Indonesian national heroine Kartini is widely recognized as one of the pioneers of women empowerment. (Antara Photo/Moch Asim)

Commentary: Fight for Equality Continues a Century After Kartini

APRIL 26, 2015

When we commemorate the birth of R.A. Kartini, we will be reminded of the persistence of a woman who lived more than a century ago in obtaining freedom, autonomy and equality in law for women.

We can also see the persistence of women against the current power deviation from the women in Rembang, Central Java, who are currently struggling to maintain rights to natural resources of their livelihood.

There is also an older woman, Asyani, who continues to fight against the injustice of the law that dragged her on the indictment of 15 years in prison. The experience of women who are persistent against these injustices is not just enough to obtain appreciation, but it is duly amplified to be followed by other women.

Actions to speak against injustice, even at the scope of village level, will surely face resistance from the authorities.

A mother who was once very active as a cadre of Posyandu (a village health post) shared about a dilemma she has undergone after fight against to distributing aids to the group that are actually categorized as prosperous one.

Looking at the fact that the aids are not received by the deserved people, she and cadres of other Posyandus tried to insert some other names into the existing list. Trying to avoid confrontation with the policy from the local authorities, she suggested reducing the amount of aid each person receives so that the poor can also get the aid program.

But instead of being approved, that action angered the village chief, leading to her dismissal as a Posyandu cadre.

Witnessing continuously abuses of power without being able to do anything to stop them can cause the accumulation of frustration among the society. The structure of power relations within a society affects the access and control of men and women. Traditional gender role does not only restrict the women’s role to be decision makers in the public domain, but also the opportunity space to participate in influencing policy.

Tuni is just one example of many stories of women who have to be shifted from the public arena because they choose to be critical toward the practice of wrong policy. The critical power is not easily found in the urban environment with individualized culture that forces people in it to make plan of decisions although they are often faced with the uncertainty of the procedure. Deviation of power for most urban women might be felt its impact when they access public services.

Wiwid, 52, a researcher who was married to a lecturer shared that it happened especially when she would renew her driver’s license. Unexpected costs that should be allocated create higher uncertainty level toward the service acquisition procedure.

Many times her daughter who can drive did not pass the exam, and finally able to pass after paying the cost of driving training course, although it was practically only within 15 minutes.

Although being upset with the situation, however, the action to voice against corrupt system is not always done. Wiwid does not believe the complaints handling system through box of complaints, to her; the service for obtaining a driver’s license is one of public service that does not change much from time to time. Based on her observation, the change might occur if there was a leader who has a reformist character and complaints would directly be delivered to the leader.

Two cases above are the door to reinterpret the emancipation struggled by the late R.A. Kartini. Emancipation grows through belief in the strength and power to make changes. And, therefore, confidence that began to recede on the self-capacity to drive the change needs to be recovered. Support and respect for the struggle of the women in Rembang, Asyani and other women is one way to rediscover confidence and the foothold of hope.

Women’s organizations and movements working in the village finally have to listen again the fighting voice from the women in the village that began to faint.

Sensitivity to how the resistance and the women’s struggle which manifested differently in the villages and cities are important. Recognizing the different forms of struggle will make us clear the oppression and social injustice which operated in the system. Then it would let us know how to make their small efforts will not be aground amid the journey of struggling.

Ranggoaini Jahja is an activist with Perempuan Anti Korupsi (PIA) in Yogyakarta