Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Forgotten History of Hari Ibu (Indonesia's Mother's Day)

 Every December 22, we Indonesians celebrate Mother’s Day (Hari Ibu). We honor our mother for everything what she did. In this day, Indonesians usually celebrate Mother’s Day by letting our mothers “free of their domestic duties”. In this day, mothers all across Indonesia have the privilege for not serving meals, washing dishes or just to clean out the house. However, frankly, I never knew why December 22 is decided as Mother’s Day. I never had a history class in which I learned as to why we celebrate Mother’s Day every December 22.

A couple of months ago, I read a book entitled Gender, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia. After reading it, now I know that the true spirit of Mother’s Day is neglected for years.

December 22 is chosen to honor the historic event of the very first all Indonesian Women’s Congress happening in 1928, several months after the historic Youth Congress. This information is something I never knew, and I think this piece of information needs to be exposed to others so that they can understand the true nature or spirit of Mother’s Day. It is not merely about honoring mothers for their womanhood and femininity. So after procuring this information what can be inferred?

The fact that Indonesian women held its very first congress in 1928 shows that actually Indonesian women were more emancipated than others thought. It showed their independency and in one sense, equality to males. The congress addressed women’s issues at that time including women’s access to education, secular marriage law and divorce law1. These women’s activism in the pre independence era showed that women were not always passive and submissive. In that pre-independence era, some women were able to show their courage to stand against injustices undergone by them.

Mother's Day is usually marked by celebration
of women as mothers and wives.
At least this is what the New Order regime
tried to instill to Indonesians.
And I personally argue that it created
 a long lasting effect.
(photo taken from Dunianda)
However, those spirits of the first women’s congress was neglected by the nowadays commemoration of Mother's Day i.e. by remembering woman about their difference i.e. women as housewives. This celebration of domesticated femininity and womanhood was what the New Order regime tried to propose2. Suharto initiated the commemoration of Mother’s Day by celebrating women as domesticated mothers. As stated above, in this day, mothers have the privilege for not being “mothers”. They do not have to serve meals or do some laundries. In a sense, it is as if saying that these duties – mainly household chores – are all women’s natural duties. It is as if saying that women are meant to do those chores. This ideology – women as housewives – was in fact the prevailing ideology imposed by the New Order regime for 32 years!

"… in New Order, these two national days (Mother’s Day and Kartini Day) marked women’s difference, their distinctiveness as mothers and wives. Typical modes of celebration included healthy body competitions, or quizzes that tested women’s knowledge of how to be good mothers and wives."3

In this present day Indonesia, in a so called Reformation era, Mother’s Day is still celebrated the old ways. It seems that there are only few who know the true nature of Mother’s Day. I asked some of my friends as to what we actually celebrate on Mother’s Day and they failed to give the appropriate answers. Luckily, some friends (well, until this posting is posted) in my twitter - well it's not some, there are only two though - know about the true nature of Mother's Day even though they are not really sure about it. 

I think this fact – women’s congress as the ground reason of Mother’s Day commemoration – should be thought in Indonesian schools. It's great that we have a day in a year to specially honor our mother. But, let us not forget the reason why this day is not only about celebrating women's femininity and womanhood. Rather, today is the day when Indonesian women celebrate their dependence and strength. Let us remember that today, Indonesian women are empowered.

Well, happy mother’s day! 

[1] Lyda K. Wardhani wrote an interesting article of Mother's Day in the Jakarta Post, 2010 (click here), Robinson states that the New Order regime strips the nature of Mother's Day (2007, p. 72).
[2] Robinson, 2007, p. 36.
[3] Robinson, 2007, p. 72.

Robinson, K. 2007. Gender, islam and democracy in Indonesia. New York: Routledge.

ps: I retain to translate Hari Ibu as Mother's Day following the original translation of the book used as reference above. Some say that Hari Ibu should be translated to be Women's Day. 


  1. I dont understand why Women's Day changed into Hari Ibu....
    Some women are not mothers...?

  2. Hmm menurutku usaha rezim orde baru untuk mendomestikasi wanita melalu "Hari Ibu" terbukti berhasil :)

  3. ck.... women's most proper sphere is domestic sphere, and home, and being a wife...
    that's the idea of true woman.... *skripsikuuuu*

  4. iya betul the idea of "idealized" women ... feminisasi dan domestikasi wanita ... coba deh baca buku State Ibuism karya siapa lupa ... membahas ideologi gender Orde Baru.

  5. Apapun tujuannya yang penting positif dan kunjungi juga web saya

  6. well, actually I didn't know the history of Mother's Day until I read this
    I don't celebrate Mother's Day on that day cuz I celebrate it everyday :D