Friday, April 20, 2012

April 21st- Kartini Day (Indonesia)

Raden Ajeng Kartini (1879-1904) was a prominent women's rights activist whose accomplishments this Indonesian holiday honors. Kartini was a brilliant thinker born into a large, successful family in Java, an island owned by Holland in the Dutch Indies that is modern-day Indonesia. Although Kartini was one of the luckier, intelligent young girls who was allowed to go to school until the age of twelve, she yearned for further knowledge and to learn more about her country and its skewed system. She lived in a time of great repression of women in Java and resented the withholding of knowledge from women enforced by the government, who allowed them only a meager education, if any at all.

In the traditional Javanese practice, Kartini was secluded at home after completing her limited years of school. During the years she stayed home, Kartini learned to speak fluent Dutch and did some of her most forward thinking. Kartini read voraciously and began forming her own opinions on women's rights including the beliefs that women should be allowed more education and the right to pick their own husbands. Kartini wrote about her desires for women to have more freedom and influence in Indonesian society, politically and economically. She believed women should have the opportunity to change their civilization that was so heavily dominated by men. Kartini acquired European pen pals in Holland with whom she exchanged letters sharing her feminist views. Her letters were eventually turned into a book named in Dutch From Darkness into Light and translated into English under the title Letters of a Javanese Princess. Kartini's book of letters made her well-known, as did her other great legacy: the creation of the first primary school for native Indonesian girls, especially those of less fortunate socioeconomic standing. 

In 1964, President Sukarno declared Kartini's Birthday a national holiday, so April 21st became a celebration of Kartini and the way she kickstarted Indonesia's feminist movement. To honor the day, women put on traditional Indonesian clothing to symbolize their unity. Fashion shows are held in Kartini's honor, and lectures are given in schools. Parades are organized, and Women's Activism groups hold special events to mark the day. 

Although Kartini died tragically young only a few days after the birth of her first son, her impact upon Indonesian society was profound. She will always be credited as one of Indonesia's first women's rights activists, and her effort toward women's emancipation will be admired for generations to come. 

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