Empowering through Craft: Batik Pegon’s Efforts in Disability Rights within the Global South Context

Countries in the Global South face challenges shaped by colonial legacies, impacting their development and the lives of people with disabilities.

Countries in the Global South face challenges shaped by colonial legacies, impacting their development and the lives of people with disabilities. These nations vary in economic growth, with many grappling with poverty, limited infrastructure, and inadequate healthcare. Disabilities exacerbate these issues, with restricted access to healthcare, education, and employment, often leaving disabled individuals marginalized and amplifying societal inequalities.

Cultural attitudes in these regions often stigmatized disability, leading to social exclusion. Persistent misconceptions and ignorance hinder the full societal integration of disabled individuals, impacting their self-esteem and social participation. Intersectional factors like gender, race, and poverty can intensify discrimination, particularly for disabled women who face increased vulnerability to violence and limited educational and employment opportunities.  Infrastructure-wise, many areas lack accessible facilities, further curtailing the participation of disabled individuals in community life and self-advancement opportunities. However, progress is evident through grassroots movements advocating for disability rights and policy changes.

In Indonesia, Batik Pegon produced by Inclusive House from Kebumen City exemplifies transformative efforts for disability empowerment, integrating disabled individuals into the workforce and challenging socio-economic barriers. Despite a decrease in disabled workers in Indonesia (0.19% in 2020), Muinatul Khoiriyah, Coordinator of the Inclusive House and National Activist Award Winner, shared that their batik-making activities began after a visit from the Jakarta Community, leading to a batik learning session for children with special needs (Difabel) in 2018. She found that batik art is not only beautiful but also beneficial as a therapeutic medium for brain paralysis, allowing individuals with disabilities to creatively express themselves. Although the batik patterns at the Inclusive House may look typical at first glance, they actually represent Pegon script, depicting everyday life, including community activities, culture, and traditions. Syarif Hidayat, a batik maker at the House, described the process of creating Pegon script designs and coloring the fabric, producing work comparable to other batik writings. Ratmin, a skilled tailor with a disability, has transformed several Pegon batik fabrics into garments, adapting to the unique motifs. Muinatul emphasized the need for continuous improvement in their work, which is to be marketed through international exhibitions and can be seen via the @rumahinklusif Instagram account, starting from scratch to achieve better results.

Batik Pegon’s approach, aligned with local culture and crafts, promotes practical, community-driven solutions, emphasizing empowerment over mere employment. Public figures in Indonesia have worn Batik Pegon, showcasing appreciation for the creativity of the Inclusive House in Kebumen. The narrative of Batik Pegon, a distinctive form of batik, is deeply entwined with its creation, setting it apart from other batiks despite similar production methods. At its core, Batik Pegon is a tapestry of stories, each edition unfolding tales that resonate with the lives of families and children with special needs. It’s this storytelling aspect that imbues Batik Pegon with a unique character. The artisans behind these creations are themselves families and individuals with disabilities. Their involvement in crafting Batik Pegon infuses each piece with profound meaning and a personal touch, reflecting their experiences and perspectives.

Batik Pegon’s production transcends traditional artistry, significantly impacting the social fabric, especially for individuals with disabilities and their families. Economically, it offers financial independence to these individuals, enhancing their quality of life. The process of creating Batik Pegon doubles as a therapeutic activity, fostering emotional connections and a sense of achievement among children with disabilities and their parents. Culturally, it aids in preserving the art of batik making and the unique Pegon script, a Javanese script in Arabic characters, adding depth to its cultural relevance. Socially, Batik Pegon is a vehicle for inclusion, showcasing the abilities of disabled individuals, thereby challenging societal stereotypes and fostering a more inclusive community. Moreover, it contributes to community building, connecting families with disabled children in a supportive network for shared experiences and learning. In essence, Batik Pegon is more than an artistic endeavor; it’s a catalyst for empowerment, cultural preservation, social inclusion, and community support. Batik Pegon embodies the principles of the Global South theory through its community-focused, culturally sensitive, and inclusive practices. It stands as a testament to how local initiatives can effectively address global challenges of inequality, cultural erosion, and social injustice.

In the evolving narrative of disability rights, it stands out as a case study in contrast to traditional Western approaches. This divergence highlights significant cultural and operational differences in addressing the challenges faced by people with disabilities. It’s a shift from traditional Western methods. The Batik Pegon model presents a groundbreaking approach to disability inclusion, emphasizing community integration, economic empowerment, and cultural sensitivity.

Community Integration versus Institutionalization:

Contrary to Western strategies that often emphasize institutionalization, Batik Pegon takes a novel approach by integrating disabled individuals into local workforces and communities. This method fosters a sense of belonging and contribution, moving away from the Western legacy of segregation in specialized environments.

Economic Empowerment versus Welfare Dependency:

Batik Pegon’s innovative model aims to provide employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, promoting economic independence. This approach starkly contrasts with the conventional Western reliance on social welfare systems, which can lead to dependency instead of empowerment and economic integration.

Cultural Sensitivity versus Universal Models:

Deeply rooted in local culture, Batik Pegon’s strategy reflects an understanding of societal context in empowering individuals with disabilities. This stands apart from the Western tendency for universal, one-size-fits-all solutions, which often lack cultural adaptability.

Grassroots versus Top-Down Legislation:

While Western disability rights often originate from legislative actions, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Batik Pegon champions a grassroots movement. Here, change is propelled by local businesses and community initiatives, representing a more organic form of empowerment.

Inclusive Employment versus Specialized Employment:

Batik Pegon challenges the Western practice of directing people with disabilities into specialized roles by integrating them into the regular workforce. This not only confronts employment segregation but also fosters a more inclusive work environment.

Holistic Approach versus Focus on Rights and Legislation:

In contrast to Western methods heavily focused on legal rights and protections, Batik Pegon employs a holistic approach, concentrating on the overall well-being and social integration of individuals with disabilities, rather than solely on their legal entitlements. This comprehensive strategy marks a significant departure from conventional Western practices, offering a fresh perspective on disability inclusion.

This narrative serves as a call to action for more initiatives like Batik Pegon and for further research in this area. There is a critical need for more enterprises that not only provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities but also integrate them into the fabric of society. Governments, NGOs, and international organizations are encouraged to support and replicate models like Batik Pegon’s, adapting them to local contexts across the Global South. Additionally, further research is needed to understand the best practices, challenges, and long-term impacts of such initiatives, to build a more inclusive global economy where disability rights are not an afterthought, but a central tenet of development.

Ida Mujtahidah
Ida Mujtahidah
Ida Mujtahidah is a graduate student from Gadjah Mada University, a disability activist, a writer and a book lover. She has written academic articles and book reviews on various topics, such as Track II Diplomacy, Public Diplomacy, historical fiction, and disability empowerment. She is also active on social media, known as Aida Mudjib, where she shares her opinions and interests. Aida is a multitalented person who uses her writing to promote inclusiveness, express her passion for books, and connect with others. She is a highly intellectual and dedicated figure who inspires many people in Indonesia and beyond.