Kartini's Day: Disclosing Stories of Women in The Water-Related Sector

Kartini Day Cover Kartini Day: Disclosing Stories of Women in the Water-Related Sector (Cover by Rizki Ramadhan Prayitno/The Water Agency)

In Indonesia, Kartini's Day is celebrated annually on the 21st of April. The day is to commemorate the birth of women's emancipation pioneer, Raden Adjeng Kartini. Living in the tradition of the past, Kartini used to face gender discrimination where girls should be secluded in the home from a very young age to prepare for marriage. However, Kartini did not succumb to those values. After a long journey, Kartini finally opened the first Indonesian primary school for native girls in 1903.

For her bravery and fighting spirit, Kartini has inspired a lot of women in Indonesia until today. Women have started to get more involved in various occupations and sectors, including the water sector.

In this edition, we spoke to four inspirational women working related to the water sector.

Meet Rizka Akmalia. She is a Spatial Analyst at Deltares, an independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface. Having an educational background in geodetic engineering, Rizka started to learn about the water sector while she learned about LiDAR data for flood assessment. Rizka enjoyed her work in remote sensing data learning but decided to work in the water sector where she felt able to give more contribution especially with the Jakarta flood that has been a recurring problem.

Secondly, meet Hafida Fahmiasari, a Junior Transport Specialist at International Finance Cooperation. Based in the United States, Hafida works in transport modellings such as for ports, railways, highways and airports. However, she pays a special interest in maritime transportation which she found about accidentally after getting the opportunity to be involved in sea toll projects for her bachelor's thesis. She joined World Bank in Jakarta as Maritime Transport Consultant and Royal HaskoningDHV as Maritime Economics Manager before finally decided to pursue her career in Washington DC. 

We also spoke to Eline Leising, a circular economy consultant at Rebel. Having a bachelor's degree in Architecture, Eline continued her study in Industrial Ecology where she learned about the circular economy, a systematic approach towards sustainability of using energy and water resources again. In the Netherlands, she worked for the government on setting targets around the waste as well as waste collection systems on the local level. Currently based in Indonesia, she's now involved in building a tool for the World Bank to inform policymakers around the substitution of plastics with other materials. 

Last but not least, meet Annisak Laila. Graduating from water resources engineering and currently pursuing her doctoral degree in coastal engineering, Annisak works for the government in the Water Resources Agency of East Java Province. Started her first three years on program arrangements in the water sector such as Regional Development Planning and budget prioritization, Annisak is currently assigned in River, Coastal and Reservoir Department. 

Choosing a Career Path that used to be labelled as a men's world

We may often hear that engineering is heavily male-dominated in the Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) field, but Annisak thought differently. She explained, "I think the number of acceptances between men and women is close to equal in colleges. So, I disagree with that men's world labelling." Being raised in a small town that still depended on groundwater use, Annisak saw women used to struggle to get clean water for cooking and taking care of the family which led her to choose the water sector as her career path.

Furthermore, she explained, "Our country Indonesia needs at least 1000 new engineers every year for public's infrastructure project but finding a job and succeeding in it is two different things. It is challenging that we must always learn new knowledge, skills and are required to do intensive field visits, but if we can pass it, no matter what our gender is, we will succeed. No matter our gender."

As for Elinehaving an interest in a lot of different things -she decided to get a bachelor's degree in architecture where she found a combination between the technical and the creative side. But furthermore, she figured that she wanted to be involved in sustainability and making an impact, she said, "I found that in architecture it was focused on 'I'm the top architect and I'm going to show you how I make an awesome building.' Whereas for me, you always serve the community. I wanted to make something that is nice and liked by people, something that serves people and the environment." Continuing her study in industrial ecology, Eline later joined Rebel and got involved in the waste sector that she found very interesting.

Gender Inclusivity

Working in a team mostly dominated by male engineers, Hafida thought that women still do not have enough representation in the engineering field. She said, "In my workplace with the ratio of 1:6 (dominated by the male) is already pretty good. A global company usually already has its idealism, but we don't know in other places like in African or even Asian countries."

Hafida saw more women's involvement in the engineering world, for example in transportation, would bring more benefits. She explained, "If we involve more women in designing public transportation, MRT for example, it will help to understand more suitable design for women like lightings in the night hour to prevent sexual harassment or the needs of lactation room in public stations."

Furthermore, Hafida noticed that the lack of women representation can be solved starting with the change of culture and social behaviour that should be followed by government regulations.

"It has to be emphasized on culture and social behaviour first, how to raise people's awareness that women can do the same things as men, (such as) to normalize women as bus drivers or train machinists" she stated.

She also explained that the same thing has been done in Kazakhstan, where they started to instil a perspective that women can work the same amount as men by holding a lot of training and advertisements for 6 months before the government started to make regulations on minimum required numbers of drivers or engineers in government projects.

Different from Hafida, Annisak said women now dominated her department where 7 out of 10 engineers are women. However, she thought, the gap may vary due to some field condition. She explained, "When flooding happens at midnight, male staff should visit the field directly no matter what." Nevertheless, Annisak thought that it is better to classify the representation based on passion without decreasing women involvement. She said, "If female staff want to join the field works anytime and anywhere or simply want to learn about project supervising, we should let them do it. They know their risk and ready to face it."

Struggling Experience

Talking about the struggles of a woman working in the water sector, Rizka told us about her experience while doing on-site visits with the local teams for her projects in Indonesia. She met a lot of restriction to enter places, "Usually people say 'women are not allowed to enter the forest' but it is not until I got married and pregnant then people said 'it is a taboo for women to enter the forest.'" Such a thing made Rizka had to cover her pregnancy so people would not treat her like an ill person until the locals noticed it when she entered her seventh month of pregnancy.

There was another experience when she became a mother. Rizka had to do breast pumping in a telephone booth since there were no lactation rooms in her office only to get rebuked by her fellow coworking space tenant. Refused to remain in silence, Rizka reached out to the Association of Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers (AIMI) to start a campaign that supports working mothers' right and to call to mind that offices are supposed to provide the referred room.

Similar to Rizka, Hafida also shared a struggling experience when she worked at a Port Consultant company with only 2 out of 20 people in her team were women and she often experienced catcalling while doing field survey. Hafida also told us about her struggle in proving herself, "When I entered the meeting room with the director, it was not about catcalling anymore but they thought 'Do women understand about Ports?' or 'Does she give the right advice?' So, I have to try to convince them numerous times." Hafida said she needed to go through around two projects before getting recognition in her third project. Unlike men who are easily heard, she advised women in this sector to work on their credentials more so they would have footprints to get people convinced of their work.

Finding balance in women multiple roles

Being a career woman, a wife and a mother, Annisak found it challenging to balance her multiple roles. To always live in the moment is what she suggested. "Honestly, until now, I never found a specific formula on how to balance those roles. But one thing I can suggest is to be present. No matter how much time you have with your family, parents or husband: we must focus on the quality of our togetherness. Even though we only have one hour per day or less, optimize it" she stated.

Facing a similar challenge in balancing multiple roles as Annisak, Eline stated that one of her reasons to work abroad was to have a bit more natural distance from these roles. To find a balance, she addressed the importance of self-focus. She explained, "I've literally had coaching for this. So it was also to let go of some of the responsibilities I felt. I had to learn to express, 'Ok, I cannot fix this all for you. These are my boundaries. Maybe I can help you somewhere next weekend and maybe only to this extent. But that's it.'"

Women inspiring women

In a male-dominated field, women supposed to empower one another. Unfortunately, Rizka thought the contrary happened in reality. She said, "A lot of my women friends gave up because of discouraging office situation. Many women pull each other off, maybe because women use too much feeling hence the feeling to compete is greater than men's." As for Rizka herself, she found a lot of women in her workplace inspiring. "At Deltares, I saw some women with multi roles as a mother, a reliable senior expert and a lecturer. I am in awe of how (they can handle multiple roles) that it becomes my motivation."

For Hafida, she saw Indonesian economists Sri Mulyani and Marie Elka Pangestu as her inspirations. She even checked on Sri Mulyani's age before she decided to get married. "(I got inspired by) Sri Mulyani, she can balance her family, got a PhD degree and still have a career or Marie Elka Pangestu who is a managing director at World Bank Group, she also can balance her family, career and became an academic at University of Indonesia. Before I got married, I also followed Sri Mulyani's age (at) 27 years old. So, I checked in 27 years of age, what she has achieved in career, she's married and so on" Hafida said.

On the other hand, Eline expressed her admiration towards Jane Goodall, a British woman who went to Tanzania in the 1960s to study chimpanzees. Eline said, "She's so inspiring for me as she is so involved in nature and she is now also a campaigner for a new green youth movement. She would like to get everyone inspired to change their behaviour to get a more sustainable world because she's showing what is now happening to the forest with her chimpanzees because they (forest and chimpanzee population) are really small now compared to what it was in the 1960s due to deforestation."

"An example for me of just going on your own all the way there. That's amazing" she continued.

Inspired by a lot of women like the author Najwa Zebian, the pioneer for alternative education for indigenous people Butet Manurung and women in the Indonesian government like Sri Mulyani, Susi Pudjiastuti, Retno Marsudi, Annisak paid a special admiration towards her lecturer, Prof. Lily Montarcih Limantara that creates a formula of Limantara Synthetic analysis of hydrograph unit that is recognized internationally.

Annisak said, "Although, throughout the world, women are represented less than 1 in 5 workers, but if they want, they will play a significant role in their work and make history. That's what I learned from my lecturer: we can make history."

Hope for the water sector

Rizka, Hafida and Annisak expressed their hopes to bring in more women into the water sector. In line with Rizka that hoped to see more leadership roles in the water sector, Hafida said, "In general, the number of women is greater than men. So, if the number of women (in career) is less (than men) that means there's something wrong with the utilization of women education generally in the world." However, Hafida saw a lot of potential for women's roles in water and engineering, "Especially in Indonesia, I give some mentorship to young women engineers, I saw a lot of unleashed potential. These women are smart and know what to do, but sometimes they don't know where they should focus on." Besides women, she also hoped that more people with disabilities will join the water and infrastructure sector to create more user-friendly, accessible and inclusive designs.

While Annisak highlighted the fact that the water sector did not only need engineering solution but also societal aspect and was just as important. She said, "Our social awareness regarding water is growing and I hope in the future, we must ensure that women get a fair chance in their workplace." Annisak also hoped that we can focus more on women's skill rather than mere qualification. She said, "When we look at skills over the experience, we understand what they can accomplish in the future such as a lot of innovation, out of the box problem-solving ideas and so on. Imagine, if we look at skills over qualifications. We will face a lot of innovation, right? We need more expertise from different backgrounds, identify the most effective option and make the best possible decision in the water sector since it is known historically to be conservative and slow advanced."

On the other hand, Eline hoped that engineering, in general, would always be put for the greater good and focus on a more integral and sustainable approach. She expressed her concern on the misleading theory in the engineering world, "There are still some professors who deny climate change, I hope we can get that over with." Eline also hoped that people would bring more attention to the waste/circular economy, she said, "The Ocean Cleanup got the topic of plastics on the global agenda, which is so very impressive. We now need to keep the attention to solve it, to get more and more investments."

Through Indonesia Healthy Rivers Challenge 2020 - a capacity building program in sustainable river management by The Water Agency – we noticed a significant number of women joining, voicing and contributing their ideas: 18 of 30 participants were female students and young professional with different backgrounds. We are proud to be the platform and to witness the growing numbers of Women in Water.

Message to all "Women in Water"

In this edition of Women in Water, Rizka, Eline, Annisak and Hafida have recorded special messages to inspire all Women in Water. Check out this video below!

Special thanks to these four inspirational women working in and inspiring the water sector. May the spirit of Kartini continues to inspire all women to be the light that never goes out!  

An article by: Keylin Vindyra and Rizki Ramadhan Prayitno (The Water Agency)

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