Sri Mulyani from Indonesia: a reformer working for women’s rights | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW


She expected the path to power to be difficult. More difficult than for men. “The world is not fair to women,” said Sri Mulyani. And yet, she has come a long way: in 2005, she was named Indonesia’s first female finance minister – a trailblazer in this conservative Muslim-majority country and since then a role model for countless women.

DW spoke to Sri Mulyani as part of the “The Age of Merkel: Women of Power” interview series. For men, being qualified for high office is taken for granted, Sri Mulyani said. “But as a woman you really have to prove it.” This is a “double or triple burden” in the careers of many women.

Sri Mulyani is an economist who studied in Indonesia and obtained her PhD in the United States. She was fortunate enough to prove herself very soon after taking office: with the global financial crisis.

Mulyani successfully ran Southeast Asia’s largest economy during this time, fired corrupt officials, and reformed the tax system. In 2010, Indonesia experienced the strongest economic growth since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.

Sri Mulyani in 2005, just after being appointed Indonesian Minister of Finance

One of the 100 most powerful women in the world

Since then, Mulyani has been seen as a tough reformer, one of many descriptions of her alongside “Indonesia’s most powerful woman” or “finance minister of the year.” She has featured several times in Forbes the magazine’s list of “100 most powerful women in the world”.

She made headlines around the world with her hits. In 2010, she moved to the United States to work for the World Bank. Six years later, she returned to her native country for a new term as Minister of Finance.

Sri Mulyani (right) and Christine Lagarde (left) at an IMF and World Bank meeting in Indonesia in 2018

Sri Mulyani (right) and Christine Lagarde (left), then Managing Director of the IMF, at a World Bank IMF meeting in Bali in 2018

The 58-year-old grew up as one of 10 children. Mulyani’s mother, a teacher, was one of the first women in her country to earn a doctorate in education – a sensation in Indonesia at the time. Her mother’s experiences shaped her as a child and taught her as a woman to always make an exceptional effort and never give up. But Mulyani was never frustrated by it: “It’s more like the motivation to show that we deserve [it] and we are able to do it. “

However, only half of women in Indonesia are in paid jobs. The employment rate for women has been stagnant for almost two decades. Women are always expected to be primarily responsible for the household and raising children. In his ministerial cabinet, Mulyani supports breastfeeding women and encourages men to take parental leave – almost a small revolution for Indonesia.

Men as allies

Like her mother before her, Mulyani has managed to reconcile career and family. But the minister, who has three children, is completely open to the fact that it has not always been easy. “It was hard.” Without her husband’s help, her career path would have been even more difficult, she says. “I also have a husband just like my father, who is very supportive of me. He is not intimidated. He does not feel inferior to marrying a woman who is perhaps perceived as strong.

However, the image of the strong and intelligent woman does not suit everyone in the very patriarchal Indonesian society. “When girls have a high level of education, they are often told that they will scare off boys,” Mulyani said. That is why education plays a key role. “Men and boys need to know that equality is not a threat to them.”

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati (center) taking a selfie with journalists in 2016

Sri Mulyani has become a role model for many in Southeast Asia

Mulyani demonstrates this with a metaphor: “You don’t want one shoe to be high heels and the other to be a flat shoe. You can’t walk like that. The same goes for women and men: they must be put on. at the same level so that the company can move forward.

Indonesia can be a dangerous country for women

But the reality for many women and girls is not that simple. Indonesia is considered the second most dangerous country for women in the Asia-Pacific region. One in three women has been a victim of violence in her life. Child marriage is common and there is no law protecting girls from genital mutilation, even though the practice is internationally considered a human rights violation.

A man and his 16-year-old underage wife in a 2017 wedding ceremony in Indonesia

According to UNESCO, Indonesia has the eighth rate of child marriage in the world

All of these subjects are taboo in Indonesian society. More education is needed in these areas, Mulyani said. That is why it supports women and girls and uses its budgets to create equal opportunities through education.

Angela Merkel: A pioneer of leadership

Sri Mulyani is a pioneer in her country, just like Angela Merkel is in Germany. In view of the upcoming end of Merkel’s chancellery, Mulyani said: “I admire her for her leadership qualities, the way she conducts policies, which is important not only for Germany but also in the world. . “

The pressure on the next generation of women to succeed someone like Merkel is always great: “They will always be compared to those who broke the glass ceiling,” Mulyani said. This is precisely why it is important that every woman, regardless of her position, pushes her limits. “Even if it’s only an inch. Because it gives more leeway to the girls and women who follow.”

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW’s editors summarize what’s going on in German politics and society, with the aim of understanding this year’s elections and beyond. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here, to stay abreast of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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