Kartini Link, Kartini’s Portrait of Today

“WE can do any job!” comes the enthusiastic answer when women are asked about what jobs they can do. Today, career opportunities are wide open for Indonesian women, especially educated women, and all this is due to Kartini.  

Raden Adjeng Kartini (1879-1904) is generally looked upon as the leading emancipation figure for Indonesian women, so it is not surprising when high-spirited Indonesian women who choose politics as their career are referred to as today’s Kartinis.  

Kartini’s ideas, written both in the Dutch media and in correspondence with friends there, spurred political groups in Holland to demand the colonial government pay serious attention to education matters in Indonesia. Although the first school for girls in Indonesia was officially opened three years after Kartini’s death, no one can deny that it was due to her ideas.  

In the following decade, Indonesian women, fired by Kartini’s spirit, not only fought for education opportunities but also for the country’s independence. During that period, a number of Indonesian women became well-known journalists and writers, such as S.K. Trimurti and Herawati B.M. Diah.  

After independence, a large number of Indonesian women, or Kartinis, worked in almost every sector to develop the nation as they had equal education and opportunities to men.   One such prominent figure was Pratiwi Sudarmono, who was a candidate to be a NASA astronaut, although the dream was never realized as the mission was canceled due to the tragic Challenger accident in 1986.  

In later years, opportunities opened wide for Indonesian women, as can be seen in the fact that they could become ministers in the New Order era. However, history did not record any great names during that era, although some women did make great contributions.  

At the beginning of the Reform Era in 1998, there was fresh hope for the modern Indonesian woman as there was more political equality, for example the required 30 percent quota for women members in the legislature.  

Thus, a career in politics was now much more possible, although they still had to work hard to achieve their political goals. On the other hand, men had to be more willing and accepting regarding their newly acquired status. Unfortunately, the government neglected matters concerning education, which was getting more costly, and health matters, which were below standard.  

Today, the situation has been made more difficult as Indonesian women have to face the challenges of globalization along with the tough competition that comes with it, such as highly educated and skilled foreign workers. So, there is no choice but to become the main players in the country’s economy, otherwise they will be left behind.  

The Central Statistic Agency (BPS) recorded a significant increase in women entering the job market in 2007. The 2.12 million figure was mostly in the farming and trade sectors, compared to only 287,000 men.

The figure gives reason for optimism regarding female workers, as confirmed by Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu who revealed that out of 46 million micro, small and medium enterprises, 60 percent are managed by women. This means that businesswomen have a vital role to play in making the country’s economy resilient as they can provide jobs and products as well as services at affordable prices. To a certain extent they can also alleviate poverty.  

The hard work of Kartinis in almost every sector has proven to be successful, especially in the real sector and with popular positions, such as nurses and doctors. This is also true in other fields, such as for teachers and lecturers. Many women also hold strategic positions in trade and banking. One financial observer says that figures like Miranda Goeltom, Mari Elka Pangestu and Sri Mulyani show that quite a number of women fill important positions in the economic and financial sectors.  

However, few women have become judges or attorneys. According to foreign research data, in 2000, female judges in Indonesia accounted for only 18.6 percent of the total 2,410 judges, while only 11.5 percent of the country’s 1,692 attorneys were women. Of course, Kartinis today still require a high level of education and must work harder to face challenges.  

However, education is becoming more expensive in the country. In 2009, one member of the House of Representatives, Yoyoh Yusroh, said during a session of Commission VII for social, religious and education matters that women accounted for only 5 percent of the country’s university graduates even though women played an equally important role in nation development.

Hence, Kartini’s ideas about the importance of higher education for women are just as relevant today as they were back in her day. (Lestari Nurhayati)  

The Jakarta Post, April 21, 2010

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