Woman Who Was First Female Journalist Gets Top Honour

A West Sumatran woman who was a women’s rights campaigner and the first female Indonesian journalist in the conservative religious society of West Sumatra has been recognized as a national hero by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The naming of Ruhana Kuddus as a national hero is of particular note as she is only the fourth journalist and the first-ever female journalist to be awarded the title. West Sumatra is a province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra dominated by active volcanoes and hilly rainforests

Ruhana, the daughter of a civil servant in the Dutch colonial government, was born in Kota Gadang, West Sumatra in 1884.

She never received any formal education, but thanks to lessons from her father Moehammad Rasjad Maharadja Sutan and her neighbor Adiesa, Ruhana became fluent in reading and writing Arabic, Jawi and Latin alphabets by the age of 8.

In 1908, Ruhana started writing for Poetri Indonesia, a women’s newspaper published by Tirto Adhi Soerjo in Batavia, another national hero who is known as the father of Indonesian journalism. In 1912, together with Zubaedah Ratna Juwita, Rohana founded a weekly newspaper in Minangkabau for women and edited by women called Soenting Melajoe. She served as the newspaper’s chief editor until 1920 and continued to write for a number of local publications until the 1940s.

In her book Women and the State in Modern Indonesia, historian Susan Blackburn wrote that the all-female contributors of Soenting Melajoe were very supportive of girls’ schooling and often criticized early marriage and polygamy.

Blackburn wrote:”One daring contributor advocated that girls should not be married before the age of 18 (because otherwise ‘her body will quickly deteriorate’ and ‘if she gives birth to a child, she won’t know how to look after it’), and that it should be left to the girl herself to find the husband (‘Girls are human, aren’t they? They also have brains’).”

Rohana’s passion for girls’ education also led her to establish two private schools for girls: Kerajinan Amai Setia (KAS) in her hometown of Koto Gadang in 1911 and the Roehana School in Bukittinggi in 1916.

She died in 1972 in Jakarta because of illness and was buried at the Karet Bivak cemetary in Central Jakarta.

Heranof, the head of the West Sumatran branch of the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI), said that the organization was very thankful for Ruhana’s recognition as a national hero.

“This is very happy news for us because we have advocated for her to be a national hero for a long time,” Heranof said as quoted by Antara news agency.

The national hero titles were presented to the heirs of Ruhana at the State Palace.