A little history about… Kartini

People who can inspire you, can also be people who have already passed away. When I think about those people, one of the people I respect is the women freedom fighter Raden Adjeng Kartini. She was a pioneer regarding women’s rights for native Indonesians. Kartini opened the first Indonesia primary school for native girls that did not discriminate based on social standing in 1903. She corresponded with Dutch colonial officials to fight for women’s emancipation.

Raden Adjeng Kartini
Raden Adjeng Kartini | Photo: The University of Melbourne

Influenced by feminist views

Kartini was born in a noble family on 21st of April in 1879 in the village Mayong, Java, Indonesia. Her mother, Ngasirah, was the daughter of a religious scholar. Her father, Sosroningrat, was a Javanese aristocrat working for the Dutch colonial government. In that time polygamy was normal so she had many brothers and sisters. Kartini had the chance to go to a Dutch school when she was six years old. That was special, as in that time women didn’t go to school. She also learned the Dutch language and came in touch with western ideas. She had sewing lessons from another regent’s wife, Marie Ovink-Soer, so she was also influenced by her feminist views.

Struggle to adapt isolation

When Kartini became an adolescent (around age of 12 year), according Javanese tradition she had to leave her Dutch school and had to stay at home to prepare for her role as a female noble. She was not allowed to go outside the house by herself. She was struggling to adapt to isolation and wrote letters to Ovink-Soer and was protesting gender inequality. At that time young girls were forced into marriage so they didn’t have a chance to study.

Kartini didn’t have plans to get married, but eventually at an ‘old’ age of 24 she married the regent of Rembang, Raden Adipati Joyodiningrat, who was 26 years older and had 3 wives and 12 children. Kartini just had been offered a scholarship to study abroad, but because of her marriage she couldn’t go.

Start of first school for native girls

With approval of her husband Kartini started a school for Javanese girls. It was the first Indonesian primary school for native girls that did not discriminate on the basis of social status. To Kartini, the ideal education for a young woman encouraged enlightenment and empowerment. She kept writing letters to feminist Stella Zeehandelaar and other Dutch officials to fight for Javanese women emancipation. At the age of 25, Kartini died in the regency of Rembang, Java, of complications from giving birth to her first child. In Indonesia, Kartini Day is still being celebrated on Kartini’s birthday. Do you want to know more about Kartini? Watch the movie about her life:

Trailer movie Kartini | Video: YouTube


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