A day for Indonesia’s heroine of education, a week for reflection

– By Meghan Cullinan, ETA in Kendari –

On April 21, Indonesia remembers a national hero, Raden Ajeng Kartini, known as Ibu Kartini. Kartini is regarded as the first Indonesian feminist. Kartini was from an aristocratic Javanese family during the Dutch colonial period. As a young girl, Kartini faced gender discrimination due to Javanese cultural norms that girls should be secluded in the home at the age of 12 to prepare for marriage. However, she refused to stop learning and continued to educate herself while she was kept at home.

She used her Dutch and family’s status to become connected with several Dutch women who listened to her describe challenges facing women’s education in Indonesia. When she became an adult and got married, she continued to advocate for women’s education. In 1903, with the support of her husband and the Dutch government, she opened the first school for Indonesian girls that did not discriminate based on social status. To Kartini, education for young women facilitated their empowerment and enlightenment. Throughout her life, she promoted the lifelong pursuit of education for women.

Every year, Indonesian women and men celebrate Kartini’s contributions to women’s education. There are many different traditions. In schools, female students and teachers dress in kebaya, which is traditional Indonesian dress for women, while the male students dress in batik. Schools also usually hold competitions such as fashion shows, cooking competitions, and flower arrangement competitions. The festivities of Kartini Day all serve as a reminder for us to keep the spirit of womanhood alive in the world.

While Kartini revolutionized education for women in Indonesia, the fight for women’s education and rights both in Indonesia and worldwide is not over. In my experience in Indonesia and elsewhere, many families continue to emphasize the development and education of their sons over their daughters because they believe a woman only needs the skills to be a wife and mother. As a result, Kartini Day is also a day for women’s empowerment and an excellent reminder of the importance of working toward gender equality in our global society. It reminds society that women are strong, capable, and have had many contributions to the development of our society.

To guide my students in reflecting on the importance of Kartini Day, I ended my classes during the week leading up to the holiday with a special reflection activity. I asked my students to reflect on two questions. For my young women, I asked “why are you proud to be a woman?” For my young men, she asked “who is a woman you admire and why?” Students got dictionaries, opened Google translate, and discussed with one another to express their feelings in English. I asked students to volunteer to have their responses recorded so that, together, they could publicize Kartini Day to my community in America and show other Indonesians how they were discussing the holiday in class. I am so proud of my students for being reflective and courageous to share their thoughts about the importance of women in their lives. I hope my young women will keep their spirit and never let the world take away the pride of womanhood. I hope my young men will continue to admire and support the women in their lives and recognize them for their contributions.

Here’e the video that emerged from that reflection:

Selamat Hari Kartini!

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