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Kartini's Day and Indonesian women

Raden Ajeng Kartini
Recently on April 21 the Indonesian nation commemorate Kartini's Day. Actually Kartini's Day is similar to Mother's Day (celebrated in Indonesia on December 22) or International Women's Day. Perhaps to understand Mother's Day you need to understand a person in your life called Mother, and for the International Women's Day and Kartini's Day perhaps you need to understand the person in your life called wife or sister. If you are underestimating women then firstly you need to look at your mother. Am I wrong?

In short: That is all for women. In wider meaning: That is how these special Day to further raise the awareness of Indonesian society or even the world - especially the women themselves - about women rights, their struggle for equality, and their important role in various spheres of life. This is also an occasion for Indonesian women to review how far their struggle get acknowledgment especially from the point of view of Indonesian traditional society who live in rural areas.

Kartini's Day is taken from the name Raden Ajeng Kartini, a heroine for the emancipation of Indonesian women during Dutch colonial. In 1964, President Sukarno declared Kartini's birth date, April 21, as Kartini's Day. This decision has been criticized by some historical observers. They argued that Kartini was selected by the Dutch to be displayed in front as a heroine for the advancement of native Indonesian women. They also argued that we take over Kartini as a symbol of Indonesian women emancipation from the Dutch people - why not Ratu Safiatuddin Taj ul-Alam from Aceh, or Dewi Sartika from Bandung, or Rohana Kudus from Padang. However, the commemoration of Kartini's Day still continue until today. But that's not the focus in this post because, for me, all the heroines can be an inspiration for Indonesian women to go ahead, right?

In the era of Kartini, the condition of Indonesian women was very marginalized and stuck in the system that are culturally, economically, socially, and politically, didn't take sides to women. Ordinary women were not allowed to school, become leaders, even did not have the freedom to choose a husband. This is worsened by the norm in the society that considers women's role only take care of home, children, and be a good wife and obedient to her husband. Within the circumstance, Kartini didn't give up and lament the situation. She was determined to elevate her people from ignorance and poverty. Kartini also known as a pioneer for the rights of indigene women at that time, in order to raise the dignity of women from the pit of contempt. Eventually Kartini had founded schools for her fellows Indonesian.

She keep maintained her spirit, ideas, thoughts and ideals through the letters that she sent to her friends in Netherlands. Kartini's letters much says about the independence of the Indonesian nation, education for women, and gender equality. Brilliant thoughts that goes beyond her age and era, even still relevant today and become the inspiration for many people. After Kartini died, Mr J. H. Abendanon (Minister for Culture, Religion and Diligence in the East Indies) collect the letters that Kartini had sent to her friends. In 1911, the collection of Kartini's letters published in a Dutch-language book titled Door Duisternis tot Licht, and then translated into English titled Letters of a Javanese Princess (click this link to read it). The book also published in Indonesian language with the title Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang. After publication, the book attracted great interest in the Netherlands and Indonesia. Her ideals also provided inspiration for prominent figures in the struggle for Independence.

Whether Kartini's spirit and ideals has been perceived by most women in Indonesia today? I see Indonesian women now are getting a lot of progress. Many women have become important persons in many companies and organizations, work as teacher, lecture, researcher, politician. The law has set 30% the number of women in the House of Representative and in the stewardship of political parties (unfortunately there are no sanctions for violator). Even former President of Indonesia Megawati Sukarnoputri was a woman.

Nonetheless, the spirit of Kartini has not been felt in hinterland or rural areas where many women not yet get a decent education or not going to school at all. Sometimes that's not because the government did not build a school there, but also because of the stigma in society who still assumes that whatever is achieved by women in education and career, finally after married ended up in the kitchen. Domestic violence remains a scourge for most women in Indonesia. Why? That is because many women are still very dependent to her husband financially. Especially after having children they almost had no bargaining power, helpless to act or take legal action. Fear of the future of children is often a major reason for women to survive in misery, even willing to become migrant workers abroad.

Note: Image of Kartini was taken from Wikipedia under Creative Commons license with attribute to Tropenmuseum of the Royal Tropical Institute.


  1. Hi Tikno,
    Very clear explanation about Kartini and her struggle for woman's emancipation in Indonesia.
    I agree many women in rural area still do not know the importance of education not because there is no school but because of the mindsets of people there who think no matter how high a woman's education their role in life would be as housewives, or like you say in the kitchen.

  2. This is a post I second from the first word to the last. I can't but agree with Harry: it's a clear portrait of Kartini's ( and her soul-sisters') significance and impact.

    Though also agree with a huge gap between conditions for urban women in comparison to rural ones, I sometimes wonder whether it wouldn't be beneficial if a real feminist wave would develop in the country ( I think it would).

  3. Multibrand (Harry Nizam),
    That's the real obstacle. Indonesian women have to face the stigma in their own community. Did you feel it?
    As an Indonesian man, whether you will feel inferior if one day your wife become a superwoman? That is why a superwoman sometimes has trouble to find partner ;)

  4. Colson,
    In our country a man is positioned as the head of household while woman is positioned as housewife. These formed the idea that the husband's duty is to make a living, while a woman's task is to manage a home. Most Indonesian women after marriage moreover having children, tend to choose family instead of continue to pursue her career. See also my comment to Multibrand aka Harry Nizam.

  5. Thank you for that very instructive post about the women of Indonesia. I am very happy to see that you are proud of this lady and respect her for what she did and under what circumstances. Her work will not go to waste. Your rural parts will also benefit sooner or later as it has slowly been happening in India too.

  6. Rummuser,
    An India's friend of me who worked here say that what is written in this post is not too much different describes the situation of Indian women in his country - in facing the norm / stigma in their own society. It seems that India and Indonesia also sharing in many things.

  7. I think the lack of education in the very remote areas of this country is not only faced by the women but also by the men as well. Of course it is inevitable that Kartini had inspired millions of Indonesian women past and present to enjoy modern education and to grab the opportunities in careers parallelling the men. But with or without the spirit of Kartini, we have to be able to provide equal education and equal opportunities to the whole nation, men and women alike, regardless of their areas in this country!

  8. I agree to your points about equality in education and opportunities to the whole nation. Frankly that's our problems. That's why some educational observers (including parents) objected to the implementation of national exam evenly to all schools, regardless of their areas.
    How you think about this problem?

  9. Thank you for the enlightening post, Tikno. You made a valid point about the weak bargaining power of a housewife in Indonesia. I think as much as women need to get formal education, men should also be ‘educated’ in broader sense to be familiar with the idea of gender equality in the households. Only when her spouse is supportive, a woman can be better off from emancipation.

  10. Aprianti,
    Through this post I'm trying waken a man's heart to better appreciate women. ;)

  11. wah artikel dgn bahasa yg beda...ku blum bisa nih, sbabnya masih baru 4 bulan di blog,..tapi tetep trimakasih ya atas infonya,...

  12. Enjoying reading Kartini's letters. Looks like she died when still young.

  13. Looney,
    Indeed, a piece of history which is worth reading.

  14. A very interesting piece of history about ibu Kartini. Inspiring. thank you for sharing.

  15. Dr Sam,
    I guess the women matter like this in Malaysia is not much different with Indonesia.

    Cerpen, thanks for stopping by.

  16. Anonymous17 May, 2011

    Interesting post.
    The more good empowering female role models the better.

  17. Blackwatertown,
    I also hope so.

  18. Anonymous02 July, 2011

    From what you described Tikno, it does sound as if Kartini was a woman ahead of her time. In an age where most women still had a narrow view of the world, Kartini forged ahead with her own ideals and was determined to live her own life.
    She will be and remain an inspiration to all Indonesian women :)

  19. I was born in Indonesian when it was the Dutch East Indies. Nice to read about women there now. Interesting how you phrase the English, not being your language.

    bikehikebabe in USA

  20. I PRAY You and FAMILY are well.

  21. It's been some time, FRIEND. The waters have risen and I don't hear that you and family ARE WELL. What I said before is important. Here's thought for you...
    Our “Marble”

    We live on a MARVELOUS Marble
    in someone else’s sky,
    and, on this MARVELOUS Marble
    is where we live and die.

    On this LIVING Marble
    with the greens, and browns,
    and blues.
    It’s a very VALUABLE Marble
    specks of beige, brown,red,and black
    which combination makes you YOU?

    We used to CARE about THIS Marble,
    because there was more of it
    than our GREEDS.

    How tired of us is THE Marble?
    It only has so much
    to replenish SILLY “NEEDS”.
    May ALLAH keep you and family well.

  22. This is a good blog. Keep up all the work. I too love blogging and expressing my opinions. You can visit our website How To Hack Facebook Account

  23. Terima Kasih!
    Blessings to your FAMILY.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Hi Bro Tikno,
    How are you? I hope all goes well with you and your family. Take care

  26. Happy New Year 2012 to you too..Tikno. Kartini is a great role model for women in Indonesia.. Happy Blogging!

  27. I'm sorry for not posting for long time and very late reply to your valuable comment. Just because I'm unable to manage my time to do so.
    Allow me to say Happy New Year to you all.

  28. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    I hope it is not too late he he he ....

  29. Hello H. Nizam, thanks. Every day is a good day, no word for late.

  30. Tikno, I look forward to your next post!

    1. My apologies for late reply. It's because my real job much consuming my time and I difficult to manage my time for blogging. I still miss you all and blogging and will return in time.

    2. Stopping by to say hello Tikno, I know you are busy and I hope you are well. All the best!

  31. I know from Kartini, he is a man and a remarkable woman. But in these days of war he is mistaken for gender freedom freely. But physically alone, men and women might not be equated. There should be no gender equality demands equal rights to work like men, that there is a gender harmony. Where are the men and women to support each other, are complementary, not competing against each other and became king in his community. May be useful. Greetings.

    1. Sorry for my late response.
      If a woman can and have such ability to work like a man, why not?
      You should not feel rivaled by a woman. This is not a matter of competing to each other but provide the same opportunities to each other.
      btw... did you think Kartini is a man??


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