The Asian Voice

When Jokowi's 'women' - Susi and Mulyani - let their hair down: Jakarta Post columnist

Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti (left) and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati (right) have built their tough public personae to be able to run their respective ministries.
Indonesia's Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti (left) and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati (right) have built their tough public personae to be able to run their respective ministries.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

Indonesia's two leading women ministers are delivering on their tough jobs and winning admirers too, by being themselves, says the writer.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - They can be as tough and just as successful, if not more so, than their male counterparts, but these two female ministers who lead strategic government agencies recently showed their softer feminine side, wowed the public and still earned the respect of the public.

Their boss, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, undoubtedly approved of their behaviour.

Like all Cabinet ministers, past and present, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati have built their tough public personae to be able to run their respective ministries.

They work in what many would still describe today as "a man's world".

It was not that long ago when most Cabinet postings in Indonesia were given to people with military backgrounds, hence most if not all were men, in the belief that only men could succeed.

In the last 20 years, we have seen more and more women recruited into the Cabinet, but they all have had to conceal or suppress their feminine side - other than the way they dressed up - to be able to make it in this world.

It does not help that the civil service in post-Suharto Indonesia has put up the strongest resistance to reforms, making the job of any minister, irrespective of gender, that much tougher.

Susi and Sri Mulyani have lived up to expectations, and much more.

The two women were recently seen in public literally and figuratively letting their hair down, revealing not only their human side, but also their female side, something no man can ever hope to match.

Only women can do what they just did.

Susi on Oct. 24 made an appearance at Jakarta Fashion Week, not as a VVIP sitting in the front row like most ministers would, but joining other models to don one of the designers' clothes.

Susi did her part on the catwalk eloquently and elegantly.

If she had her hair done up to match with the fashionable clothes then, she literally let her hair down a few days later when she appeared at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali.

Joining other writers at the international festival, she was the single speaker at a panel appropriately called "Sink it!", after her trademark statement in ordering the downing of foreign-owned boats caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

The room with a seating capacity for 300 was crammed by 500 people seizing every word she uttered.

Later that week Susi was chief host of the Our Ocean Conference, also in Bali, a successful international event that went almost without a hitch.

Sri Mulyani wowed many, even her own staff, when she took the stage in Jakarta to do a hip-hop dance during the celebration of the 72nd anniversary of the Finance Ministry on Oct. 29.

Wearing a flannel shirt and a baseball cap turned back to front, she even lip-synced, admittedly almost inaudibly, to the "Sorry Sorry" tune from K-pop band Super Junior as she led her senior staffers in a hip-hop act on stage.

We saw another softer side of the "iron lady" when Sri Mulyani turned up at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport two days later, embracing and consoling distressed women waiting for news from their husbands in the ill-fated Lion Air plane that was later found to have crashed in the Java Sea.

She lost 21 of her staff members on that plane, who had been on their way home to Pangkal Pinang after participating in the weekend celebrations.

Earlier that month, of course, Sri Mulyani was the chief host to the International Monetary Fund-World Bank conference in Bali, which was attended by more than 34,000 people.

No one can accuse Susi or Sri Mulyani of slacking in their jobs.

They have some of the toughest jobs in the Cabinet, and both have built a reputation for their almost uncompromising attitude.

Susi rankled Indonesia's relations with its neighbours, including China, when she sank their boats that had been impounded after being used for illegal fishing.

The business world, and many taxpayers, are not exactly in love with Sri Mulyani, as she has been going hard after their tax dues.

Both women know that they have been recruited by President Jokowi not to work on their own popularity but to do their jobs, which often times entails unpopular measures.

They are not there to win public popularity.

That's really for the politicians in the Cabinet.

But as Susi and Sri Mulyani showed recently, once in while, these girls just wanna have fun.

The writer is a Senior Editor with the paper and comments regularly on Indonesian affairs. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.