Amid all the controversy on illegal wives and polygamy is the silent hope among some women - the hope for a spouse, one way or the other. "If polygamy is banned, what about me?" asked one single mother.
At a gathering of women activists last Friday, they did not appeal to their sisters to reject polygamy, which is legal under certain conditions. It was to unregistered marriages that they called upon women to object.
The Islamic marriages, called siri, which are unregistered by the state, “are highly disadvantageous to women as they have no legal protection”, said former first lady Sinta Nuriyah Wahid. Because of the largely lax requirements, the siri has become a convenient way for many Muslim men to take additional wives, without the first wives’ permission – or prior knowledge.
Sinta, the widow of former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, was addressing a press conference in light of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to grant a request made by the Garut Legislative Council in West Java to impeach Regent Aceng Fikri. Aceng became a household name when it became known that he had divorced his second wife only four days into their marriage, saying the teenager was not a virgin.
The case caused uproar – and the only silver lining in a number of similar cases is that the Supreme Court’s decision may be a lesson for other public officials. Other women have boldly reported what used to be considered part of a woman’s lot but endured in silence – more so if the husband held high public office.
The Supreme Court stated that Aceng had violated his oath when he was sworn in as a public official, as the pledge included allegiance to the Constitution and the nation’s laws. In this case, he violated the Marriage Law, which stipulates that all marriages must be registered. Child advocates were angered that he had abused a minor, but the 1974 law states that brides must be at least 16 years old – a compromise to the reality in the 1970s when many girls were married off much earlier.
Aceng’s lawyer argues that the affair was personal; however, the Supreme Court stated that, as an individual, the regent could not be separated from his position as a public official.
The regent may have been shocked that his behaviour, which is not all that unique among men here, should become so high profile to the point of having his position threatened.
Follwong Aceng’s case were reports from the wife of the deputy mayor of Magelang, central Java, and the wife of the mayor of Palembang, Sumatra, who claimed they were abused and cheated on by their husbands.
Last week, the Judicial Commission recommended that the Supreme Court fire judge Muhammad Daming Sunusi, a justice candidate, following his statement that rapists should not be sentenced to death, as the victim might have “enjoyed” the intercourse. Former Constitutional Court chief Jimly Asshiddiqie said the dismissal would be too much because Daming was only representing a common, albeit inappropriate, attitude of the Indonesian male.
So true – yet the fact that both men and women were angered by Daming and Aceng’s cases reflects a widespread sense that at least public officials and law enforcers should become models of behaviour – starting with their marriage vows.