Indonesian heroine Raden Ajeng Kartini, popularly known as Kartini, has become an icon of the women’s emancipation movement in the country. A Javanese woman, whose progressive ideas were beyond her time, Kartini, who lived more than a century ago, has inspired generations of women to reach beyond the demands of society.
Even though the story of Kartini, whose birthday is celebrated on Kartini Day every April 21, is still very much disputed and scrutinized, it has nonetheless given countless Indonesian women the courage to fight for what they believe in. Like the band of female farmers from Kendeng mountain in Central Java who, 138 years after Kartini was born, are standing up against the construction of a cement plant in their area.
Dubbed the “Kartini of Kendeng”, the women farmers left their families to fight a three-yearlong battle to achieve a greater purpose: to save their villages and livelihoods from environmental damage feared to be caused by the cement factory’s operation. Hailing from several areas surrounding Kendeng including Rembang, Pati, Blora and Grobogan, the farmers’ protest has garnered nationwide attention.
“Kartini called for women to not just stay at home. Women should be equal with men. Therefore, we fight for Kendeng […] so that the mountain range can be maintained as the nation’s paddy granary,” Sukinah, a 41-year-old farmer from Rembang said on Friday.
Meanwhile, 45-year-old Giyem, a farmer from Pati, said that even though they faced many obstacles in their struggle to preserve the environment and their livelihoods, they would continue to fight in the spirit of Kartini.
Sukinah and Giyem, along with other farmers under Mount Kendeng Community Network (JMPPK) have voiced their rejection to the construction of state-owned cement producer PT Semen Indonesia’s factory in Rembang, on the grounds that it would damage the environment and dry up local springs, devastating their livelihoods.
They are two of the first nine Kendeng heroines who staged a protest with their feet buried in cement blocks in front of the Presidential Palace in the Jakarta last year, which has since become an iconic image of farmers resistance in the country.
However, their protest was not free from accusations and assumptions that claimed the women were exploited by parties and non-governmental organizations driven by foreign interests aimed at meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
Last month, the capital once again saw 50 men and women farmers from areas around Mount Kendeng stage an eightday protest, with their feet locked in concrete blocks, against the issuance of new environmental permit by Central Governor Ganjar Pranowo for the construction of the cement factory.
The protest has, so far, succeeded in moving President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to suspend the cement factory’s operation until the environmental assessment (KLHS) for Mount Kendeng is completed.
Their spirit remained strong even after a farmer from Pati named Patmi passed away due to cardiac arrest after spending numerous days in protest, leading the farmers to temporarily suspend their demonstration and return to their hometowns. Patmi’s death, however, strengthened civil society support for the Kendeng farmers leading to more protests around the country from people who wished to express their solidarity.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) regards ‘Kartini of Kendeng’ to be a symbol of women’s strength in the stand against injustice, inequality and the exploitation of natural resources.
“These women’s struggle is very similar to Kartini’s struggle, however, it is sad to see from 1900 until present women are still underestimated in this patriarchal society and cannot feel safe,” Komnas Perempuan commissioner Adriana Veny Aryani told The Jakarta Post.
“I cannot understand why people create false accusations about these women’s struggle. They go with their husbands’ permission and their husbands take turns tending to the plantations and fields. It shows that the process of gender equality begins at home,” she added.
The independent state women rights body will soon submit a report with 19 recommendations to push Jokowi’s administration to prioritize the protection of farmers’ livelihood and to preserve the environment of Mount Kendeng area.
The report, which will also detail the history of the farmers struggles, is planned to be submitted before the government issues the second phase of KLHS report in July.