Indonesia: Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang

“Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang” - After the Darkness Comes Light

By Dhiya Nadira

“Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang” is not just a common phrase in Indonesia, it takes us back to the year of 1879, the era when women in Indonesia were still bound by patriarchal customs restricting their educational opportunities. I would like to share a part of our Indonesian history regarding women’s role and women’s rights. At that time, women were regarded as ‘mother figures’. Our role in the society was restrained to only taking care of family and household.

R.A. Kartini was born in an Aristocratic Javanese family and had an exceptional opportunity to be able to go to school until the age of 12. Through school, she acquired the ability to read, write, and also speak Dutch; back then, Indonesia was still a colonized territory of Dutch East Indies. At 12 years old, Kartini had to follow the Javanese tradition ‘pingit,’ meaning a girl should stay home, secluded, until they get married. Marriage signifies the shifting of authorities from girls’ fathers to their husbands. During her time in seclusion, Kartini never stood still. Her curiosity sparked and made her want to learn more. She started reading books and magazines, became involved in penmanship with letter writing to Dutch friends, including a Dutch feminist Stella Zeehandelaar.

Kartini shared her thoughts and ideas in Out of Darkness to Light, Women's Life in the Village and Letters of a Javanese Princess, which published after her passing. She felt that she was never truly free except when she read to gain knowledge and shared her thoughts through the letters. For her aspirations towards women’s right to pursue higher education and ambitions, their social conditions and roles in marriage, Kartini is regarded as the heroine and pioneer of women’s emancipation movement. Although she passed away at an early age she inspired and changed global perspectives, especially Dutch views on the ideology of Indonesian native women. She influenced prominent Indonesian figures to emerge and fight for women’s equality.   

Living in the 21st century, so many improvements have been made. Prospectives have changed and action has been taken since 1879. With mandatory education programs of 12 years (elementary through high school) for every Indonesian child -- both girls and boys -- education offers opportunity for girls to get equal training and treatment to pursue higher education all the way through college. Statistically speaking, there are today more females studying in Indonesian universities (2.34 million) compared to males (2.15 million, according to  ( In research done by the International Business Report and accounting firm Grant Thornton, amongst 45 surveyed countries, Indonesia is number two globally with 41% of its senior management roles filled by women. It's well above the world average (24%) and higher than those of the US, UK, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand. (

Are we now in the “light”? I think it’s easy to let ourselves be drowned in daily privileges we enjoy today. Cherishing her struggle and that of all women’s inspirational figures is not limited to celebrating her birthday as a national holiday and remembering their good deeds which have changed our world. We all bear a responsibility to continue their legacies, as simple as doing things we could think of and act as a change in our daily lives, passion, education, career, and goals to step in creating more achievements and contributions to the world.

Despite all of these improvements made over decades, there are still more aspects in women’s equality we need acknowledged to open more progress in the future. I think we’ve all acquired freedoms to the point where we could all guide the ideas and legacies of inspirational figures before us to the the right direction, according to dynamics of our current lives. I believe “Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang” should not be remembered just as a slogan. Let it serves as a reminder for us women -- in Indonesia and all over the world -- to be inspired and to inspire.

Dhiya Nadira is 18 years old and currently lives in the U.S. under the Kennedy-Lugar YES Scholarship exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State. Nadira was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. Dhiya is passionate about medical studies and international relations, and aspires to have a career or a volunteering activity in these two fields.