Indonesia: Women prefer divorce to polygamy in Islamic courts

Jakarta, 2 Feb. (AKI) - A growing number of Muslim women are choosing to file for divorce rather than continue in a polygamous marriage, according to data from Islamic courts in Indonesia.

The number of women who cited polygamy as a reason for seeking divorce rose from 813 in 2004 to over 1,000 in 2006, according to Nasaruddin Umar, senior representative of Indonesia's religious affairs ministry.

“There has been a significant increase in divorce because women have been rejecting polygamy in recent years,” he said, quoted by the Indonesian daily, The Jakarta Post.

Umar said he believed the number of divorce cases linked to disputes over polygamous marriages increased again in 2008 and would continue to rise throughout 2009.

These statistics have prompted the ministry to consider organising marital guidance courses in Indonesia, Umar said.

Siti Musdah Mulia, a leading female Indonesian Muslim scholar, believed the figures indicate that Muslim women were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and also more economically independent.

“The data shows women are now daring to fight for their rights and reject male domination. They are now saying: 'What is the point in continuing a marriage when I am miserable'", she said.

Mulia, a lecturer at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, said women were becoming more independent and educated, two factors leading to a greater sense of worth and place.

She said Muslim women were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and potential, thanks to the efforts of non-governmental organisations and women activists who have launched campaigns against polygamy.

“This is a good sign. Efforts by organizations to raise awareness surrounding women's rights has begun to pay off, even with discussions surrounding polygamy seeing a revival among Muslims with the release of the movie Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love),” said Legislator Nursyahbani Katjasungkana of the conservative leaning National Awakening Party (PKB).

Verses of Love, a film about the conditions experienced by women in polygamous relationships, was one of Indonesia's blockbuster films last year. Along with millions who flocked to see it, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla, also made prominent appearances at cinemas to see the movie.

Many high-ranking officials praised the film while activists accused it of acting as propaganda encouraging polygamy.

Meanwhile, polygamy is legal and on the rise across Indonesia - the world's most populous Muslim country.

The Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women's Association for Justice (LBH APIK) received 87 reports of polygamy last year, up from 16 in 2007.

These statistics are only the tip of the iceberg and in rural areas of the country, men often take multiple 'wives' to a religious ceremony, to whom they are not legally wed.

Current Indonesian law allows a man to marry up to three wives, either if the other wives consent or if they are unable to have children.


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