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7 Sep, 2016

The Burkini debate: An Asian Perspective

Jakarta – When the PATA Travel Mart opened on Sept 7, one of the speakers at a session on Innovation and Technology was Shinta Witoyo Dhanuwardoyo, Founder of Bubu.com, one of Indonesia’s leading full-service Digital Agency. She is also a leading woman entrepreneur in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Mrs Shinta (or Ibu Shinta as she would be known in Indonesia) narrated a fascinating and inspiring story of how she saw the huge communication potential of the Internet in the 1990s, and started her company exactly 20 years ago in 1996. She outlined all the inspiring work they are doing, and the business emanating from it.

But she also commented on how proud she was to be a Muslim woman entrepreneur. “We are a Muslim country. Many people think women in Muslim countries are not in leadership positions, that we do not encourage women to become leaders. That’s not the case.”

Ibu Shinta narrated how she took inspiration from her grandmother who was a prominent barrister in Java and in 1960 had led a delegation of 19 men to a major UN conference at the UN headquarters in New York. “And this was in 1960,” she said.

She also gave some very important doing-business advice: 1) She’s failed in a number of initiatives but she now sees failure as an asset. “If you don’t fail, you don’t know your mistakes and then you tend to repeat them. Now my failures have become my assets, as I learn from them.” 2) Networking is more important than raising funding. “Revenue can come from a good business model, but it’s the networking that will help establish the contacts to keep the business going.”

It was a very smart, intelligent presentation by a woman who has travelled the world, spends a lot of time in Silicon Valley and has met many of the I.T. big-wigs. PATA deserves a round of applause for inviting her.

But perhaps unbeknownst to her, she sent an even more powerful global message.

She was very elegantly garbed in fashionable Islamic attire that enhanced her presence and reinforced her presentation.

Sitting opposite her was the moderator, a European lady whom I will not identify. She is a long-standing friend, and I have no desire to embarrass her.

This is how the two women looked on stage.



The European lady is entitled to her dress-code. In the world’s largest Muslim country, she has full freedom to wear whatever she wants on stage. No-one will issue a fatwa against her. No mayor will ban her.

But from the perspective of the femininity factor that defines womanhood, I will leave it to you, dear readers, to make your own call.

I could say a lot more, specifically to the French and other Europeans who are becoming victims of the anti-Muslim hype and storms in teacups, such as the burkini debate.

But I will leave it here, because my message is clear: For women to wear short skirts on stage is not a good idea. Try the far more sensible Islamic way instead.