Batik Saparinah: A Symbol of Women’s Resilience and Empowerment

Batik, an Indonesian traditional fabric, has always been painted with prayers and good wishes for its wearers. Its significance goes beyond being mere clothing; it serves as a protector of the soul and a carrier of noble values in life. This inherent symbolism has been revived through Batik Saparinah, a collaborative creation of women’s movement activists, renowned batik experts, and batik communities in Central Java. Designed as a birthday gift for human rights advocate and women’s empowerment figure Saparinah Sadli, this batik serves as a symbol of women’s unwavering resilience against the challenges of time.

“The history of batik and fabric in Indonesia is a means to convey values in society,” said Kamala Chandrakirana, a women’s movement activist known as Nana, who initiated the creation of Batik Saparinah, in an exclusive interview with She added, “With Batik Saparinah, we are reclaiming the essence of fabric in our lives, where fabric is not just an item we wear but a means of communication.”

The initial idea for creating this special batik emerged during a casual conversation between Nana and Andy Yentriyani, the Chairperson of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), while they were traveling to Saparinah’s residence in South Jakarta in 2017. They contemplated how to give a meaningful gift to Saparinah, who had been a role model in sharing her values. Nana remembered her grandmother in Banyumas, who had a special batik design for their extended family, and suggested the same idea as a gift for Saparinah. Andy Yentriyani enthusiastically supported the idea, and they agreed that the batik motif should represent Saparinah’s struggle to assist women who had been victims of violence.

Born in Tegalsari, Central Java, in 1926, Prof. Dr. Saparinah Sadli earned her doctoral degree from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Indonesia. She embarked on a career as a lecturer at her alma mater. Besides her teaching and writing endeavors, Saparinah actively supported the human rights and women’s rights movements through various organizations. During the May 1998 riots in Indonesia, she served as a member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM). “Young people today may not be able to imagine what happened back then when we heard about rape incidents,” said Melani Budianta, a professor at the Faculty of Literature, University of Indonesia. “As women, in any position, it was truly unimaginable,” she added. “We are grateful for our friends, some of whom are now at Komnas Perempuan, especially Ibu Sap, who said we couldn’t remain silent. We had to do something.”

As part of the Joint Fact-Finding Team (TGPF), Saparinah collected testimonies from victims, doctors, and support workers during the May 1998 events. Melani, who also participated in the student protests in Jakarta in mid-May 1998, stated, “The threats were enormous. Many rejected the events. It was as if it never happened. Even the victims went missing or were made to disappear.” The TGPF report documented at least 85 cases of sexual violence against women, mostly of Chinese descent, in Jakarta and several other cities on May 13.