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Theresia Dyah Wirastri (Alumna BGSMCS)


Coping with Polygamy in Indonesia: Women’s Strategies to Seek Social Security in Unregistered Islamic Polygamous Marriages

Coping with Polygamy in Indonesia: Women’s Strategies to Seek Social Security in Unregistered Islamic Polygamous Marriages

The discourse on polygamy in Indonesia is ever present and the practice causes controversy between people debating the pros and cons. While Islamic polygamous marriage in Indonesia is legal under certain conditions, it is frequently practiced informally creating many instances of unregistered polygamous marriages. Accordingly, Muslim women who live in unregistered polygamous unions have no legal rights to marital property in case of divorce or death of the husband. This insecure position of second, third or/and fourth wives living in unregistered polygamous marriages raises the question why women are willing to submit themselves to such an insecure situation? Is it based on religious convictions, are they afraid to remain single, or are they simply in love with someone who is already taken? Does legal insecurity actually mean economical and social insecurity in practice? Nevertheless, it is not my intention to take sides in the ideological debate between most women organizations making a plea for abolishment of the practice, and most Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia in support of it. Instead, I am concerned with the experiences and strategies of the women in the legally and - perhaps also - socially vulnerable position of a wife in an unregistered polygamous marriage. This research attempts to unravel how appeals on Islamic norms, state norms, and more universal norms and values, including love, loyalty and parental responsibility are applied strategically (or emotionally) by all actors involved in marital clashes surrounding the marital property. Besides that, my research will assess whether polygamy is part of a wider contestation of the State’s authority in establishing Islamic norms. After the fall of Soeharto (1998) the issue of polygamy is especially apt to explore to what extent the state authority in Islamic matters is contested from within Indonesia’s Muslim society. This research is part of the socio-legal domain, combining legal analysis with sociological and anthropological approaches. The starting point of the research is a legal one: the disadvantaged legal position of women whose polygamous marriage has not been registered. The legal analysis is followed by sociological and anthropological field research, which assesses the consequence of this weak legal position and the strategies that women employ to cope with them.

First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Vincent Houben

Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Birgit Krawietz