Raden Ajoe Kartini was a pioneer in the struggle for women's right in Indonesia. Kartini was born into a prominent aristocratic Javanese family with a strong tradition. Kartini grew to be an intelligent girl but was bound by the local tradition. Through books, newspapers, and European magazines, Kartini grew an interest in European feminist thinking. She desired to improve the condition of Indonesian women, who at that time was very low in social status. This marked the start of her long journey to achieve women's rights in Indonesia. Through her journey of women emancipation, Kartini was influenced by many people, principles, and ideas. There were ten people, principles, and ideas that led Kartini to stand up for women's rights in Indonesia.
A question on adulthood sparked Kartini's interest in the area of women's rights. In her childhood, no one has ever asked Kartini about her future goals. Clearly, it was not a normal question for a Javanese girl in her age. For this reason, Kartini was astounded when Lesty, Kartini's Dutch classmate, shared her dreams of becoming a teacher and asked Kartini, "What do you want to be in the future? Kartini then asked her father to let her continue her study in Semarang. Her father refused her request, saying that Kartini should prepare herself for marriage instead of going to school. Her father's refusal ignited a passion for women's rights inside Kartini. Seeing no support from her family, Kartini asked for a scholarship from Dutch officials. Her story travelled to Netherlands and became a political matter. Feminist movements in Netherlands demanded the Dutch government to grant Kartini scholarship to study there. Kartini was finally allowed to continue her studies in Batavia by her father but cancelled the plan because she was going to be married. This marked the beginning of Kartini's struggle for the emancipation of women in Indonesia.
Kartini was influenced by the feminist movement in the west. Through books, newspapers, magazines, and her European pen friends, Kartini became interested on the developed mindset of western women. She protested the obstacles imposed on the development of women by the Javanese culture. In her letters to her friend Estelle "Stella" Zeehandelaar, Kartini expressed her desire to be like a European youth, who was not bound by culture and tradition.(1) She wrote how Javanese women were treated unfairly, unable to learn and study, forced to participate in arranged, polygamous marriages with men they don't know, and had no voice in the society. The western feminist movement inspired Kartini to fight for women's legal rights (rights of contract, property rights, and voting rights) and protection from discrimination against women.(2)
Kartini was heavily influenced by Pandita Ramabai, an advocate of women's rights in India whose life she found inspiring.(3) When Kartini was around ten years old, she read about Pandita Rambai in the newspaper. Pandita Ramabai was an Indian scholar and agitator who first pioneered the opposition to the bad treatment given to Hindi women in the name of tradition and religion, especially for widows. Pandita Ramabai struggled to free the Indian society from destructive customs and traditions such as child marriage and the prohibition of widow-remarriages. She also made Indian women self-sufficient by providing them with education along with training in practical skills. Through the life of Pandita Ramabai, Kartini learned that women of any color have the right to be independent. Pandita Ramabai set a real-life example for Kartini and inspired Kartini to dedicate her life for the elevation of women in Indonesia.
In her struggle for women's rights, Kartini was inspired by Multatuli (the pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker) through his book Max Havelaar. Max Havelaar depicted the sufferings of Indonesian people as a colony of Netherlands. Multatuli wrote about the Dutch cultivation system which oppressed native Indonesians and robbed them from their self-esteem. In his book, Multatuli wrote that the duty of human is to be human.(4) Those words caught Kartini's attention and became her source of strength throughout her struggle for women's rights. From this book, Kartini realized that women of Indonesia were left behind compared to European women. Multatuli through his book Max Havelaar convinced Kartini to promote the welfare of Indonesian women.
In Kartini's struggle to achieve women's rights in Indonesia, she was greatly inspired by her religion: Islam. She was particularly enlightened by a verse in the Koran that says "minadh dhulumati ila nuur(5) which means from darkness to light. In Kartini's perspective, the condition of Indonesian women was in darkness, with the lack of education opportunities for women. This verse motivated Kartini to promote access to education for the Indonesian women of her generation. Kartini realized that women deserved a chance to develop their potentials as much as men did. Furthermore, Kartini believed that education is the only way out of the shackles of ignorance and poverty. This became the start of her effort to educate the women of Indonesia and raise their social status to that of men. This verse led Kartini to explore her understanding of Islam, remove her doubts and apathy, find the spirit of liberty for Indonesian women, and kept her motivated throughout her journey as an advocate for women's right in Indonesia.
The social context and tradition of Java were influential factors that led Kartini to stand up for the emancipation of women in Indonesia. Her aristocratic background particularly influenced her to stand up for women's rights. Kartini was only educated until she was twelve years old. She was then secluded at home to be prepared for her marriage. During her seclusion, Kartini was not allowed to leave her parents' house until she was married, at which point authority over her was transferred to her husband. She was then married in an arranged marriage to the Regency Chief of Rembang, who already had three wives.(1) In Kartini's period, polygamy was a common practice among the nobility. From her experience, Kartini realized that women in Indonesia had no choice in their life. These women lived for the sake of living, unable to develop their potential inside them. All these led Kartini to devote her life for the development of her country, particularly for the advancement of Indonesian women to be equal with men in all areas, especially in pursuing scholarly education.
Kartini was inspired and encouraged by Rosa Manuela Abendanon during her four years of seclusion. Rosa and her husband, a director of the Dutch Ministry of Teaching, Worship, and Crafts, met Kartini during their two-day visit to Jepara. After Rosa went back to Batavia, she started corresponding with Kartini. Through intensive correspondence with Mrs. Abendanon, Kartini received encouragement and support in all her problems. For Kartini, Mrs. Abendanon was the only place where she could share her feelings, problems, and views on humanitarianism. Through her letters to Mrs. Abendanon, Kartini expressed her disagreement towards the Javanese cultural practices in her society which tabooed women to participate in public domain. Mrs. Abendanon inspired her with the developed European feminist thinking. However, Kartini did not receive them completely. Kartini questioned, challenged, and expressed her thoughts on the European feminist thinking through her letters to Mrs. Abendanon. Her correspondence with Mrs. Abendanon opened Kartini's mind to new perspectives and ideas not only on the emancipation of women, but also on the socio-economical area of Indonesia.
In Kartini's struggle promote the welfare of women in Indonesia, she was supported and encouraged by her father, brother, and husband. Kartini's father allowed her to attend school until she was twelve years old. This was a rare accomplishment for a woman in her generation. Kartini's father allowed her take embroidery lessons and occasionally appear in public for special events during her seclusion. Kartini's brother shared his knowledge with Kartini and inspired Kartini to be like him. Kartini's husband supported her aims and allowed her to establish a school for women in the Rembang Regency office complex.(1) With the support of her father, brother, and husband, Kartini was able to elevate the status of women in Indonesia.
Kartini was able to raise the social status of Indonesian women because she had people, ideas, and principles that inspired and encouraged her. A question on adulthood sparked Kartini's interest in the area of women's rights. The feminist movement in the west shaped and influenced the personal characteristics of Kartini. Through the life of Pandita Ramabai, Kartini learned that women of any race deserved to be independent. Multatuli through his book Max Havelaar led Kartini to stand up against the oppression to women in Indonesia. Her religion helped her remove her doubts and apathy, find the spirit of liberty for Indonesian women, and kept her motivated through her struggles as an advocate of women's rights. The Javanese social context and traditions led her to devote her life for the development of women in Indonesia. Her penfriend, Rosa Manuela Abendanon, supported and encouraged her in promoting the welfare of Indonesian women. Without all the people, ideas, and principles that influenced Kartini, Indonesian women today may still be left behind in the age of gender colonization.
7. Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925 - 2006)
Panggil Aku Kartini Saja
Publisher Lentera Dipantara