Thursday, April 21, 2005

Raden Ajeng Kartini, Are We Really Free?

Indonesians commemorate April 21 as Kartini Day (or, Hari Ibu Kartini). It’s the birthday of Raden Ajeng Kartini, a prominent heroine in women’s emancipation movement in Indonesia. The government declared RA* Kartini as a national hero by Presidential Decree No. 108 dated May 2, 1964. Kartini is now celebrated as one of Indonesia's feminists and nationalist icons. This day is usually marked by activities within women's groups. In Indonesian schools children compete in national dress competitions.

In Indonesia beauty salons are usually packed on Kartini Day with women who need help with their hair and makeup. Many schools oblige the students to wear traditional costumes and then sing Ibu Kita Kartini (Our Mother Kartini), a song dedicated to Ibu Kartini. Some companies also have their women-employees don similar attires. To be honest I didn’t really like to commemorate Kartini Day like this. It’s very hard to do something that’s against my will and I felt like a fool! I think I had worn enough traditional costumes for Kartini Day during my elementary school. At work, I dreaded the day when I had to go to the office wearing traditional costumes—thank God, I could usually find excuse to skip this inconvenient ‘office rules’! Some of my friends didn’t like it too but they had no choice. [Why didn't we do something creative? Teaching the street kids on that day, for example. Or, letting working moms enjoyed their times with their children at home or in their work places?]

Moreover, to highlight the Kartini Day celebration, contests are organized for best flower arrangements, cooking and Kartini look-alikes. Sometimes, males are encouraged to take part, for cooking at least, although the look-alike pageant is off-limits. Geez! Do we celebrate her feminity or her feminist spirit?

If Kartini really was a hero of women's emancipation, I thought, why couldn't we girls and women wear pants on that day like the boys? OK, not pants but clothes that we like and feel comfortable to wear. I believe we would be happier to wear something that allowed us to move freely instead of being bundled up in tight, constricting outfits.

We learned from our school textbook that because of Kartini Indonesia’s women could now go to school. We are told that because of her, there are women doctors, engineers and politicians. In short, we are told to be proud because today there is equality between men and women. Well, is there real equality between men and women in Indonesia? Then, why are there so few women legislators when women constitute more than half the country's population? I know there are a few exceptions, but it must also be conceded that many of those women, like in other parts of Asia, rode the coattails of their male relatives to prominence.

We should also face the fact - this is still a man's world. Patriarchy has been the root of society for ages and it is not easy to change. Many still regard women as objects to be exploited, evident in our tabloids full of steamy photos of women. The naysayers argue that the women look happy in the pictures, that they made the choice to be photographed. Well, of course they will grin and bare it all when sexuality and beauty are still keys for women to earn a living in this country.

I can understand why Kartini had to struggle in her own way. She obeyed her father to an arranged marriage while kept writing about independence and equality. She was aware of the conditions and situation of her time. That’s why, I think, her struggles worked well in a subtle and gentle way, through her 'door' as a woman. Her far-reaching vision and intelligence made her able to see and choose the way that enabled her to make her dream come true. She was a Moslem yet in her attitudes, words and ideals, I find common kind of faith and values. She showed her strong character ~ her independent way of thinking, her courage to go against the current and her pioneer spirit.

[Kartini was a ‘soft’ rebel. She was a good girl. I wonder though, if Kartini disobeyed her parents and went it alone, would she still be recognized as a national hero today? May be not. Maybe her birthday would not be celebrated as a benchmark in women's emancipation in the country; she would have been a troublemaker, going against the norm in a feudal society.]

Then… are we, the women of Indonesia today, really free? Perhaps for some of us. Yet, think again. Are we really free? Are we really free to speak our mind and heart? Are we safe from sexually explicit looks when we walk on the streets? Are we free to be ourselves and not the ones imposed to us by society? Are strong and outspoken women still labelled as bitches? Why women in the top positions are being scrutinized more than their male counterparts? Are we doing enough to teach our young generation and male counterparts about gender awareness, that there should not be female subordination or male supremacy?

I have a dream, and in my dream women are not treated as objects, women are judged by their thoughts, personalities and achievements instead of a beautiful face or voluptuous body. We still have a long, long way to go. But, we should keep on going, shouldn’t we?

This is a tribute to my mother and my grandmothers. Thank you to raise me and to provide me with examples to be true to myself, to stand strong against the current, and to be a woman comfortable in her own skin. [Once I had fist fight with a boy - who liked to treat girls badly - when I was in the fourth grade. He never ridiculed and bullied me anymore after that. Blame my mom for that. *smile*]

Last but not least, does anybody want to lead a project in Wikipedia about Indonesian Heroines or Influential Women, or at least Kartini? I couldn’t find it… and hardly find many good resources around this subject.

Who is Kartini?
RA* Kartini was born on 21 April 1879 in the village of Mayong in the municipality of Jepara in Central Java. She was the daughter of Raden Mas Adipati Aryo Sosroningrat, the Regent of Jepara. He had 12 children from several wives. Having grown up in an aristocratic family, Kartini was strongly influenced by Javanese customs. Fortunately, her father was a wise leader and had great insight. He used to take his children to visit kampongs and villages, to help and work with the people, who at that time were under Dutch colonisation. These experiences heightened Kartini's awareness of the struggles of ordinary people, with whom she also developed a close relationship.

At that time, according to traditional custom, girls received no formal education. They were kept at home, and trained to be good wives, learning many kinds of housework skills. The parents would arrange marriage at the right time. It was rare that a girl would even have met her husband before her marriage to him. Being of wider experience and opinions, Kartini's father sent all his children, including his daughters, to have Western-type education at a local Dutch school. She was lucky to receive a Dutch education. This was normally reserved for Dutch and children of royal families. In doing so, he had taken a courageous new step, never before taken by Javanese aristocrats. As a result, he was considered a rebel against the traditional customs of his country. However, in spite of her father's courage, by the age of 12 Kartini had to stay at home, just like other girls. Kartini had to stop her formal Western-type education at this age because of the old Javanese tradition of pingit, which meant she had to stay at home and wait for marriage. During her days at home she wrote to her many friends abroad. She was a rebel against the strong tradition of gender discrimination.

But after those six years of schooling, Kartini found that her Western education had undermined the hold of Javanese customs on her. She regarded her years at home as 'imprisonment', and it caused her to query the 'burden of Javanese etiquette', which she found both 'silly and terrible'. She also opposed the polygamy which was permitted under Islamic Law, but which made women suffer.

She survived this time 'in a box' only by voracious reading of as many books as she could lay her hands on, and by corresponding with her Dutch friends. Her concern about colonialism, modernity, social injustice and women's oppression and rights constantly appeared in her letters.

Besides expressing her ideals, criticisms and concerns, Kartini also organized education for girls in the area where she lived. She also supported the revival of woodcarving and other traditional crafts among the villagers, and she herself took charge of the marketing. Through all this, she was a good Moslem, and continually prayed and fasted so that her ideals might be achieved.

In 1903, at the age of 24, she obeyed her father and married the Regent of Rembang, Raden Adipati Joyodiningrat, who was 50 and already had three wives and dozens of children. Her husband was said to be a supporter of progressive social policies. She had a scholarship to study in Europe, but her hopes to study abroad were dashed. Instead she established a special school for local girls. She realised that she would have far greater influence within Javanese society if she married a Regent. Together with her husband, she continued the activities that she had begun before her marriage. She also collected traditional Javanese legends for publication. In 1904, four days after giving birth, Kartini died at the age of 25.

After her death, all her correspondence with her Dutch friends, for example to Stella Zeehandellar, Rosa, were collected, edited and compiled by Kartini's sponsor and friend, J. H. Abendanon, a prominent colonial official. It made its way into a book in their original Dutch under the title Door Duisternis Tot Licht (Dari Gelap Terbitlah Terang or From Darkness to Light). This book appeared in 1911, and, by 1920 when the English edition was published, it had been reprinted four times.
"But it was not voices alone which reached me from that distant, that bright, that newborn Europe, which made me long for change in existing conditions. Even in my childhood, the word 'emancipation' enchanted my ears... and awakened in me an ever-growing longing for freedom and independence - a longing to stand alone. onditions both in my surroundings and in those of others around me broke my heart, and made me long with a nameless sorrow for the awakening of my country..." (Kartini to Stella Zeehandellar)

This written inheritance has proved to be effective and has strongly influenced the following generations up until the present. When they first appeared, her writings opened the eyes of both sides: the Indonesians and the Dutch. For the Dutch, Kartini's letters were the sign of friendship that overcame the differences between the two countries, and brought a new awareness of the reality of life for the colonized. For the Indonesian people, her letters expressed their frustration, pleas and hopes, which they had screamed silently for so long. At the same time, Indonesian nationalists were encouraged to move forward in their struggle to bring about Independence. Kartini herself had written: "Nationalism is already present in the social order as a saturated solution, ready to crystallize at the first shock".

Note: *RA is an acronym for Raden Ajeng, a noble title for ladies in Javanese aristocratic family (or known as kaum priyayi).

On her letters and thought
Many people disputed the authenticity of Kartini’s letters and thought due to her close relationship with her Dutch friends and Abendanon’s idealism to seek reform in colonialised Indonesia. On the one hand was Abendanon ~ a Director of Education, Industry, and Religion in the Dutch East Indies who was also known as a reformist, seeking to widen access to education for Dutch colonial subjects, and the person who collected, edited and published Kartini’s letters. On the other hand was Kartini ~ a privileged woman who felt trapped in feudal and patriarchal Javanese culture at that time.

Her letters were originally published in a highly edited form by Abendanon as a means of encouraging the colonial “ethical policy” in which liberal elements of the Dutch the colonial establishment felt it’s their duty to enlighten their colonial subjects, to bring them out of the darkness of superstition and ignorance. While liberals such as Abendanon supported education for the Javanese, however, their ideas did not address many of the contradictions of colonialism, and were in many was patronizing. Some have felt that Kartini, in criticizing feudal Javanese culture so strongly, implicitly embraces much of the value system of colonialism. Joost Coté, a scholar, in contrast, argues that Kartini’s writings are distinctly nationalist in tone, and identifies two key elements in them, which support such a conclusion. Kartini, Coté argues, has a complex and inflected attitude to both Javanese and Dutch colonial culture. She rejects aristocratic Javanese court culture but reclaims popular Javanese tradition; in a similar manner she rejects colonialism but demands access to the culture and science of the Enlightenment.

Some self-claimed feminists In Indonesia have criticized Kartini for being too subtle and gentle in her struggles then. If she despised polygamy why she married Raden Adipati Joyodiningrat who already had three wives? I think we should put Kartini’s action and decision in context, as suggested by some scholars. The following are some of the examples.

I was told that I should not forget that I was a Javanese, not a European woman. I could adopt European values as long as these did not conflict with our adat. I have learned three things from Europeans – love, sympathy, and the concept of justice, and I want to live according to these—Kartini 20 November 1901

Europe will teach us truly to be free—Kartini 10 June 1902

Reform is the product of the times! – it is not brought into being by the will of a single person—Kartini 18 May 1903

In her paper Kukathas said that Kartini dreaded the prospect of marriage to the Regent of Rembang. She described her wedding garments as her ‘costume of disguise’, and Roekmini (her sister) called it her ‘burial cloth’. Marriage meant the shattering of her hopes and admission into a new cage.

Within a few months, however her feelings were very different. She quickly came to admire the Regent who, as it turned out, shared many of her ideals. The reason he had sought out her parents and proposed marriage was that she was, by reputation, an independent-minded and interesting woman with a passion for social reform. The Regent himself was a highly educated man who had traveled to Holland and Europe, and had read widely. He therefore encouraged Kartini’s intellectual interests, and helped her prepare to open the school she wanted to found. He admired her learning and encouraged her to write a book on Javanese myths and legends, which he proposed they work on together. He shared her disdain for frivolity, as well as her criticisms of the Dutch administration and her sense of the injustice of the conditions of natives in the Indies. According to Kartini, he enlarged her perspective on the world. Of the things she came to admire about him, one was his unwillingness to subordinate himself: ‘my husband dares to look everyone in the eye’. Tell my sisters, she said, ‘my husband is worthy of my love and respect, totally.’

Indeed Kartini's life was very short. But, after her death, we should keep her spirit and idealism alive in the Indonesian people, especially in the women. When we read the extracts from Kartini’s letters, we may want to ask ourselves what qualities she envisions a modern Indonesian woman should possess, and indeed her vision of the place of women within a distinctively Indonesian modernity.

Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang (translated from Dutch to Indonesia by Armijn Pane)
Hari Kartini, yang diperingati setiap tanggal 21 April, selalu terekam kenangan tentang bagaimana hari tersebut diperingati. Lomba kebaya dan lagu "Ibu Kita Kartini", demikianlah kenangan itu. Di sekolah-sekolah dasar, sudah merupakan pemandangan tahunan jika peringatan ditandai dengan parade gadis-gadis kecil berkebaya bak potret atau gambar Kartini. [Read more...]

Panggil Aku Kartini Saja by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Buy book at Select Books Online

Some Contemporary Heroines of Indonesia
Cut Syamsurniati: In Aceh, a woman warrior fights against fear (from Time Asia)
You can deal with terror two ways: you can hunker down, retreat from the world and let paranoia rule you; or you can do what Cut Syamsurniati did—fight back and reclaim your life. In January 1999, when soldiers and police engaged separatist rebels around Cut's village of Pusong in Indonesia's war-torn Aceh province, security forces killed seven villagers and injured 30. The menfolk of her village dared not evacuate the victims for fear of being shot as suspected rebels. "When I saw the men so helpless," Syamsurniati recalls, "I thought, 'Why can't women do this?'" So she and other village women negotiated with the military and escorted the wounded to the nearby town of Lhokseumawe for treatment. [Read more…]

Ester Indahyani Jusuf: Diskriminasi Bukan Hukum Alam (from Gatra Online)
Ester Indahyani Yusuf (33) bersama Komite Pembela Hak-hak Sipil dan Anti-Diskriminasi, berjuang menghapus diskriminasi di negeri ini. "Kami ingin menggalang dukungan agar RUU Anti-Diskriminasi segera diberlakukan," kata perempuan yang terlahir dengan nama Siem Ai Ling (putri mungil nan jelita) itu. Melalui Solidaritas Nusa Bangsa (SNB) yang dipimpinnya, ia menyosialisasikan RUU ini ke daerah-daerah. [Read more...]

Saur "Butet" Marlina Manurung: Mengabdi di Jalan Sunyi (from Kompas Online)
Neng Butet! Bolehlah perempuan Batak bernama Saur Marlina Manurung itu, disapa demikian? Maklumlah, beberapa tahun ia sempat menetap di tatar Sunda, sebagai mahasiswa Universitas Padjadjaran, Jatinangor, sebelum memutuskan hidup di belantara hutan di kawasan Taman Nasional Bukit Dua Belas, Propinsi Jambi, sekitar 225 km dari Kota Jambi ke arah barat. [Read more…]

What They Did With Their Lives (from Time Asia)
Grandmother Satima and mother Saidah, according to Pramoedya Ananta Toer, made him who he is. Two women gave me life. Two women of one flesh and blood, but sundered by fate. Two women who then defied that fate. Two women who taught me that the individual matters, above anyone or anything else. Two women who are my heroes. [Read more…]

Other Interesting Papers about Kartini and Women’s Studies in Indonesia
Apa Hebatnya Kartini? (by Limantina Sihaloho in Kompas Online)
Apa sih hebatnya Kartini? Goenawan Mohamad (seorang feminis atau pendukung feminisme?) pada kata pengantarnya dalam Aku Mau... Feminisme dan Nasionalisme: Surat-surat Kartini kepada Stella Zeehandelaar 1899-1903, menuliskan bahwa ide Kartini bukan datang dari ide seperti pemikiran feminisme Indonesia akhir abad ke-20. [Read more…]

Indonesia Women’s Studies Bibliography from UC Berkely Library

Teaching Indonesian Girls in Java and Bali 1900-1942: Dutch Progressives, The Infatuation with ‘Oriental’ Refinement and ‘Western’ Ideas about Proper Womanhood by Frances Gouda in Women’s History Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1995 (Washington, USA).

Abstract: This article examines the Dutch ‘Orientalist’ romance that inspired the creation of a system of private schools for aristocratic Javanese girls in early twentieth-century Indonesia. By inventing and exalting a pattern of reciprocity that presumably characterized feudalism in both a European or Asian setting – noblesse oblige – Dutch progressives expected that the education of aristocratic daughters would naturally ‘trickle down’ to poor women in village communities. In the process, upper-class girls were incorporated into a social taxonomy that mirrored Western sensibilities about status and gracious manners, while peasant women and Eurasian girls, who lived on the other side of the colonial divide, were inscribed with ‘otherness’. [Read more… in PDF format]

The Dilemma of a Dutiful Daughter: Love and Freedom in the Thought of Kartini by Chandra Kukathas (Dept. of Political Science, Univ. of Utah), Feb. 2005. Read more in PDF format.

Kartini International Inc.
Kartini International is a dynamic, award-wining firm that specializes in gender equality and adult education services. Incorporated in 1996 in Ontario, the firm is committed to the vision and principles embodied by Raden Ajeng Kartini, a 19th Century member of the Javanese royalty who was a passionate advocate for women’s education and rights. We actively seek to bring Kartini’s principles to the 21st century in a blend of corporate and non-profit structures and practices. Our firm’s business ethics are based on egalitarian principles that include both women and men. This includes a progressive management structure that allows different team members to take the lead on specific projects based on their individual strengths and experience with the overall accountability and leadership provided by the firm’s Director, Dana Peebles. Our core team members are strongly committed to working in a collaborative framework and their experience and background reflects the diversity of the populations we serve.

Kartini International won the 2000 Canadian International Award for Gender Equality Achievement for the work we did on the CIDA-funded Gender in APEC project. We work at both the domestic and international levels. [Read more…]

Kartini Network: Gender and Women’s Studies Institute in Asia
Kartini is a network of women’s learning institutions and women’s organizations based in Asia formed for mutual capability building by sharing resources and also to give an Asian voice in the global advocacy for gender parity and women’s equality and the development of the full humanity of women. [Read more…]


mary said...

i've read your artile and it's really interesting...well i'm a student of bahasa indonesia and so i know who Kartini is and ihave really fealt what you 've said and i think it's indonesia women are not totally free...i think even in italy...but it's so different...i hope it coul be better one day....ciao ciao

Anonymous said...

All human being are equal, but there's man, woman, duty and purpose. My understanding of freedom for woman is far from the western thinking as I am Javanese and proud of being one. We can be a President but in the end a woman too who has to take over our place to take care of our family and children, a house keeper, a nanny whom normally done by women. Will you pick up a male for such job? I challenge you!

Dewi said...

Agree with you, I don't think Kartini ever thought that freedom for woman means that we have the right to reject for being pregnant! She is Javanese, remember? and priyayi (come from a noble family). What frustate her that time was really understandable as its not fair for girls not to have right to study the way boys can. Why do girls has to be married at such young age while there's suppossed many more they still can do instead of taking care of kids while they themself not matured enough? No, we are women and we are here with purpose.