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Home > Article > R.A. Kartini, Indonesia’s Leading Feminist of Women’s Emancipation
R.A. Kartini, Indonesia’s Leading Feminist of Women’s Emancipation
Raden Ajeng Kartini was a leading feminist of women emancipation in Indonesia who was born on 21 April 1879 in Jepara, Central Java.

R.A. Kartini was born to an aristocratic Javanese family. Her father, Raden Mas Sosroningrat, was the mayor of Jepara. Her mother, M.A. Ngasirah, was his father’s first wife. At that time, polygamy was a common practice among the nobility.

During that period, women received little or no education at all. Women would end up giving birth and stay in the kitchen all the time. Kartini rebelled in her quiet way against this injustice and inspired the women of her nation to achieve more than what the society allowed them.

Kartini went to a Dutch school (Europese Lagere School) where she learnt to speak Dutch fluently, which was unusual for Javanese women at the time. But when she was 12 years old, her father prohibited her from continuing her studies because of the tradition. A noble girl was not allowed to have a higher education; she had to be secluded at home. This was a common practice among Javanese nobility, to prepare young girls for their marriage. The girls were not allowed to go out at all until they were married, when authority over them was transferred to their husbands.

During her seclusion, Kartini's father gave her certain privileges such as embroidery lessons and occasional appearances in public for special events. She learned by herself at home and spent her times reading books. She was very concerned about women’s education in Indonesia. From the books, newspapers, and European magazines that she read, she was very interested in European women’s way of thinking. She determined to enhance the education of Indonesian women. Kartini then established a school especially for women where she taught how to read and write as well as other important skills.

Kartini sometimes discussed the issues together with a Dutch couple, the Ovinks, whom were amazed with Kartini's fluency in Dutch. Kartini had a book to read from Mrs. Ovink and started to correspondence with pen friends in the Netherlands.

One of her pen friends, Rosa Abendanon, was her close supporter. In her letter, Kartini always discussed feminist matters and revealed her dream of equality between men and women in Indonesia. Kartini always discussed feminist matters and revealed her dream of equality between men and women in Indonesia.

Later on, Kartini insisted to continue her studies although her father didn’t approve it. Kartini then wrote a letter, asking for a scholarship to study in the Netherlands, to the Education and Culture Director, Mr. J.H Abendanon, who sent her a very promising reply.

However, Kartini didn’t have a chance to use her scholarship for her parents married her to the mayor of Rembang who already had three wives. It was against Kartini's sensibility but she eventually agreed to please her ailing father. After the marriage, Kartini followed her husband, Raden Adipati Joyodiningrat, to Rembang, Central Java.

In Rembang, Kartini continued her correspondence with her pen friends in The Netherlands. Supported by her husband, Kartini established a school for women in complex area of Rembang District Office.

Kartini gave birth to her only son, RM Soesalit, on 13 September 1904. Unfortunately, Kartini passed away several days later on 17 September 1904 at the age of 25. She was buried in Bulu Village, Rembang.

Following Kartini’s death, Mr. J.H Abendanon published a book called “Door Duisternis Tot Licht” (Through Darkness to Light) which consists of the collection of Kartini’s letters to her friends in Netherlands.

To honor Kartini’s effort, a school for women was built by Kartini Foundation in Semarang in 1912, which was followed by a number of schools in Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Malang, Madiun, Cirebon, and others.

In 1964, President Soekarno stated Kartini as Indonesian Heroine and set Kartini’s birthday, 21 April, as the Indonesia National Day (Kartini's Day).
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