Skip to main content
Sakdiyah Ma'ruf laughs with an audience that is off camera at an event.
Ma’ruf speaks at Kumparan’s Women’s Week in conjunction with International Women’s Day and Kartini Day in Indonesia. Photo by Jamal Ramadhan/Kumparan


The Language of Comedy

Play audio version

Indonesia’s First Muslim Female Stand-Up Comic Sakdiyah Ma’ruf: At the Intersection of Interpretation and Comedy

May 9, 2022

When asked about her work as an interpreter and comedian and the influences that brought her to both industries, Sakdiyah Ma’ruf simply says, “I’ve always had something to say.”

Born in a small town in Central Java, Indonesia, Ma’ruf grew up in a conservative Muslim community before eventually studying English literature at Sebelas Maret University. She began volunteering at smaller events, such as disaster relief efforts, as a language interpreter. After completing her master’s thesis at Gadjah Mada University on the subject of stand-up comedy, she graduated in 2015 and found work as an in-house, full-time interpreter with a children’s rights organization. “I was never far away from topics related to human rights and social issues and advocacy,” she says. 

Ma’ruf was recently hired to work as an interpreter and instructor with the Disability Justice Project’s first cohort of Indonesian fellows. As an interpreter, she works to build bridges and connect people. In the midst of those connections, she finds deep satisfaction and joy in her work. She admits that it can be challenging, but the work is fulfilling. Connection and communication are important to her. She counts herself fortunate that both her work as an interpreter and as a comedian share those commonalities: “I’m first and foremost interested in comedy because of the language. I thought it sounds like poetry even, where it is well-crafted.” 

Ma’ruf was exposed to comedy at a young age. She grew up watching the likes of traditional Javanese comedies as well as sitcoms from the West. She turned to comedy after witnessing domestic and sexual violence against women and girls in her community. “I thought, ‘Well, somebody has to say something about this.’ Comedy is not only about walking funny or making a funny face. It’s a medium where you can actually talk about the issues that you think are important to you,” says Maruf. She gave stand-up a try in 2015, resolving to try it once and quit if she became embarrassed. Ma’ruf is now hailed as Indonesia’s first Muslim female stand-up comedian.

Ma’ruf has performed at TEDxUbud, Sydney Ideas at the University of Sydney, and Kompas TV, a national private news television network in Indonesia. In 2018, she was named one of BBC’s 100 Women, highlighting her work and her use of comedy “as a way to challenge Islamic extremism and violence against women.” While comedy is performance art, one that involves frequently standing on a stage in front of audiences that may or may not laugh, Ma’ruf finds sanctuary in her work as an interpreter. “It’s a perfect balance,” she says. “I found a place where I could just be and just work without worrying about whether it’s going to work or not. As long as I’m well prepared and the technology works, then it will be 90 percent to 95 percent guaranteed that [language interpretation] will work.”

In both areas of her work, Ma’ruf strives to be a human rights and social justice advocate. She expresses excitement about the 12-week Disability Justice Project (DJP) workshop she started with the fellows this week, citing the combination of social justice, storytelling, and language as motivation for her involvement with the DJP. “It’s a rare opportunity to delve into a topic for 12 weeks intensively. Twelve weeks in a row is such a rare, rare opportunity because even if I’ve been working on an issue as an interpreter for quite a long time, I’ve never had the opportunity to do 12 weeks straight,” she says. “I’m very much looking forward to remaining invisible, but at the same time being engaged with the journey of the participants.” 

Her partnership with the DJP will allow her to delve deeper into the global disability justice movement: “It’s humbling for me to be able to learn from a movement that is so complex and yet so strong in terms of … its advocacy and humanity. I’m truly blessed to be able to work with the DJP.”

Claire Joy Moss is the Communications/Social Media Manager at the Disability Justice Project.

News From the Global Frontlines of Disability Justice

A photo montage of inaccessible voting places across the US.

Barriers to the Ballot

Despite legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, barriers at the polls still hinder — and often prevent — people with disabilities from voting. New restrictive laws in some states, such as criminalizing assistance with voting, exacerbate these issues. Advocacy groups continue to fight for improved accessibility and increased voter turnout among disabled individuals, emphasizing the need for multiple voting options to accommodate diverse needs. ““Of course, we want to vote,” says Claire Stanley with the American Council of the Blind, “but if you can’t, you can’t.”

Read more about Barriers to the Ballot

A collage of photos showing inaccessible polling stations.

Democracy Denied

In 2024, a record number of voters worldwide will head to the polls, but many disabled individuals still face significant barriers. In India, inaccessible electronic voting machines and polling stations hinder the ability of disabled voters to cast their ballots independently. Despite legal protections and efforts to improve accessibility, systemic issues continue to prevent many from fully participating in the world’s largest democracy. “All across India, the perception of having made a place accessible,” says Vaishnavi Jayakumar of Disability Rights Alliance, “is to put a decent ramp at the entrance and some form of quasi-accessible toilet.”

Read more about Democracy Denied

An illustration of DJP fellow Esther Suubbi and some of her peers.

Triumph Over Despair

DJP Fellow Esther Suubi shares her journey of finding purpose in supporting others with psychosocial disabilities. She explores the transformative power of peer support and her evolution to becoming an advocate for mental health. “Whenever I see people back on their feet and thriving, they encourage me to continue supporting others so that I don’t leave anyone behind,” she says. “It is a process that is sometimes challenging, but it also helps me to learn, unlearn, and relearn new ways that I can support someone – and myself.”

Read more about Triumph Over Despair

Daniel Mushimiyimana from the Rwanda Union of the Blind, sits in a row of chairs at a conference.

‘Our Vote Matters’

As Rwanda prepares for its presidential elections, voices like Daniel Mushimiyimana’s have a powerful message: every vote counts, including those of citizens with disabilities. Despite legal frameworks like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, challenges persist in translating these into practical, accessible voting experiences for over 446,453 Rwandans with disabilities. To cast a vote, blind people need to take a sighted relative to read the ballot. An electoral committee member must be present, violating the blind person’s voting privacy. “We want that to change in these coming elections,” says Mushimiyimana.

Read more about ‘Our Vote Matters’

Srijana KC smiles at the camera. She has long dark hair and is wearing a red scarf and green cardigan sweater.

Voices Unsilenced

Often dismissed as a personal concern, mental health is a societal issue, according to Srijana KC, who works as a psychosocial counselor for the Nepali organization KOSHISH. KC’s own history includes a seizure disorder, which resulted in mental health challenges. She faced prejudice in both educational settings and the workplace, which pushed her towards becoming a street vendor to afford her medications. Now with KOSHISH, she coordinates peer support gatherings in different parts of Nepal. “It is crucial to instill hope in society, recognizing that individuals with psychosocial disabilities can significantly contribute,” she says.

Read more about Voices Unsilenced

Three fellows with the Disability Justice Project stand behind their cameras in a room. One is blind and one is low vision.

Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch

Last summer, the DJP trained Indigenous activists with disabilities from the Pacific on the iPhone camera to create a documentary series on disability and climate change. With VoiceOver, the iPhone provides image descriptions for blind and low-vision filmmakers and offers other accessible features. “If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for a blind person to use a camera,” says DJP filmmaker Ari Hazelman. “The iPhone gives you more avenues to tell your story in a more profound way as a blind person.”

Read more about Capturing Vision Through Sound and Touch