INDONESIA: AS VICE-PRESIDENT, KAMALA HARRIS MAY HELP RAISE THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN MY HOME COUNTRY

SIANY GUNAWAN WRITES –Even though I don’t share some of her beliefs, as an Asian American I respect Kamala Harris’s assertive nature, and I am proud of her achievement in smashing through the largest glass ceiling for people of color. Harris, a senator from California, is of Indian and Jamaican descent. She has encouraged people to study hard in school and to take pride in their identity.

As an Asian student who grew up in Indonesia, where women are often looked down on, I feel that Kamala Harris is the perfect figure to inspire women and girls all over the world. Growing up, I realized that only a few of my mother’s female friends got to work outside of the home. A few were businesswomen or entrepreneurs but most of them didn’t get the chance because they were expected to stay home and watch over the kids- that was their duty.

Despite those who hate her, Kamala Harris’s spirit reminds me of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, and to run for president in 1972. For some people it was so crushing when Hillary didn’t win the Presidency four years ago! Now things have changed.

Even though I’m not a U.S. citizen and do not have a green card, the election of Kamala Harris matters simply because of my recent experience in my home country. During this pandemic, I started working in sales, part-time, at a property firm. I experienced all types of discrimination as a young girl who hasn’t finished her studies but was already starting to work in a company. One time when I spoke up and said that I wanted to join the team and go into the field to view one of our sites so as to get a clearer view of the area, one of the guys on the team said “but you’re a woman, are you sure you’re able to take the heat? Since it’s going to be scorching hot at the site. Also, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come, we could just take a picture of the area and send it to you.”

At that moment, I was speechless. No wonder women seem to be under-represented in Indonesia’s businesses and economic development! In addition, women face challenges gaining access to financial capital. These are some of the experiences that have made me over the moon to see a woman of color elected Vice-President of the United States.

It’s possible, too, that Kamala Harris would be the first female president and the second biracial president in American history, following Barack Obama, if President-Elect Biden decided to step down. Speaking of her life during a lecture at Spelman College in 2018,  Harris said, “My mother would look at me and she’d say, ‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.’ And that’s part of why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us.” Harris echoed her mother’s words in a historic moment on Saturday night, during her first speech as Vice- President-elect. Speaking in Wilmington, Delaware, she said, “Although I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”

Beyond gender and race, Kamala Harris is really special, smart and successful, and her mere presence means so much to those of us of all ages who see ourselves in her.  I hope that she will continue to encourage and motivate women and girls when she serves as Vice-President.

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