Jakarta Globe | Insight
Melati Suryodarmo, Indonesia's own Marina Abramović. (Photo courtesy of Melati Suryodarmo)

Outstanding Indonesian Women

The women’s movement is actively breaking gender boundaries in different fields. We made a list of outstanding Indonesian women who have pursued their careers and achieved their goals. These women have set the bar for others in the industry and inspire young women to do better.

Literature: Leila S. Chudori

Leila S. Chudori. (Photo courtesy of Magnifique PR)

Leila Salikha Chudori is a veteran journalist and author of award-winning novels and short stories.

Born in 1962, Leila earned her degree in political science and comparative development studies at Canada’s Trent University.

She has published two short story collections, “Malam Terakhir” (“The Last Night”) and “9 dari Nadira” (“For Nadira”). In 2013, her novel “Pulang” (“Home”) won the Khatulistiwa Literary Award – Indonesia’s Booker – and it has been translated into five languages so far. Leila also writes TV and movie scripts, including for the 2006 miniseries “Dunia Tanpa Koma” (“The Incessant World”) and Riri Riza’s 2008 short film “Drupadi.”

Last year, she released her second novel, “Laut Bercerita” (“The Sea Speaks His Name”), a story based on the testimonies of surviving 1998 pro-democracy activists, accompanied with a short film adaptation by Pritagita Arianegara.

Film: Kamila Andini

Kamila Andini. (Photo courtesy of Treewater Productions and Fourcolours Films)

Born in Jakarta in 1986, Kamila Andini is a filmmaker whose short and feature movies tackle cultural, gender and environmental issues head on. She studied sociology and media arts at Deakin University in Melbourne. Her debut feature “The Mirror Never Lies” has been screened in more than 30 film festivals all over the world and won 15 awards.

In 2017, her second feature film, “The Seen and Unseen” won the Golden Hanoman award at the Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival (JAFF), Best Youth Feature Film at the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards and the Grand Prize at Tokyo FILMeX, shared with Mouly Surya’s indie sleeper hit “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts.” After a slew of positive reviews from overseas festivals, “The Seen and Unseen” was finally screened in Indonesian cinemas to much acclaim in March last year.

Humanities: Melani Budianta

Melani Budianta. (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

A prominent academic who has dedicated almost all her career at University of Indonesia’s Faculty of Humanities, Melani Budianta is an expert in literature and cultural studies.

She obtained her doctorate in English at Cornell University in 1992. She is an editor of Routledge’s “Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Journal,” the University of Philippines’ “Journal of Asian Studies” and a board member of the Abdurrahman Wahid Center at her university.

Aside from speaking at numerous seminars and serving as a jury member for many awards, Melani has also curated several prominent festivals, including the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair and the 2017 Europalia Festival Indonesia.

Women’s issues form a big part of Melani’s concerns as an academic and an outspoken women’s rights activist. In 1998, she co-founded Suara Ibu Peduli, an independent organization that sharply criticized government policies on women and children.

In 2002, she founded the Women’s Research Institute, an independent think-tank with a feminist perspective.

Mining: Imelda Adhisaputra

Imelda Adhisaputra. (B1 Photo/Archive)

Born in Bandung, West Java, in 1970, Imelda Adhisaputra is chief executive and corporate affairs director of BHP Billiton Indonesia, whose responsibilities include tackling environmental issues and gender equality in the male-dominated mining industry.

Imelda studied civil and environmental engineering at Seattle University and earned her master’s degree in the same subject at Tufts University.

In 1992, she joined Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories in Richland, Washington, before becoming an environmental assistant at Camp Dresser & McKee in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She returned to Indonesia in 2000 to work as a senior environmental engineer at gold and copper mining company Newmont, where she became manager of environmental affairs and compliance in 2008.

Imelda next branched out to information technology, which led her to become corporate affairs director at Intel between 2009 and 2011. She was then president director at BHP Billton for two years. She is currently the regional vice president at NameChina Fortune Land Development, where she is responsible for developing strategies for government relations and corporate communications.

Science: Herawati Sudoyo

Herawati Sudoyo. (Photo courtesy of Herawati Sudoyo)

Herawati Sudoyo is deputy for fundamental research at the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta. She is also the head of the forensic DNA laboratory and principal investigator at the Genome Diversity and Disease Laboratory.

Her biggest passion is studying the genetic diversity of the Indonesian population, particularly its disease resistance and susceptibility, and also tracing the “DNA” of human migration. Her research team dubbed the “Gene Hunter,” has been collecting DNA samples from all sorts of places throughout the archipelago, including very remote areas.

Her expertise in analyzing DNA markers played a significant role in identifying the perpetrators of the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing – an experience that led her to establish a forensic DNA laboratory at Eijkman.

Herawati has also initiated important research on wildlife forensics and population studies.

Social Entrepreneurship: Tri Mumpuni

Tri Mumpuni. (Photo courtesy of Tri Mumpuni)

Born in Semarang, Central Java, in 1964, Tri Mumpuni is a social entrepreneur and philanthropist who has developed innovative micro-hydropower projects that have brought affordable electricity to more than half a million people in Indonesia.

She is executive director of the People-Centered Business and Economic Institute (Ibeka), a nongovernmental organization that produces electricity for people in rural areas using micro-hydro power – a renewable and nonpolluting solution for small-scale energy generation.

Tri has continued to promote micro-hydro power while serving as an expert at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. There she has initiated the Patriot Energi program, which installs power generators – including micro-hydropower stations – in rural areas.

Social Activism: Butet Manurung

Butet Manurung. (Photo courtesy of Sokola Institute)

Butet Manurung was born Saur Marlina Manurung in Jakarta in 1972. She developed a love for the outdoors while earning degrees in anthropology and Indonesian literature from Padjajaran University in Bandung, West Java, in the 1990s.

In 1999, Butet joined Warsi, a conservation NGO, to lead its educational program for Orang Rimba (People of the Forest), an indigenous tribe that has lived in the rainforests of Jambi for centuries.

Her work in the jungles of Jambi evolved into co-founding Sokola, a nonprofit organization that provides education to marginalized people in remote areas.

Butet has received many international awards, including Unesco’s “Man and Biosphere Award” in 2001, Time Magazine’s “Hero of Asia” in 2004 and Ernst and Young’s 2012 Indonesian Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

Her first book “Sokola Rimba” (“The Jungle School”) has become an international bestseller since its launch in Washington, D.C., in April 2012. The book was also adapted for a feature film with the same title, helmed by one of Indonesia’s leading directors, Riri Riza, in 2013.

Music: Isyana Sarasvati

Isyana Sarasvati. (Photo courtesy of Image Dynamics)

Isyana Sarasvati, the winner of the Best Composer of the Year 2017 award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, launched the new year with a solo singing concert accompanied by the Jakarta Concert Orchestra.

Isyana is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, playing the piano, flute and violin. She is also received formal training as soprano in operatic vocals.

She is a graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and The Royal College of Music. To date, she has released two studio albums, with hit songs that have become a staple on YouTube, such as “Tetap Dalam Jiwa” (74 million views) and “Kau Adalah,” a duet with Rayi Putra (37 million views).

Art: Melati Suryodarmo

Melati Suryodarmo. (Photo courtesy of Melati Suryodarmo)

Melati Suryodarmo has long captivated the art world with her performance art pieces, where she uses her body to express her innermost thoughts and feelings, sometimes subjecting it to what appears close to physical and emotional torture.

Her performances are based on personal experiences and give audiences the opportunity to connect with her, the artist, on a personal, emotional level.

Melati’s notable works include “Exergie – Butter Dance,” where she danced on bricks of butter wearing a skirt and high heels; “I Love You,” where she carried 31 kilograms of glass shards around a room for four hours to show that love is both a burden and a joy; and “I’m a Ghost in My Own House,” where she sat in a room and crushed charcoal briquets for 12 hours.

Fashion: Susan Budihardjo

Susan Budihardjo. (Photo courtesy of Femina Pesona)

As founder of the Susan Budihardjo Fashion Design College, Susan has been a professional mentor to many successful fashion designers in Indonesia. The institute’s alumni include Sebastian Gunawan, Eddy Betty, Andrian Gaan and many other influential designers.

In the 1970s, after failing to find a subject she could be passionate about at university, Susan studied fashion in Germany, Britain and Canada. When she returned to Indonesia, armed with a refined fashion sense, she opened her own fashion design course to make it easier for local designers to pursue fashion as a profession.

Thirty years later, her fashion school has branches in Semarang, Surabaya and Bali. One of the school’s best selling points is that it keeps changing its curriculum to keep up with the trends.