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OUT OF DARKNESS COMES LIGHT

In commemoration of Kartini Day, 16 Female Ambassadors to Indonesia discuss their struggles and successes.

Art Direction Sari Kusumaningrum

Text Alverta Shani

Photography Gugun A. Suminarto & Suhadi

Location Shot at Orient8, Hotel Mulia Jakarta

Raden Adjeng Kartini has long been considered a pioneer of women and girls’ rights in Indonesia. Denied access to higher education due to societal norms, she protested the constraints facing women of her time, most notably via letters. She called on women to pursue their passions. “A purpose [in life] will beautify human dignities, glorify them, dignify them and bring them closer to a perfection,” she once wrote.

A collection of her letters was eventually published as a book entitled Door Duisternis tot Licht (translated as From Darkness Comes Light from the Dutch). The publication led to the start of the women’s emancipation movement in Indonesia. Her birthday is observed as Kartini Day since 1964.

In commemoration, The Peak spoke to female Heads of Mission in Indonesia about women’s empowerment. Each of them discussed their struggle pursuing a career in what many consider a “man’s world” by the order based on the Diplomatic List of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Republic of Indonesia.

H.E. Alice Mageza

Ambassador of Zimbabwe

Ambassador Alice Mageza believes that young girls must be empowered from an early stage and that they are born equal to her male counterparts. For a long time, women’s voices were silenced and not appreciated which helped create a barrier that supported a society that was more in favour of men. However, the reemergence of women’s movement today helps to raise issues that transcend across the world. Zimbabwe has been progressing towards the better since the time when Ambassador Mageza was born. She grew up and was educated during colonial days when, as a black woman, she was discriminated against on the basis of colour. There was also the tendency to give better opportunities to males, resulting in them securing higher positions and salaries in the workplace. However, during the colonial days, a new breed of woman was born. Women became politically active and took arms to fight side by side with men for the liberation of Zimbabwe. These women were determined to achieve justice for present and future citizens of Zimbabwe irrespective of colour, gender and traditions. “This taught me from an early age that my destiny is not shaped by restrictions, challenges or obstacles in my path way but by the choices I make to deal with life,” she says. Ambassador Mageza’s parents also taught her to view challenges as stepping stones to higher ground and she proved it by becoming the first of two female career diplomats to be appointed as an Ambassador. Her advice to young girls out there is to value themselves, saying “you are where you are because you are capable.”

H.E. Valerica Epure

Ambassador of Romania

Ambassador Valerica Epure considers herself lucky to be born in Romania. She was told that she could do whatever she wanted in life, as soon as she opened her eyes to the world. Growing up, the ambassador didn’t recall ever being discriminated by gender. Instead, she notes that one of the factors to her success was the support she received from her male colleagues, as well as from her family and teachers. “I will never forget the day one of my professors told me that I would succeed in any field I choose to pursue,” she says. One can say that the ambassador has achieved success on her being named a representative of her country’s government. “Being a diplomat is a wonderful profession and to become one should be equally easy or difficult for men and women,” she says. Nowadays, it’s easier for women to become a diplomat in Romania because the number of women diplomats is equal, even higher, than men. In Romania, women are empowered and hold every important position in society. This has been evident since Romania named Viorica Dăncilă as their first female Prime Minister this year. The ambassador admits that she has a soft spot for women who want to pursue a brilliant career – she calls it solidarity. Since the re-emergence of the women’s movement in recent years during which women have begun to speak up about discrimination, the ambassador believes that people should be united even if they don’t encounter discrimination themselves, because no matter what, it still happens. Government policies are needed to solve this issue as well as dedicated programmes in schools and universities as part of the education system.

H.E. Anna Aghadjanian

Ambassador of Armenia

Ambassador Anna Aghadjanian was brought up in a family where everyone had equal access to education. Her grandmother received a university degree in the 1930s, in Geology, while the ambassador herself is the third woman in the family with a university qualification. However she recognises that work environments don’t always grant real equal opportunities to women in terms of career growth and notes that women need to work harder than men to prove they are just as good. Armenia’s laws guarantee equal rights, but the Ambassador believes they still need to ensure a higher number of women in powerful positions in government and business. Her advice to young girls who want to pursue careers is to focus less on trying to compete, “more to doing your job well, always trying to stay on top of your profession, never to stop learning and growing as a professional and just go for it!” Sometimes, both men and women need to get a better understanding of work ethics, “if we speak out and more openly voice the problems we are facing, we will all achieve a better environment and not just at work,” she notes. The ambassador wants women to speak up, make their fears heard and be strong.

H.E. Johanna Brismar Skoog

Ambassador of Sweden

Giving female colleagues more challenging tasks is what Ambassador Johanna Brismar Skoog does to empower the women around her. She always tries to encourage fellow female colleagues to speak up at meetings, being more active and being present, “I also try to be a good role model in the sense of telling her the challenges that I had, how I struggle with family and career choices, about what to do. So we can strike to do both,” she says in response to a question on how to set an example as a woman in charge. Ambassador Skoog believes that family is important because she admits that she would never sacrifice her children. Knowing how to prioritise is the key to having a successful work-life balance, she notes, adding that finding solutions and asking for help from her husband is also a secret to how she divide time between both. The Ambassador advises women who want to pursue their careers to be brave and never give up on their dreams, “don’t give up and believe that you are much better than the men around you because they will use all methods to put you down, make you feel smaller and not good as they are but [always] believe in yourself and be brave,” she says.

H.E. Päivi Hiltunen-Toivio

Ambassador of Finland

Finland was the first country which allowed women full political rights. Women’s rights and empowerment have been part of Finnish society since 1906 when women were given the right to vote and to contest parliamentary elections. Ambassador Päivi Hiltunen-Toivio feels privileged to live in the third most gender-equal country according to the World Economic Forum. “We had a female president for 12 years. About half of our government members are women and in the parliament their share is 41.5 per cent” she explains. Growing up in a country that supports equality, the ambassador wants to encourage everybody to continue to participate in education, develop and believe in themselves. She notes that skills and knowledge, not gender, should be the deciding factor for success. “In my opinion everybody regardless of gender should be able to live, study and work without fear. It is important to have clear rules in the society and at working places how to behave and the rules should be followed carefully,” she notes. In today’s society, she thinks we need more equality not only for women, but men must also support the cause. Finland has been supportive when it comes to household equality, child care for example is so well organised where both parents have the possibility to take parental leave following the birth of their children. “In Finland there are more women than men studying in Universities nowadays and also in the foreign ministry, half the ambassadors are women” she explains with regard to the gender equality Finland has achieved.

H.E. Yvonne Baumann

Ambassador of Switzerland

Whenever possible, Ambassador Yvonne Baumann tries to encourage and coach younger women. She feels it’s important to have a plan and pursue it persistently and with discipline. “If career opportunities present themselves, go for it if you are interested,” she says. When the ambassador began a career in the diplomatic field, it was a very male-dominated profession. “At that time, among the newly recruited young diplomats, women were a small minority, and much more so at the level of ambassadors,” she recalls. While female ambassadors are still a minority, things are now changing to the better. According to Ambassador Baumann, today roughly half of the batches of young diplomats which are recruited each year are women and also in the higher-level positions the number of women is increasing. Her Excellency thinks that changing the stigma about gender is important because if you want to change something in society you have to engage men, make your case and work together. “The Swiss Government has a policy of promoting diversity – including gender of course – and this is being taken very seriously,” she notes. Although there are still challenges out there for women, Ambassador Baumann hopes for equal opportunities to be given for both genders around the world.

H.E. Judit Pach

Ambassador of Hungary

Trusting your intuition is one of the pieces of advice from Ambassador Judit Pach to women who want to pursue careers in the so-called “man’s world”. She admits that she likes working with women, because she knows that women have special qualities such as being able to complete multiple tasks at once. The ambassador feels that the sensitive feelings women tend to have are an asset, because they can come up with new ideas based on their surroundings. She understands the struggle of women in pursuing their careers while also having to be the mother of the house, but she believes that women can do both as long as they have good time management. “That’s all about [time management] and I think women are really good at it, no matter what type of job [they] have or even to do work at home, it takes a lot of management capacities,” she notes. What she would advise young women is to be more confident of themselves, “I believe in a lot of cases, it depends on us. How we believe in ourselves and I think we must be proud of ourselves and [have] much more self confidence in pursuing our dreams,” she advises.

H.E. Maria Lumen Isleta

Ambassador of the Philippines

As a woman who grew up in the Philippines, Ambassador Maria Lumen Isleta always tries to encourage women around her mainly because the Philippines has a matriarchal society and the role women play in the family is respected and revered. Ever since she was young, she knew that women could aspire to be anything as long as they work hard for it. “Values of hard work, perseverance, determination, compassion are widely acknowledged as the factors that will get you to where you want to be. Regardless of whether one chooses to be a full-time housewife and mother, a corporate executive or a leader of the country,” she says. Women in the Philippines have been active in many aspects of society including politics. The country has had two women presidents. The current vice president and chief justice of the supreme court are both women. The Philippines was able to reach this stage because women are made aware of their rights and it’s an important thing to do according to the Ambassador. However, there are still challenges especially for female migrant workers. Sometimes they find themselves in an abusive situation because they aren’t aware of how to handle a situation. “It is important that women know that they have a voice and they should speak out”, she says.

H.E. Nirsia Castro Guevara

Ambassador of Cuba

Growing up in Cuba at the height of great changes that occurred during the beginning of the revolution Ambassador Nirsia Castro Guevara says that she didn’t encounter special circumstances or obstacles differently from her male counterparts. However, the newly formed government in Cuba began to implement an active policy of promoting women’s equal status in the work force. She notes that in the selection process when she first pursued her career in diplomatic field, there was a proportionate balance between male and female candidates and chosen based on their merits. “In the current diplomatic community in Cuba, women play an active role, and many of our representatives in bilateral relations and multilateral [organisations] are female,” she notes. In Cuba, there are plenty of women who have achieved a prominent role in society. “We can proudly say that in the upcoming parliamentary elections 53 per cent of the candidacies to occupy the 605 seats in parliament are female candidates. The current number of women parliamentarians is 48.86 per cent, the second highest percentage in the world,” she says proudly. Ambassador Guevara believes that education is the most essential thing for women especially for young girls since they are the keys to ensure the next generation of women will have more opportunities to improve their lives. The ambassador notes that having a great role model is also important for young girls so they can be inspired and understand that they can be whatever they want to be in the future.

H.E. Gladys Francisca Urbaneja Durán

Ambassador of Venezuela

Ambassador Gladys Durán is convinced that education is the main factor to improve the levels of social welfare. If one is well-educated, one can promote the equality between women and men. Article 103 of the Venezuelan Constitution says that every person has the right to a quality education and equal opportunities, “In the last few years, the access of women to all educational levels has been increased, reducing the professional gap in our country,” she explains. Before, in Venezuela, women had to fight for several decades for gender equality and it has been getting better. One of the concrete results is the new 1999 Constitution which contains the principle of equality. “Article 21 expresses the equality of people before the law, therefore, discrimination based on race, sex, creed and social condition is not allowed, thus guaranteeing the conditions of equality, rights and freedoms of the people,” the ambassador notes. Regardless where we live, Her Excellency realises that gender equality is a fundamental human right to achieve a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. If we achieve this, she says, humanity will be benefit as a whole community.

H.E. Maria Gustava

Ambassador of Mozambique

Growing up in a developing country mostly categorised by poor social service facilities, and traditionally oriented to give more importance to boys over girls, didn’t stop Ambassador Maria Gustava from pursuing higher education. It was a challenge for her, because in Mozambique, people thought it was better to educate boys who can take care and lead their future family. However, the Ambassador didn’t want to be a housewife just because she grew up in a rural area where the girls were secured to a good marriage. So she moved to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique to pursue higher education. Now Mozambique is much better when it comes to gender equality. In the 1960s, there was a movement of liberation for independence which played an important role in planting the seeds for the involvement of women in social and economic activities. The movement led to the birth of Organisation of Mozambican Women in 1975 which became a fundamental tool in the fight for gender equality, “As a result, today women can benefit from more opportunities and increasingly more gender equality, thus breaking through the traditional views of gender roles," she notes. Her advice to young women is to invest more in their education and believe in their capability to achieve a higher purpose in life. “Being good professionals in any political and economic field of work, while remaining the primary educators of society. I encourage women to be exemplar professionals, while assuming the crucial role of wife and mother in a household!" she says, with fiery spirit.

H.E. Roya Rahmani

Ambassador of Afghanistan

There were always numerous obstacles since Ambassador Roya Rahmani was a little girl in Afghanistan. From lack of access education to social stigmatisation of behaviours. For example, due to the conflict in Afghanistan, there were days when Ambassador Rahmani could not go to school, even after she fled to Pakistan. “A young girl’s mere presence in the public sphere was a source of fear and tension for the family, specially with regard to the situation of security. Hence girls were under lots of pressure while being outside of the house,” she explains about her childhood. Therefore, according to the ambassador, to be an independent woman takes a lot of effort and extreme resilience although nowadays technologies make everything easier (such as access to information). While we can celebrate the improvements we have achieved until now, there are a lot of things that remain. The ambassador wants the workforce to be more gender sensitive because professional women need to multitask between their careers and household responsibilities, “since most of the time women have to do at least twice as much as men do to get similar recognition for their professional work, they are mostly overworked,” she notes. Her Excellency wants to alter the system so it will be more flexible for women. The ambassador has two tips for young girls who want to pursue their career. Realising that they’re going to face a long, hard but joyful path is the first. “The second is to believe in oneself. Don’t be knocked down by obstacles, by taboos, by labels, by everything that comes in your way,” she advises to young girls who wants to achieve the best in life.

H.E. Helene Steinhäusl

Ambassador of Austria

Austria was one of the first countries that introduced women’s suffrage after the First World War and has since promoted the rights of women and gender equality. According to Ambassador Steinhäusl, Austria’s constitution explicitly provides for the equality of women and men. It also provides for gender budgeting which makes it mandatory to take equal account of both women and men in the budgeting and legislative process to achieve factual equality. Austria’s strong commitment is also reflected in its political institutions. “The percentage of female members of parliament has never been higher than today in both chambers. With around 35 per cent, it’s also higher than the worldwide average of 23.5 per cent. Moreover, two of the three current presidents of our National Council – the bigger chamber of parliament – are women. And last but not least, the members of government of our new chancellor consists of 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men,” the ambassador says. Not only in the public sector does Austria follow through with its efforts to reach the factual equality of men and women, but also in the private sector. Austria is committed to the rights of women and gender equality through international instruments such as the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) framework, the Beijing Declaration and numerous provisions on the European Union level.

H.E. Deborah Ho

Ambassador of Panama

One of the pieces of advice that Ambassador Ho wants young girls know is that they should follow their passion in pursuing a career that they enjoy. She has always believed that when one wants to start something, one needs to know if it is something they are passionate about. Sometimes, when one is still at a young age, one will do everything their surroundings tell them to do. However, over time, one changes their perspective. “Look for something, even if it takes longer. Take a while, look for what you really like and then pursue that because you’re young, you don’t know what you want. Have some time to think about what you like and then decide,” she advises. Ambassador Ho knows sometimes bad things will happen but one needs to have a positive attitude and get through it with a big heart.

H.E. Phasporn Sangasubana

Ambassador of Thailand to ASEAN

Self confidence and an open heart mindset are the keys to success for women in diplomatic career according to Ambassador Phasporn Sangasubana. With those two qualities, one can tackle work together with male colleagues with discipline, esteem, wisdom and professionalism. She also notes the one thing women must have is kindness, “Kindness is the strength of women to be able to perceive issues in different angle with a human touch. After all, all policies are related to the people on the ground,” she says. The ambassador admits that she is an advocate for women’s rights as well as gender equality. She thinks that women can be forceful in their rights in order to be in the same space as male. She also strongly believes that both women and men are natural partners and both should accept gender equality in many aspects such as at work or at home. Ambassador Sangasubana is one of the people who initiates finishing daily work routine at 5 p.m and then have a joint exercise or meal retreats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. At first, the initiative was rejected by her colleagues. However, as time went by this initiative was positively received. Her Excellency admits that nowadays women are given more opportunities with easier access to social rights. She knows that with these basics, women can speak out on their own behalf on various issues compared to years past.

H.E. Jane Duke

Ambassador of Australia to ASEAN

Being an Australian, Ambassador Jane Duke always felt that she had equal opportunities throughout her education. Even her parents and teachers encouraged her to always do her best and to continue her education until university. “It wasn’t until I had my first job as a young lawyer in the private sector that I experienced discrimination towards women, including in opportunities for career advancement and pay gaps for the same work,” she notes of the time she first experienced the inequality between men and women. She also mentions that provisions such as paid maternity leave, flexible working arrangement and enforceable codes of behaviour weren’t the standard provision when she began her career. The ambassador admits since joining public service over 20 years ago, she has seen more women breaking through glass ceiling of leadership structure. “While there is still a significant gap, there is far more recognition of the benefits women bring to senior management roles and of the need to actively work to address the gap,” she explains about the progress Australia has achieved in supporting women in their careers. Leaning towards the better, Australia now has the first woman Minister for Foreign Affairs, Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and more women are starting to be appointed for senior management positions.

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