Conversations with Women: The Journey of Courage and Womenhood

Posted by: Arani Aslama

Conversations with Women: The Journey of Courage and Womenhood

Do you wonder if Kartini lives in this era, what would she think of the world? She had the courage to see the truth, challenge herself, and use all of her resources to fight for what is right. There is no better time than now to reflect on Kartini's spirit and get some perspectives on how to navigate our way through the ongoing global crisis. Her strength, resilient, and compassion inspire beyond her time. So empower yourself through the following stories of Sri Widowati, Chief Growth and Digital Transformation of Unilever Indonesia, Diana Rikasari, Best-Selling Author and Founder of UP, Andien Aisyah, Singer and Entrepreneur, and Jenahara Nasution, Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur. See how these brave souls lead the way in their own varied circumstances and feel the spirit of Kartini lives on among women across era. Let it prevails.

"So the courage comes from the fact seeing everyone equal, no judgement, from loving myself and appreciating other people." - Diana Rikasari, Best-Selling Author and Founder of UP

How do you empower yourself to stay productive and hopeful during the quarantine?

I am used to being resourceful with the things I have around me. I always have the mindset that we can start with whatever we have. Before the pandemic, if I want to sew, I go to the store to buy fabrics, buttons, or zippers. But now during the quarantine, I just create with whatever I have at home. I look around and think, “What can I make with these?” So I take it as a new challenge. How can I still be creative and create something. This process is actually interesting because it kind of just pushes you to think more out of the box. Creating something is an outlet for me, not only it empowers me to be productive but it also helps to release my anxiety, stress and sadness.

Your bold character and creativity is inspiring. What experiences or struggles in the past that have driven you to have the courage to stand up and own yourself?

I think it is a process of growing, self-discovery, and an accumulation of what I went through in life. I was born in the United States and grew up there, then move to Malaysia, and then to Indonesia. I have different perspectives on how schools are across countries. When I arrived in Indonesia, I couldn’t speak Bahasa, so I needed to learn. Even in my recent life, I move to Switzerland and to be very honest, I have never been completely aware of what Switzerland is like. I am often put in a situation where I am in a new environment, I am a complete stranger and I have no idea what is going on around me. These circumstances urge me to learn again and to start from zero again.

But being often put in these situations, where I feel like I am nobody again, make me realize that we’re just human being. All of us are equal. I never have stereotypes or label in my head. And because I see everyone is equal, I also see myself equal to everyone else. Hence, I don’t feel the need to change myself at all. I am just being myself. I am not trying to be bold or different.

So the courage comes from the fact seeing everyone equal, no judgement, loving myself and appreciating other people.

How has living abroad shaped you?

I learnt to be more open minded, not judgmental, and that we are equal but we might not have equal opportunities. For example if we think that people from certain countries are smarter than the others, actually that is not true. They are actually smart too, but they might not have all of these opportunities and privileges. If we have the same opportunities, then our skills and knowledge would be at the same level. So do not feel inferior or superior towards anybody. Sometimes if you don’t have the opportunity, you have to create it. It is a big world, do not live in your own bubble. Go outside and see what is happening around the world. Have empathy. Think of the things you post about because other people from other corner of the world might take it differently. See this world as a home for every kind rather than separated by geographic locations. See everyone as a whole.

 

"If we want to raise independent individuals, then we need to give them the trust and the opportunity to make their own choices."       - Sri Widowati, Chief Growth and Digital Transformation of Unilever Indonesia

You have raised two independent successful daughters living abroad. How do you equip your children to go through life?

Raising children is not about the things you say, but it's about the things you do. It is our choice as parents whether we want to raise a child who is independent or dependent on us. I cannot say one is better than the other, because it depends on what type of relationship you want with them. If you want your children to be independent, then you should treat them as independent individuals. Which means, when they make mistakes, you don't immediately help or fix it for them. My children and I are very close, but that does not mean we interact or share our problems on daily basis. For example, during this pandemic, interestingly both of my children chose to stay abroad instead of going back home. I am not saying this is the right way, but if we want to raise independent individuals, then we need to give them the trust and the opportunity to make their own choices.

In your career, you are a successful leader in your field and your leadership is an inspiration to many. As a leader, how do you empower your team to be the best version of themselves, especially in challenging time like now?

In this challenging moment, leaders must demonstrate the behaviour they wish to see their employee implement. Leaders should walk the talk. If a company says that in order to survive they need to cut salary than they need to show the same circumstance is being done to the leaders of the company.

The second, it will gain empathy if the company is transparent about the undergoing problems. If a leader explain with transparency the facts of the situation and the hardship the company is facing, then the employee can learn to understand why their salary is being cut. In a time like this, it is also imperative for me as a leader to say I don’t know, rather than giving empty promises. We need to admit that we don’t know how long this crisis is going to end, but these steps are necessary in order to survive through this time.

Everyone, from small businesses to established companies are being impacted by the crisis. What are your insights on today's situation? What will help companies to survive?

Things are not going to go back to normal until Covid 19 is contained, either from vaccine or flattening the curve. We don’t know how long this will last and business needs to be able to adapt fast. Consumers change the way they live their lives which is at the same time it creates new opportunities. I think as we stay at home now, the consumption needs are growing. More time to indulge food and when kids are at home all the time, the need to stock for snack also rises.

Business owner needs to observe how the consumer behaviour is changed and try to design a business model that will cater their needs. A lot of brands now shift their business to producing masks. The most important thing in changing your business model is to make sure your consumer knows that your brand who initially sells food now sells masks. Create a new awareness to consumer that the business is shifting. The problem now is to be discovered.

Also, during the time when business is going slow, business owners tend to think that they should not advertise. However, when you advertise in a moment of hardship like now and your brand or products have a meaningful impact that help consumer survive in this difficult time, they will have loyalty towards your brand. Because after the crisis, consumer will remember that these are the brands that helped to go through the hard times. We need courage to see this moment as an opportunity and invest smart in advertising. Social media nowadays offers a variety of advertising tools, we can learn to understand and measure which tool is most beneficial.

 

"I learned that people can only rise from a situation through acceptance. When we deny to accept, we dwell into sadness, then we cannot differentiate what should or should not be done."      - Jenahara Nasution, Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur

What is the most empowering thing you have ever done?

I think I feel most empowered when my life has a good impact on others.  

Through fashion, I want to empower people. I like fashion since I was a little girl and my mother has a deep influence on me. I think style matters, it represents our character and who we are.  So I feel empowered when I see my clothing line has impact on people, giving them confidence to be in their characters. 

What messages are you trying to send to women through your fashion line?

I often choose black in my line because I think it is such a powerful color. I see when women wear black, their inner beauty shine through. I am also a very straightforward person which I think reflects on my opt for neat and clean cut clothing. Often times I like to add an edgy or asymmetrical cut to my clothing, because I don’t like to be the same like other.

Through my clothing line, I wish to see women find their confidence. I understand that we should not judge people by their appearance, but I think first impression matters. It is not about wearing high-end brand, but it is more about the way we carry out our characters and that sometimes reflected on our appearance. We can project our self-confidence and integrity through appearance.

How does your adversity in life strengthen you as a person?

For me, life is a puzzle. I believe that our lives were predestined, but that does not mean we cannot alter it. The choices we make in life will lead us to our next journey. I believe everything is connected in this world. I admit there are lots of unpleasant events I underwent, but what does not kill us make us stronger.

Most recent thing that happened, I just went through a divorce. I have never imagined in my life that I would ever endure this. Since I was young, I have always dreamt of a fairy tale happily ever after marriage. Although now I can accept it, move on, and I am happy with my life, there are times I feel like I am such a failure. This feeling is not something I can escape from. But with this experience, I learned that people can only rise from a situation through acceptance. When we deny to accept, we dwell into sadness, then we cannot differentiate what should or should not be done.

If you asked me a year ago, I would not be able to talk about this as confident as now. So it has been a huge process. I even had a minor stroke where I cannot speak. It was such a painful moment. I went to all kinds of therapy and meditation. During those difficult moments, you can’t just take a deep breath and then everything is okay. It is not that easy, it was even hard for me to breathe. There are stages to everything. At first I needed to stay calm, manage my emotions, see all the facts, then slowly accept and let go. Now I start to have faith again. There are still moments where I feel down, but now I know how to deal with it and get up again.

 

"This is a journey of choosing which side do we want to see and we always have the choice to look from a perspective that empowers."     - Andien Aisyah, Singer and  Entrepreneur

How do you stay connected to yourself, stay honest, and grounded, in a world that puts you in the spotlight? 

It has been a journey. When I enter the industry I was in middle school and my intention was to sing, not be in the spotlight. I grew up in front of everyone, so I felt like I could not move freely. I had an amazing teenage life, but still I think it was very hard for me to stay true to myself. Eventually, the need to stay true to myself arises from within me. In 2015, when I got married and have a child, I started the journey of looking inward. Which was not easy, because I think we live in a world where everyone nowadays is a public figure, life can be seen and judged through social media.

The world can be such a drama, like bullying or any other unpleasant things, and it does not feel good if you look at it that way. But if we asked, what is this presented situation actually symbolize? What is it trying to project about ourselves? Then we will learn and grow. Now, if anything happens, I always reflect to myself and see what needs to be worked out.

A lot of people asked me about how I go through pregnancy during the pandemic. It is different than my first pregnancy, because the external world is concerning. But when the feeling of uncertainty comes up, it can lead the way to self-reflection. As in the beginning of this second pregnancy, I wanted it to be a journey of cleansing, diving through uncomfortable emotions. And out of my expectation, this pandemic came where we need to stay at home and I have more time to resolve all of the things I once wished to do.

This is a journey of choosing which sides do we want to see and we always have the choice to look from a prespective that empowers.  

How do you connect your music and your womanhood? Is there a special relationship or underlying messages?

I used to feel that I have toxic positivity. Before, if I make a sad song the ending always has a ray of hope. In my newest song, people can sense a lot of grief. Because now I think when you acknowledge and dive deep through your sadness, you can discover yourself.  A lot of the songs that I make is also about self-empowerment. From my perspective, I truly honoured the role of women, but I do not want to get caught in my ego trap. I choose to let compassion and empowerment come from within.

How do you share roles with your partner in your marriage?

We are very equal. Since the beginning, we are committed to take this journey together as a partner. We build the same vision in marriage, finance, parenting, so that we can share roles whenever needed. We empowered ourselves with good communication and workshops that help us see potentials in ourselves and in our partner. I feel very lucky that I got married when we both have explored enough about ourselves, so we are ready to understand each other. This journey is like a beating pulse. It goes up and down, and we are here to ride the wave together.

"Empowered women, empower women."

Despite the different background, character, age, or generation, these women share the same courage to rise and embrace the journey of womenhood. The spirit that Kartini embodied lives through their stories. It is not about the challenges that life throws at us, but rather the courage of owning the truth, seeing beyond hardship, and being resilient to thrive. This is a journey of finding the strength within that empowers ourselves. Because empowered women, empower women.


Text by Arani Aslama
Photograph Courtesy of Sri Widowati, Diana Rikasari, Andien Aisyah, and Jenahara Nasution
Creative Direction by Kania Anggiani


 

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