July 25, 2003, marked a setback in the Indonesian women’s movement. On that date an Indonesian businessman, Puspo Wardoyo, the owner of the restoran Wong Solo franchise, organized an awards ceremony for males who had married more than one wife.
More than 30 women’s organizations as well as individuals from Jakarta protested this event. Among the organizations that formed the coalition “”Nurani Perempuan Indonesia (Indonesian Women’s Conscience) were the APIK Legal Aid Center, Aisyiah, Kalyanamitra, Institut Ungu and the National Commission on Violence Against Women. This coalition rejects polygamy and also protested the awards ceremony. A similar demonstration also took place a year ago in Yogyakarta.
The women’s movement has always rejected polygamy. National heroine Kartini was among the virulent opponents of it. There was also a strong movement later — Pewari, in 1952, opposed to the decision by President Sukarno to take a second wife. After the fall of Soeharto, the women’s movement always raised its opposition to polygamy when it organized events, to protest violence against women.
The women’s movement outside Indonesia also opposes the practice of polygamy. This is shown by the recommendations passed on the issue of elimination of discrimination in February 1998 at the UN. At the 378th session of the assembly, a resolution was passed, stating, “”Indonesia, as the largest Islamic society, is urged to become a society free of polygamy”” and it added, “”polygamy remains a threat to all women as long as it remains unprohibited by law.””
Polygamy is a form of violence against women and children. The practice of marrying more than one woman is a product of unequal power relations between husband and wife. Male domination, in the form of power wielder in the household and controller of all family economics, has provided the basis for the development of a doctrine, misusing religion as a weapon to subdue wives and children.
Most polygamists refer to verses from the Koran, particularly the third verse from an-Nisa, which reads: (4.3) “”And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.””
According to Musdah Mulia in his book The Islamic View on Polygamy these verses were not related to the issue of polygamy as such but rather to the issue of how to care for orphans and the unjust treatment they sometimes suffered. These verses contain a warning for all people to avoid all forms of injustice and arbitrary acts, especially within a marriage relationship.
Does the marriage law permit polygamy?
In Law No. 1/1974, Clause 2, it states a husband may have only one wife and a wife only one husband. That clauses institutes monogamy, not polygamy. However, Clause 3 negates this intent by giving a court the power to grant permission for a man to have more than one wife if it is “”desired by the concerned parties.””
The inconsistency between these two clauses also exposes the weakness of the position of the woman in a relationship. A man is given a way out to get around the prohibition on multiple wives by the second clause, which allows a court to give him permission to marry additional wives if he fulfills the conditions in article 5 of Law No. 1/1974.
It is true that if a husband marries a second wife without the permission of the first, the latter can seek an annulment of the marriage. This is set out in article 22 of the law. However, in such relationships, where economic dependence and religious pressure can also be factors, many first wives are reluctant or are not in a position to withhold permission.
In all these arrangements, the woman is placed in a lesser position than the man. This is indeed the nature of polygamy. Polygamy reinforces unequal relations between men and women in society.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Wed, 07/30/2003 12:00 AM | Opinion
By Faiza Mardzoeki (Member, Management Council Ungu Institute, Jakarta)