Raden Ajeng Kartini
Kartini was born on April 21, 1879, in Mayong village near of Jepara, a town located in the center of the island of Java. She was born into the Javanese priyayi, or aristocracy; her father was Jepara mayor Raden Mas Adipati Ario Sosroningrat. Kartini was one of 12 children born to Raden's several wives.
Despite her father's permission to allow her a primary education, by Islamic custom and a Javanese tradition known as pingit, all girls, including Kartini, were forced to leave school at age 12 and stay home to learn homemaking skills. At this point, Kartini would have to wait for a man to ask for her hand in marriage. Even her status among the upper class could not save her from this tradition of discrimination against women; marriage was expected of her. For Kartini, the only escape from this traditional mode of life was to become an independent woman.
Kartini was not proud of being set apart from her countrymen as one of the privileged few of the aristocracy. In her writings she described two types of nobility, one of mind and one of deed. Simply being born from a noble line does not make one great; a person needs to do great deeds for humanity to be considered noble.
Kartini wrote to her European friends about many subjects, including the plight of the Javanese citizenry and the need to improve their lot through education and progress. She recounts how Javanese intellectuals were put in their place if they dared to speak Dutch or to protest. She also describes the restrictive world she lived in, rife with hierarchy and isolationism. In 1902 Kartini wrote to one letter, to Mrs. Ovink-Soer, that she hoped to continue her education in Holland so that she could prepare for a future in which she could make such education accessible to all women.
Kartini is most known for writing letters in which she advocates the need to address women's rights and status, and to loosen the oppressive Islamic traditions that allowed discrimination against women. She protests against education restricted to males of the nobility, believing that all Javanese, male and female, rich and poor, have the right to be educated in order to choose their own destiny. Women especially are not allowed to realize their calling. As Nursyahbani Katjasungkana commented in the Jakarta Post, "Kartini knew and expounded the concept that women can make choices in any aspect of their lives, careers, and personal matters."
Despite the marriage, in 1903 Kartini was able to take a first step toward achieving women's equality by opening a school for girls. With aid from the Dutch government Kartini established the first primary school in Indonesia especially for native girls regardless of their social standing. The small school, which was located inside her father's house, taught children and young women to read and make handicrafts, dispensed Western-style education, and provided moral instruction. At this time, Kartini also published the paper "Teach the Javanese."
Kartini's enthusiasm at educating Indonesian girls was short lived. On September 17, 1904, at the age of 25, she died while giving birth to her son. Kartini is buried near a mosque in Mantingan, south of Rembang.
Kartini's letters spurred her nation's enthusiasm for nationalism and garnered sympathy abroad for the plight of Javanese women. Syrian writer Aleyech Thouk translated From Darkness into Light into Arabic for use in her country, and in her native Java Kartini's writings were used by a group trying to gain support for the country's Ethical Policy movement, which had been losing popularity. Many of Kartini's admirers established a string of "Kartini schools" across the island of Java, the schools funded through private contributions.
Kartini's beliefs and letters inspired many women and effected actual change in her native Java. Taking their example, women from other islands in the archipelago, such as Sumatra, also were inspired to push for change in their regions. The 1945 Constitution establishing the Republic of Indonesia guaranteed women the same rights as men in the areas of education, voting rights, and economy. Today, women are welcome at all levels of education and have a broad choice of careers. Kartini's contributions to Indonesian society are remembered in her hometown of Jepara at the Museum Kartini di Jepara and in Rembang, where she spent her brief married life, at the Museum Kartini di Rembang.
In more recent years criticism has arisen regarding the superficial observance of Kartini Day. Many now chose not to commemorate it, and it has increasingly been eliminated from school calendars. What saddens historians and activists is that Kartini has become a forgotten figure for the younger generation, who cannot relate to the achievements she wrought in a repressive society that is now almost forgotten. Historians have also debated the role Kartini herself played in promoting women's emancipation. Other than her letters, some have argued that she was a submissive daughter, feminine but not necessarily a feminist.
R. A. Kartini Biography, Indonesian Famous People