What do you think when we talk about woman?
Someone who gives birth and takes care of life? Someone who can do and be whatever she wants? Someone with tenderness and power at the same time?
Someone who has lower status than men? Victims of patriarchal system? or just sexual objects for men’s satisfaction?
Hundred years ago, we rarely found well-educated young women in our society here, especially in Javanese Land. The tradition forced young women to be secluded at home (pingitan) and waiting for the wedlock.
Many young women lost their youth too early. They lost their dreams, freedoms, rights to get better and higher education. They really had no power to refuse.
The same thing happened to a 12 year old Kartini. Luckily, she was born into a noble family with strong intellectual tradition. That’s why, her family allowed her to attend school before her seclusion.
Among other subjects she got from school, she learned Dutch (and fluent in it), an unusual accomplishment for Javanese woman at that time.
During seclusion, girls weren’t allowed to leave their parents house until they were married. But, Kartini’s father was more lenient. He gave his daughter privilege to attend special events in public with him and took embroidery lessons.
Kartini also self-educated herself during seclusion by read many books, newspapers and European magazines. She had deep interests in European feminist thinking and desired to strive an education for women so that they could be equal with men.
She also discussed her ideas a lot to her several Dutch pen pals, such as Rosa Abendanon, Stella Zeehandelaar, Mrs.Ovink Soer, through her letters. Later, after Kartini’s died on September 17th, 1904 (at the age of 25), Mr. J.H. Abendanon, Minister of Culture, Religion and Industry for East Indies, collected and published her letters that she had sent to her friends in Europe.
Hundred years after Kartini’s died, we commemorate her birthday every April 21st. If it’s not in pandemic, we would see every female, in schools, offices, public services wears kebaya (an upper garment opened at the front traditionally, made from lightweight fabrics, such as brocade, cotton, gauze, lace or voile) and completed with “sarong kebaya”(jarik) as a bottom.
We would see parades in the street and held events to enliven the commemoration.
So, how do we commemorate Kartini’s Day without those fanfares?
Pandemic that makes us to stay at our homes, should be our contemplation of how the ideas can make a change even though our bodies are trapped in a seclusion.
People can imprison our bodies, but not our minds. Not our ideas.
Kartini proved to us that woman can use her potentials to empower herself and others.
She proved to us how a woman can have such thought that’s beyond its times and being the inspiration to the next generations.
We should be thankful of her ideas of emancipation even though we still have long run to fight for gender equality. Because it’s not easy to change an old tradition that passed down from generations to generations.
We need more women who aren’t afraid of expressing their thoughts. We need more women who aren’t afraid to break the old beliefs that have no relevance to our lives today.
I’m glad that many forums give us chances to talk about women and the issues around them this month. And I hope that in the future we can see more women speak through her works.
-Waiting for iftar (ngabuburit) in the end of April 2021-