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For many Indonesian women, opting for a career is not an easy path – and even more so when you choose to work in a challenging, male-dominated factory environment.

But, this has not stopped Itsna Lathifa from chasing her dreams. The mother of two children now serves as the Acting Process & Pulp Product Quality Assurance Area Head at Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP).

Itsna is the epitome of women’s empowerment, successfully managing all the obstacles she’s faced in the working world thus far, beginning with when she began her career at RAPP in 2005.

When Itsna first joined RAPP, her mother had disagreed as Itsna had to work the night shift at the time. Her mother was often anxious as the people who worked the night shift were mostly men. At 11pm every night, Itsna would call her mother to reassure her that everything was alright.

“My mother was worried because it was unusual for a woman to work at night. Yet, in fact, RAPP is very safe and the facilities are comprehensive,” Istna said.

“There are security guards present so we can work professionally without incidents, InsyaAllah. There’s also a carpool service which takes us home immediately after work.

“There aren’t many female employees working the night shift, but I did it since I felt safe there and that I could handle the work,” she continued.

Itsna said that she gained a lot of knowledge and experience through working the night shift. According to her, working the shift caused her to become much more independent and responsible than she was before.

“I learned a lot by working at night, including how to coordinate my job duties. I also developed more responsibility as working at night meant that I had to figure out how to do most things on my own,” Itsna explained.

Being a technician at the Technical Department meant that Itsna started her career at the bottom of the ladder. The job, however, was in line with her education background as a graduate of the Chemistry Department at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta.

“I was able to work in the lowest level of the department, and learned about regular analysis and also quality control from there,” Itsna said.

Following five months of working at night, Itsna was then transferred to a position with normal working hours – going into the office in the morning and leaving in the evening. Shortly after that, in a bid to improve employee quality, RAPP’s talent development program offered Itsna the opportunity for a master’s program.

With the encouragement of her boss, Itsna decided to apply for the scholarship program to do a master’s in Thailand. However, her mother was once again anxious, as it meant that her daughter would have to go a foreign country where she had no relatives.

Itsna managed to once more convince her mother that this was an opportunity to develop her career.

“There were a lot of things to consider when I applied for the scholarship – starting with how I am a female and will be separated from my mother. But this was a very good opportunity for me to grow and develop with the company,” she shared.

“My father also helped to convince my mother that this scholarship was an opportunity that won’t come again,” Itsna added.

After seamlessly passing many selection stages, Itsna and three other colleagues successfully received the scholarship and went on to continue their studies in the Pulp and Paper Technology Department at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.

To her surprise, Itsna was the only woman to receive the scholarship.

“For me, it was a really proud moment because I was able to prove to my parents that it is possible for me to continue my studies at a postgraduate level without needing them to fund it,” she said.

“I was surprised when I found out I was the only woman to come to Thailand. In addition, it was also apparent that there was no other woman before me who had received a scholarship from the company to study in Thailand,” Itsna further said.

After two years of studying in Thailand, Itsna returned with her master’s degree. She did not hesitate to apply the knowledge she had gained through her studies at RAPP, which was useful in further aiding the company to produce high quality products.

Itsna also takes pride at being able to work directly with the company’s board of directors, as not many women are involved in pulp and paper operations.

“It is a very proud moment for me when I can have a meeting with the directors and my opinion is heard by them. I even mailed a photo of me being the only woman at a meeting with the directors to my mother,” Itsna said.

These days, Itsna often receives requests from the company to share inspirational stories with new employees, especially to women. Itsna adamantly tells them that women have to be equal to men in the working world.

“In principle, when it comes to our jobs, there is really no difference between men and women.

“So I emphasize that they should keep trying, and we should not limit ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do something because we are women. We have to eradicate such mindsets,” Itsna said.

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