WPLA marks International Women’s Day 2015

This year to mark the International Women’s Day, WPLA in collaboration with the LKYSPP Bridging Gender and Policy Group partnered with the leading tech companies to host a panel discussion. The event was widely attended by the students, staff and members of the public.

Photo Courtesy of Bridging GAP Group

The panel discussion focused on “Women Leaders in Technology: Why We Do What We Do?” and featured a panel of four remarkable women leaders from such tech companies as Microsoft, HP, Twitter and ConneXionsAsia.

  • Amelia Agrawal, Regional Director of OEM Marketing, Microsoft
  • Elizabeth Hernandez, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Asia Pacific & Japan, HP
  • Frederique Covington, International Marketing Director, Twitter
  • Rosaline Chow Koo, Founder and CEO, ConneXionsAsia

Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez was the moderator of the discussion.

The panelists shared their unique personal stories of how they achieved career success in the technology sector and the challenges they encountered along the way, whether the work-life balance is a myth, and how they contributed to the success of their companies.

One of the takeaways of the event relates to the risk women associate with the career in tech: “Are women less risk-taking, therefore less attracted to high-stakes tech industry? There is a steep learning curve that requires some confidence to take, not just in tech. Mentors need to convey to girls that it’s important to take risks.”


Photo Courtesy of Bridging GAP Group


Women Leadership in the Non-Profit Sector Case Study Series: Julia Suryakusuma

Pioneering Democracy in Indonesia

Julia’s rise as a leader and influential thinker was during the repressive New Order and early reformation era. Motivated by her desire to change the status quo and defend the oppressed, it was the perfect time for her to express herself as a voice for gender equality. Her passion, enthusiasm and bravery was the basis of taking up the challenge to be an activist on gender, human rights and democracy. Julia’s credibility as a leader grew by constantly introducing gender issues in the public agenda, which proved effective in giving her leverage with the media.

Julia initially gained recognition as a writer between 1971 and 1972 when she won a number of writing competitions for high school students in Jakarta. Upon returning from doing a BSc in sociology at City University in London, in 1979 she worked at Yayasan Indonesia Sejahtera (YIS, Prosperous Indonesia Foundation), a local NGO dealing in community health and development. As someone who had spent her child- and teenagehood living and studying abroad, working at YIS – albeit only for one year – gave her the opportunity to get know her own culture, people and society.

Then in 1981, at the age of  27, Julia was asked to be  guest-editor for an issue of Prisma , then the leading  scholarly journal in the country. The title of the issue was “Women in Indonesia: Between Myth, Reality, and Emancipation”, which  launched Julia’s career as an expert on gender issues. In 1991, again she reprised the role of guest-editor, for an issue on sexuality entitled “Sex in the Web of Power”, opening up a field of study previously unknown in Indonesia.

In 1998, spurred by the economic crisis, which quickly developed into a political crisis, with a group of several women activists, Julia co-founded Suara Ibu Peduli  (SIP, the Voice of Concerned Mothers).  The now famous SIP Hotel Indonesia roundabout demonstration on February 23, critical of the New Order government, was the beginning of a widespread movement which ultimately forced Gen. (ret.) Soeharto to step down.

Feeling the need to educate the electorate who for 32 years under Soeharto’s New Order regime had been depoliticized, in 1999, at the beginning of the reformation era, Julia founded Yayasan API (the Indonesian Political Almanac Foundation) and became its executive director. She was assisted by her son, Aditya Priyawardhana, and endorsed by a coalition of thirteen Indonesian NGOs. API Foundation’s first project was to compile a directory of political parties, which had exploded from three state-controlled ones to the astounding number of almost 200.

Unexpectedly, the first support she received was from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), a national NGO. WALHI provided the initial seed-money and institutional support. This was followed by full funding from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Within a miraculous three and a half months, the 700-page political party directory was completed, just before the June elections in 1999 – Indonesia’s first democratic election. Due to the success of the directory, the next logical step was to compile a reference book on the parliament. In 2000, Julia led a team of researchers and compiled the Panduan Parlemen Indonesia (PPI, Indonesia’s Parliament Guide), taking a year to complete. It contained the profiles of 700 members of parliament, an explanation of the working mechanism of the MPR (Indonesian House of Representatives), and a history of the Indonesian parliament from 1918 to 2000.

The PPI was launched on June 26, 2001, around the time of the general assembly of the MPR, and 20 days after the death of her husband of 27 years, Ami Priyono. The PPI is probably still the most comprehensive guide on the parliament that exists, up to now. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, Julia had to close down the API Foundation in November 2001, so was unable to continue with the important work it was doing.

Personal, Family and Cultural Backgrounds

Julia’s family hails from Priangan, West Java, the heartland of the Sundanese people, the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia. The values her family espoused were traditional and semi-religious. Her feminist stirrings developed as a result of what she felt to be differential treatment by her parents towards her and  her brother. Growing up, her father would suggest traditional female professions for her: flight attendant, secretary, or other occupations considered ‘proper for women’. Being a natural rebel, Julia baulked at the idea. “I’ve always wanted to change the world since I was a child”, she laughs, so clearly, traditional female roles was not for her.

However, this conflict of values with her family only served to sharpen her resolve to define herself according to who she felt she truly was. Although her family did not fully support her journey, she concedes that they played a role in shaping who she is now. In retrospect, her upbringing was instrumental in putting her on the path to become a leading authority on gender and sexuality issues in Indonesia.

Ironically, it was her marriage in July 1974 at age 20, to Ami Priyono, the late film director and actor, which also helped her pursue her calling. After giving birth to her son in November 1975, Julia decided to go abroad to study in the UK, defying all opposition from her family. Her mother called her “ungrateful”, but Julia felt she had to know who she was – apart from being a daughter, wife and mother. In the Indonesian traditional view, the ultimate aim in life is for a woman to have a family – and be happy and fulfilled by it. They certainly are not expected to leave their family behind to pursue an education or career.

Ostensibly she went to London, enrolling at City University, to obtain a BSc in Sociology. But in fact it was also a journey in search of identity, full of painful stumbling blocks, criticism even condemnation for “defying nature”: motherhood and being a wife. While initially opposed to her studying abroad, Ami eventually recognized he had married a rara avis (a rare bird), and that precisely to “keep” her, he had to let Julia go in search of her own identity. Julia feels that the feminist movement needs more supportive men like her late husband.

Women as Nonprofit Leaders

For Julia, the challenges for women in the nonprofit and private sector are similar but not quite the same. Gender has become an important aspect of development work and therefore many non-profit organizations engage women with the ability to generate social impact for other women.  Indeed there are several NGOs that work on issues such as women’s empowerment, migrant workers, domestic workers, and domestic violence in which women leaders are urgently needed.

Although NGOs are deemed as being more progressive than society at large, gender stereotypes pertaining to the women’s roles still persist. For example, women are still often relegated to so-called ‘domestic activities’, such as preparing food and drinks. Sexual harassment, even rape, also occur within the NGO movement which proves that despite progressive political proclamations, traditional gender mindsets die hard.

Whether women choose to work in the public or nonprofit sector, the reality is that women have to work twice as hard to be recognized because of the negative stereotypes that are still attached to women. According to Julia “It all depends on women, whether they are willing to take charge or not.”

About Julia Suryakusuma 

JuliaBorn in New Delhi, India, on July 19, 1954 to a diplomat family, Julia Suryakusuma grew-up overseas and spent her childhood and teenage years moving around. She grew up in London, Budapest and Rome. Starting her education in London at the age of six is the reason for her native fluency in English, while her education at Marymount International High School in Rome developed her critical and analytical thinking. It was also there that she developed an interest in philosophy.

She continued to develop her career as an independent scholar and freelance writer by writing both scholarly papers and essays as well as journalistic articles, features and columns in both national and international publications. Her MA thesis, State Ibuism: the Social Construction of Womanhood (Komunitas Bambu, 2011, bilingual English and Indonesian) has been a classic for 25 years and is required reading in universities in Indonesia as well as abroad. In 2004 she published “Sex, Power and Nation”, a compilation of her scholarly works, which has also has been translated into Indonesian (as “Agama, Seks dan Kekuasaan”, Komunitas Bambu, 2012).

Julia has been writing a regular column for The Jakarta Post since 2006. Her new book, Julia’s Jihad, an anthology of columns 2006-2013, was published in English in May 2013. Julia’s Jihad exists also in Indonesia and Korean versions, is currently being translated into French, and will be translated into German, and possibly Dutch and Arabic.


The Women Leadership in Non-Profit Case Study Series is led by the Women’s Pathways to Leadership in Asia (WPLA) and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. 

Women Leadership in the Non-Profit Sector Case Study Series: Soe Tjen Marching

Can a Chinese Minority Become a Leader? 

When asked about her rise as a leader, Soe is not quite sure how to answer the question. In her own words, she just followed her heart. However, she acknowledges that an important part of the process has been her strive to continuously work, write, and read to broaden her perspectives and think more critically. This process has led her to gain credibility in the non-profit sector, to establish an organization that promotes pluralism in the Indonesian society, and to become one of the most prominent female leaders in her country.

For Soe, becoming a leader requires fighting one’s own cowardice. She explains that most of the time, working in the non-profit area means fighting and arguing with yourself, especially on how far do you have to go and how effective will your work be. She acknowledges that at times there are compromises. Her opinions have been controversial and have made her the target of harsh criticism from religious fundamentalists groups.  These have led her to receive threats by religious fundamentalist groups. Though she is not really worried about her own safety, she is deeply concerned for the safety of those close to her,  family and friends.

Women’s Pathways to Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector

Soe Tjen Marching was born into a Chinese-minority family in Indonesia. Her father was involved in a left-wing newspaper during the Soeharto regime. His work made him the perfect target; he was imprisoned and tortured as a result of his political opinions and views. This trauma left deep marks in Soe and the rest of her family. Her mother even advised her and her siblings to stay away from politics. Not only did Soe decide to become an activist, she also found her father’s criticism against the regime, a profound influence to become a strong woman and eventually a leader. However, her decision created severe tensions in her family. Just before founding BHINNEKA, her mother was extremely worried and Soe didn’t feel her support. However, Soe never gave up her idea to make a meaningful contribution in her home country: Indonesia.

Women as Nonprofit Leaders

As a woman, many people look at her and say “How could she do that?” or even “How dare she do that?” Her Chinese Indonesian heritage, has made her an easy target of discrimination in Indonesia and often times she has been accused of being anti-nationalistic for her  severe criticism to the government and its policies. Despite these challenges, Soe feels a deep sense of commitment towards the people of Indonesia. In her definition,  being nationalistic means loyalty to the people and their rights. In her own words, there is no special recipe for women to overcome the barriers that they face in non-profit leadership and the only way to success is by following your heart.

Soe Tjen’s story is a remarkable example of why women leaders choose the non-profit sector to make a difference. Though it is not necessarily the easiest path, it is a space where they can pursue their genuine interests to spark a greater social good.

About Soe Tjen Marching

soe Tjen marching

Soe Tjen Marching is a Chinese-Indonesian writer, academic, composer, and leading activist in Indonesia. As a musician, her compositions have been played in several countries, including Japan, New Zealand and Indonesia. After finishing her undergraduate degree in Petra University Surabaya, Soe pursued a masters degree in New Zealand. She later received a doctorate degree from Monash University.

As a writer, Soe is the author of several publications and the recipient of many creative writing awards. Her book The Discrepancy Between the Public and the Private Selves of Indonesian Women was published by The Edwin Mellen Press in 2007.

Despite her success as a composer and writer, Soe remains a leading activist in her home country. In 2009, she founded BHINNEKA Magazine, a publication with the goal of promoting pluralism and gender, politics and religion. In her view, religious freedom in Indonesia was, and still is, at peril due to intolerance and violence under the flag of religion.


The Women Leadership in Non-Profit Case Study Series is led by the Women’s Pathways to Leadership in Asia (WPLA) and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. “Women Leadership in Nonprofit Case Study: Soe Tjen Marching” authored by Hendri Uulius Wijaya, a graduate student of the Lee Kuan Yew  School of Public Policy. 

Progress in UN Gender Equality Talks

The Commission on the Status on Women (CSW) concluded over two weeks of negotiations in New York. The commission concluded its talks on Saturday morning with an agreement by UN Members that states gender equality and women’s rights must be prioritized in future discussions, called for the acceleration of progress towards achieving the millennium development goals, and reaffirmed the need for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the set of international targets that will be introduced once they expire in 2015.

MDG : Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) opens at the UN Headquarters

Source: The Guardian

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said the agreement represented “a milestone toward a transformative global development agenda that puts the empowerment of women and girls at its centre”.

In a statement to the commission, Mlambo-Ngcuka stated:
“The safety, human rights and empowerment of women are pivotal in the post-2015 debate. UN Women is encouraged by the call of a large number of member states for a stand-alone sustainable development goal that addresses these issues. This will require political will, backed up by commensurate resources. As the commission rightly points out, funding in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment remains inadequate. Investments in women and girls will have to be significantly stepped up. As member states underline, this will have a multiplier effect on sustained economic growth.

“We know that equality for women means progress for all. Through the development of a comprehensive roadmap for the future, we have the opportunity to realize this premise and promise. The 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women has given important impetus to making equality between men and women a reality.”

For more information on this year’s gender equality talks, click on the link.

Source: The Guardian.



Leadership Lessons From WPLA Founder Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez

Tanvi Guatman’s interview with WPLA Founder, Astrid S. Tuminez, offers valuable lessons on leadership, career, and women as agents of change.

Tuminez offers 3 key lessons she’s learned along her career that can benefit women as they navigate the ups and downs of their careers:

1.       Brands you associate with provide you with power through your career trajectory so choose carefully.

2.       Your strengths and passion should define your career. It defines your competitive advantage

3.       Adapt to cultural demands of being a woman but remain true to who you are. EQ (emotional quotient) is crucial in leading in circumstances where women are expected to be submissive.

To access the 30 minute podcast, click on the link below:

http://wowfactor.asia/podcast-with-astrid-s-tuminez/ (Runtime: 30 minutes)

Debora Spar on Women’s Quest for Perfection

Following her highly acclaimed book titled “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” Debora Spar offers valuable advice on leadership, female empowerment, and the impossible quest of “having it all.”

Debora Spar, Author of Wonder Women

Though the Dean of Columbia University’s Barnard College celebrates the achievements of women in breaking ground in a wide range of industries, she warns of the dangers in the hyper-perfect images of working mothers and romantic notions of “having it all” that permeate the media. She explains that these depictions are idealistic and put added pressure on women.

In this candid interview, Spar offers valuable advice to professional women and those striving to “have it all.”

Source: Knowledge@Warton.

We Need Real Solutions: Not Fairytales

The following excerpt is a 2-part article series by Nurhidayah Hassan, a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.  

In Singapore, and many developed economies, it is not unusual for women to delay marriage and babies to pursue their career goals. Even after they tie the knot, many women wait for a couple of years before they start a family. They usually stop at one child, citing reasons such as the cost of raising kids and career goals as the driving forces behind their decisions. The latest figures by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) of Singapore (ICA publishes the Singapore Demographics Bulletin on a monthly basis) show that over 60 percent of babies were born to women aged 30 and above. Out of this number, close to 40 percent of babies are born to women 35 and above.

Source: Bridging Gap Blog

Source: Bridging Gap Blog


The nuclear family institution retains its importance in Singapore. A recent survey by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) showed that 83 percent of Singaporeans want to get married. The same survey reports that 80 percent of respondents want to have two or more children.  Still, these desires do not translate to more babies. According to 2012 figures from NPTD, Singapore’s fertility rates have remained persistently low, at 1.24 births per women, below the replacement rates of 2.1 births. What is causing this gap between desire and reality? Here’s a clue. The nuclear family unit is ultimately couched in patriarchy. It maintains the ideal roles of men and women in society which emphasises women’s roles as child bearers and men as breadwinners. It is no surprise that Singaporean women, who have invested so many years building their careers, are unwilling to give up their success in order to fulfill their reproductive duties.

Having failed to understand this fundamental concern, the government continues to enhance its series of measures to boost the country’s fertility rate – business as usual. Under the Marriage and Parenthood package (which started in 2001), future and current parents can look forward to incentives like baby bonuses, parenthood tax rebates and childcare subsidies. This entire goodie bag is costing the government a whopping SGD 2 billion this year, an increase from SGD 1.6 billion in 2012. Billions of taxpayers’ money has been spent, yet its fertility rates remain low. Someone needs to tell our policymakers that their policies are clearly failing. Besides being economically unsustainable, these solutions do not address the issue’s root problem.

For Hans Rosling, a brilliant Swedish academic and internationally recognised speaker, the solution was clear – the men. During his Singapore visit three years ago, Professor Rosling did not mince his words: “Singapore fathers are the real losers when they abdicate child-rearing responsibilities to mothers. And the state, too, becomes much poorer for it.” His native country, Sweden, boasts one of the most generous family policies in the world. Swedish parents are given 480 days of leave per child, with 420 of these days paid up to 80 percent by the government. The couple decides how to divide the leave days, but there is a catch. It is compulsory for fathers to take at least two months paternity leave for them to enjoy the full line of benefits, like subsidies and allowances. It is worth noting that Sweden’s fertility rate is 1.90 (up from 1.76 in 2004), one of the highest figures in Europe.

If the Singapore government were serious about overcoming its demographics challenges, it has to start addressing the gender bias in its family policies. While women receive 16 weeks of maternity leave, men are entitled to one week of paternity leave. That is simply pathetic. It is no rocket science that fathers play an equally important role in childrearing, so why not have equal parenting leave? Does the government doubt the diaper-changing capabilities of Singaporean men? In her wildly popular book “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, urged women to not only take on more leaderships roles, but like Rosling, she also highlighted the role of men in the gender equality equation: “…the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is…When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner… Someone who values fairness and expects, or even better, wants to do his share in the home.” Instead of using fear tactics (as evident in The Singaporean Fairytale website) to scare women into making babies or offer monetary incentives, doesn’t it make more sense to encourage women to marry men who want to have an equal share of childcare duties? After all, it takes two to tango.

If you are beginning to feel like all of the above sound like the usual feminist diatribe, you are wrong. Men have come out to voice their burning desire to spend more time at home. In a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek issue, the cover article, “Lean Out: Working Dads Want Family Time, Too” talks about the work-life dilemma that a new generation of dads are facing, and how they need to be included in the equality conversation: “Men are prisoners of all that money and power they spend their lives amassing because it’s what’s expected of them.” This new breed of “Alpha Dads” are pushing for family-friendly work policies and are willing to challenge norms for the sake of spending more time with their kids. More and more men choose to stay home and take care of the kids while their wives bring home the bacon. When my husband announced to our friends, in all manner of seriousness, that he wants to be a fulltime dad once I finish graduate school, maniacal laughter erupted from the room. In a patriarchal society like Singapore, “stay-at-home dad” remains a dirty term.

As such, social norms and the gender division of labour at home and at the workplace can only change through a paradigm shift in our family policies. While parents and future parents welcome the host of incentives from our government, it would be even more useful if both women and men are given equal access to childcare benefits. If the burden of childcare continues to fall squarely on women’s shoulders, it is no surprise that the Singaporean fairytale will not have a happy ending.  Instead of spinning tales, I urge our policymakers to delve deeper into the fertility issue and find real and sustainable solutions that will help our society move forward, not take ten steps back.

The excerpt was originally featured in the National University of Singapore’s Bridging Gap blog.  

State of the Art: Symposium on Women’s Leadership in Asia

Thursday, 11 April 2013, 5:15-6:30pm

Seminar Room 3-5, Manasseh Meyer, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

A year after the release of the report, Rising to the Top? Women’s Leadership in Asia, a joint project of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Asia Society, WPLA continues the discussion of the opportunities and challenges confronting women who aspire to lead. How is the situation of women changing in Asia? How has international diplomacy influenced the globalization of gender-related issues?  What new ideas are worth considering for advancing women’s leadership?

Three keynote speakers will briefly speak on these themes:

Dr. Astrid S. Tuminez, Regional Director, Microsoft Asia Pacific; Adjunct Professor, LKYSPP

Ambassador David I. Adelman, United States Ambassador to Singapore

Jessica Tan Soon Neo, General Manager, Microsoft Asia Pacific; Member of Parliament, East Coast GRC

The symposium will include an interactive session which will be followed by cocktails and a brief reception. Please click on the following link to RSVP for the event: WPLASymposium