By: Fitria Sari*

Saparinah Sadli is a tireless academic, human rights defender, writer, researcher, and activist on women’s issues. This woman who was born on August 24, 1927 in Tegalsari, Central Java, has held dozens of important positions. Some of them were Chairman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) from 1998 to 2004, member and Deputy Chair of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) from 1996 to 2000, part of the Joint Fact Finding Team (TGPF) for the May 1998 riots, and Chair of the Center for Women’s Studies at the University of Indonesia in 1990-2000.

Saparinah’s interesting view of the elderly, did not appear in an instant. Personal reflection, old friends, and the daily life of her late mother in the past have opened her horizons for thinking about the elderly. Her mother’s activities in the past, which were mostly at home by knitting tablecloths and waiting for visits from relatives or grandchildren, were in stark contrast to today’s elderly woman friends. Saparinah sees many of her elderly friends who are productive and socially active who are free to do activities as they wish (enjoy doing what they chosen to do). It is the diversity of activities of the elderly that also creates an interesting concept of heterogeneity in the elderly, both for elderly men and women. The heterogeneity of the elderly is reflected in differences in age, life experiences, ways of thinking, diverse physical/ mental/ social/ spiritual conditions, and different life decision-making. 

Saparinah met a moment that further stimulated her curiosity about the elderly. That is when she attended a seminar entitled “Population Aging and Indonesia’s Development: Documentation, Challenges, and Next Steps” which was held in November 2012.  Together with five other elderly, she filled an event entitled “Voices of the Elderly”. They come from varied backgrounds (various ages, experiences, activities, and gender). Some are still taking care of PKK (Family Welfare Empowerment) at the RT (neighborhood association) and RW (citizens association) levels, helping the Elderly Posyandu, regularly participating in elderly gymnastics, and others. From these activities, Saparinah realized that the elderly who attended did not have a problem with physical decline. Because the most important thing from old age is to stay active and take care of social interactions.

With these various scenes and interactions, Saparinah shows that the concept of the elderly is heterogeneous and has a unique and distinctive personality. For Saparinah, the grouping of the elderly as a homogeneous non-productive group (which applies in Indonesia), is not in line with the expectations of the elderly themselves. Saparinah would like to convey that in old age, physical and mental decline is normal. However, the elderly can still look presentable with the right choice of clothing and fun energy. This means that it also means that productive and healthy elderly women will have the opportunity to be independent and live their freedom. 

Saparinah emphasized that the elderly do not need to worry too much about physical and cognitive decline, which is normal and does not need to be challenged. For Saparinah, ‘healthy’ in the context of the elderly cannot be translated literally. That is, ‘healthy’ in the elderly can mean finding ways to adapt from physical setbacks, by remaining active and interacting socially (companionship).


Examining Heterogeneous Successful Agers

Emulating women as tough elderly people is actually in line with the heterogeneous concept of successful agers. ‘Successful’ women in old age are a group with the ability to develop their own independence in the midst of cultural values that tend to emphasize dependence. There are several main characteristics of successful agers, namely (a) doing productive and useful things for themselves and others; (b) have lovely friends; (c) follow the time progression with socialitation; (d) learn new things in elderly to develop potential and contribute without being overshadowed by the demands of achievement .

Saparinah stated that about half a century ago women did not have many choices in life. However, according to her observations, this does not dampen the aspirations and courage of today’s elderly women to dare to make decisions that they believe are good. The number of narratives of elderly women who are still active by keeping cake shops, educators, foundation administrators, writers, counselors and other professions is interesting. Because their activities are no longer about how much rupiah they reach, but satisfaction/ relieve fatigue and boredom, which are important values. 

Of course, the struggle of successful agers is not easy, but the important thing is that women need to develop their independence and strength as inner strength, which they carry over into their elderly age. According to Saparinah, understanding tough elderly women is not just for themselves, but how to listen to voices and be an inspiration to other elderly women and men, by bringing up positive and inspiring stories. 

In the end, through her various writings and social activities, Saparinah wants to invite the whole community to realize that there is no single strategy or standard recipe in living life as a tough elderly. In fact, all of that comes from oneself, for example being active in elderly age can be in the form of wanting to learn something new, wanting to be invited to participate in social activities, and wanting to participate in available activities which are forms of stimulation needed in the context of developing individual potential. A tough elderly figure certainly requires an interaction between the willingness of the elderly individual and the availability of opportunities in their environment, which from a psychological perspective is the result of a process of individual development from a young age. Being a tough elderly is the duty of the elderly themselves and their social environment. 

*The author is an activist for gender equality and women’s empowerment, alumni of the SKSG Gender Studies Program, Universitas Indonesia

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