Polygamy, although outlawed in many nations, is legal in Indonesia. The country has the world’s largest Muslim population, and although men may marry up to four wives, as permitted by Islam, the practice has been criticized and denounced by many women’s rights groups.
AyoPoligami, a new dating app that functions similarly to Tinder or Bumble, has recently caused some controversy in Indonesia. The app allows men and women to swipe through profiles of potential love interests and indicate attraction with a right swipe and disinterest with a left swipe. According to the maker of AyoPoligami, the app has garnered 10,000 users since its release in April, and is mainly used by men seeking polygamous marriages.
Despite the staunch opposition to this archaic practice, politicians and religious figures – most of whom are men – are not willing to outlaw polygamy. Many government officials and religious leaders themselves have shamelessly collected several wives.
Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, deputy chairwoman at state agency, the National Commission on Violence Against Women, strongly believes that any society currently condoning polygamy “is male-centred and insensitive towards women.” She continues, “In reality, many women who are involved in polygamy reported to us that they were being treated unfairly. It is clear that polygamy is a type of violence against women that’s rendered possible by culture and religion.”
In Indonesia, almost 260,000 cases of violence against women were reported to in 2016. These are almost all cases of domestic abuse, meaning it is likely that there are many more cases that go unreported. Activists say many victims are hesitant to report these crimes, especially those who live in rural, remote regions of the country. According to the Selangor-based Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), the number of reported domestic violence cases in Malaysia has spiked from 3,173 in 2010 to 5,796 in 2016. Again, the actual numbers are most likely higher because many women are too ashamed or afraid of their abusers to come forward. It seems clear that polygamy only contributes to this cycle of violence toward women.
Women in Southeast Asia are seeing a faster progression toward gender equality than women in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia only recently lifted the nationwide ban on women driving, which will become official next spring. However, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei still have their share of issues. For example, in Brunei, Sharia law will soon be fully implemented, leaving many women unsure of their place in their own country.
While women in these regions are graduating university at an equal, and sometimes higher, rate than their male counterparts, jobs within politics are still being filled almost entirely by men. This is partly due to the amount of sexist restrictions that continue to thrive and the lack of legal protections for women experiencing workplace discrimination.
Just a few of these restrictions include requiring Indonesian women to pass a virginity test before entering the armed forces and having them abide by a curfew at night if they live in the province of Aceh. In Brunei, women are also not allowed to play sports.
Despite these setbacks, many activists nevertheless remain hopeful. “Indonesia has made headway in attaining gender equality. Women here have freedom of mobility, freedom of expression and we also have many female Muslim scholars,” Chuzaifah says. “Radical conservative groups disrupt all that.”
For these women, resistance is key to staying positive and fighting back against a society that tries to silence them.
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