Asia Pacific

Indonesia Remembers the Struggles of Feminist Icon

Indonesia news, Indonesian news, Indonesian women, women’s rights news, Asia Pacific news, Asian news, Asia news, Kartini news, world news, world news analysis

Jakarta, Indonesia © Holgs

April 21, 2017 16:51 EDT

Thanks to Kartini, many Indonesian women have a role model in the quest to fulfil their dreams.

On April 21 every year, Indonesia celebrates Kartini Day in remembrance of a national female hero known by the same name. Having lived in the late 19th century, Kartini succeeded in achieving justice and equality for women and is considered as Indonesia’s first feminist icon.

As a country whose tradition and culture are entrenched in the patriarchy, Indonesia has a history of treating its women badly and unfairly. Women were denied the rights to go to school, to work or to participate in politics. And, for some, their thoughts continue to be constrained by a conservative mindset that unjustly outlines the fate of women as being limited to domestic affairs.

In Indonesia, women are expected to get married as soon as they hit a certain age and to live within a huge wall that limits their abilities and dreams. Being a good cook and a master in raising children and serving their husband — these are the traditional responsibilities expected of Indonesian women. Kitchen, the bed and the well were the only places they were expected to go.

Kartini is no exception. She experienced bitter rejection from her parents to pursue her dream of continuing education after primary school for the mere fact of who she was: a woman. For the people of her time, it was not appropriate for a woman to acquire high qualifications in education.

She then made considerable breakthroughs in the traditional mindset through her writings that have since inspired Indonesian women to not stop fighting for their rights in order to get a chance to go to school and pursue higher education. To commemorate her dedication, the day she was born — April 21 — is celebrated as a national holiday and named after her: Kartini Day.

Kartini may not have seen the outcome of her work in her lifetime but, over the past few decades, her thoughts and struggles have increasingly been felt by women around the country.

For many years, Indonesian women have been able to pursue education, even until higher education. According to data by The Jakarta Post, Indonesian women have a higher level of education than men. This is indeed good news. Not only can women in Indonesia be equal to men, but higher than men.

In fact, some Indonesian women have attained achievements that have made the nation proud. Sri Mulyani, for example, was the country’s finance minister and held a crucial position at the World Bank. Karen Agustiawan is another important example. She was the director of Pertamina, Indonesia’s state oil company, until 2014. For a woman to hold such a high position in an industry that has long been dominated by men is astounding.

Being a role model that she is, Indonesian women mirrored Kartini by learning lessons and taking wisdom from her enduring struggle and advanced thought, despite her being doubted and viewed as incapable of achieving what men were able to.


But becoming a hero does not always mean that we have to be as successful and brilliant as others before us. In reality, the spirit of Kartini has been entrenched in the heart and mind of every Indonesian woman. No matter how old they are, what beliefs they hold or what they do right now.

Quite frankly, there is a “Kartini” all around us and they hold the same spirit every day. Each of them has the same dream that should be appreciated and respected, and they should be given the opportunity to work and be useful to others.

A mother who was willing to let go of a brilliant career to focus on caring for her children and her husband by giving undistracted affection and attention to their welfare is a very example of Kartini. A young woman who studies hard so she can be accepted into the world’s best schools with a scholarship for the sake of easing the burden of her family is also a Kartini. And a teenage girl who confidently wears a batik with pride is a Kartini.

Kartini today is present in different forms. Never ignore them. Instead, acknowledge their struggles. Thanks to Kartini, the condition of Indonesian women is appreciated by many around the world. But we need to remember that, despite the achievements to date, there is still work to be done so Kartini is reflected in every corner of the country.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Holgs

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