself for her clarity, grace, and passion for delivering clear and accurate news to the public. 

After working as a journalist for 10 years, Mirza was awarded the Panasonic Gobel Award in 2017 for best Television News Presenter, which goes to show that hard work and dedication will never go in vain. 

Image credit: @dianmirzaofficial

Lately, she’s been busy with her many entrepreneurial ventures and work as an MC and moderator for many regent and gubernatorial debates in the country. Apart from being busy moderating and interviewing newsmakers, lately, she’s been busy with her newborn son, proving that women can indeed have it all.  

7. Chaya Keswani – bodybuilding champion and fitness coach

Image credit: @chayakeswani 

Successfully worming her way into the male-dominanted industry of bodybuilding and fitness, Chaya Keswani, has competed and won several international bodybuilding competitions, acquiring the the top 3 position in the Australasia IFBB competition in 2018 and making top 6 in the Arnold Classic sports festival back in 2017, to name a few. 

When she’s not competing, Keswani works as a health and fitness coach, helping both women and men who want to change their lifestyle through diet and exercise. 

Image credit: @chayakeswani 

Apart from working as a fitness instructor and taking part in competitions, she also conducts Bollywood Zumba classes for those opting for a more fun way to work out. She also provides tips and tricks for bodybuilding and clean eating on her Instagram page, free of charge. 

8. Butet Manurung – indigenous education and rights activist

Image credit: Sokola Rimba 

Saur Marlina Manurung, better known as Butet Manurung, is the co-founder and director of Sokola Institute – a non-profit organization that focuses on educating children from indigenous tribes in secluded parts of Indonesia. 

Manurung left the glamour and comfort of the city and travelled to the jungles to educate the tribes’ children in writing, reading, and speaking, and to learn subjects such as language, mathematics, and science while still respecting their tribal cultures. 

Image credit: Sokola Institute 

The educator and advocate is also responsible for contributing to an education system for tribal communities that pushes for indigenous people’s rights to their land and natural resources. Her selfless work was recognized globally, and she received the 2014 Magsaysay Award that is also dubbed as the Asian Nobel Peace Prize and Time Magazine’s Heroes Of Asia award in 2014. 

Inspiring Indonesian women who broke barriers

These inspiring Indonesian women have not only contributed to their respective fields but also indirectly to empowering millions of young women across Indonesia. They are role models in their own right, and we hope to see more Indonesian women making history to motivate and inspire the next generation. 

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Cover image adapted from: @alexandra.asma , Hillary Brigitta Lasut, and @smindrawati 

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