Indonesia: Divorce and polygamy

I feel guilty writing about divorce and polygamy on Valentine’s Day. But these two unmentionable topics are also realities of love and relationships. In Indonesia, more women are divorcing their husbands because of polygamy.

Records show that in 2006 there were nearly 1000 cases of divorce because of husbands marrying another woman. Polygamous marriages are also increasing – the Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women's Association for Justice received 87 reports of polygamy in 2008, up from 16 in 2007.

More women in polygamous marriages are becoming more assertive about their rights. Abdul Khalik writing for The Jakarta Post quotes the views of scholars about this issue:

Director General for Islamic guidance at the Ministry for Religious Affairs Nasaruddin Umar: “There has been a significant increase in divorce because women have been rejecting polygamy in recent years.”

Muslim scholar Siti Musdah Mulia: “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'”

Divorce in general has risen in Indonesia in the past decade. A news report early this month confirmed this trend; and couples are also separating because of political differences:

The divorce rate jumped from an average of 20,000 a year to more than 200,000 a year over the decade

Believe it or not, some couples decide to divorce because the husband and wife have different takes on political issues. This has never happened before,” said Umar. In 2005, 105 couples cited political differences as the cause of their split but this figure jumped to 502 couples in 2006. Figures for 2007 and 2008 were yet to be calculated. The official said 90 per cent of marriages between people of different religions ended in divorce

Indonesia Matters cites a 2007 study about the causes of divorce:

The main causes of divorce, says a report by the National Child Protection Commission (Komnas PA), are economic pressures (23%), followed by domestic squabbling (19%), incompatibilty (19%), interference by relatives (14%), violence (12%), adultery (8%), and sexual problems (3.6%). However these figures are based on only 109 cases

A 2008 article cites the causes of divorce:

incompatibility (because of adultery) – 54000 cases
disharmony – 46000
economic hardship – 24000
interference by relatives – 9000
family crisis – 4700
forced marriage – 1700
domestic violence – 900
polygamy – 879
biological defect (like infertility) – 580
underage marriage – 284
imprisonment – 150
political differences – 157

It is difficult to be a divorcee in Indonesia. My Busy Brain explains:

Some people, in Indonesia that is (I don’t know about other countries), divorce is not a choice. Even if the marriage is not healthy, even if it is abusive, one choose to be still married because either cannot imagine living by themselves, too tired and just accept that this is fate , or economically dependant (usually woman).

This morning I was bombed by an email that I received from my friend from highschool, that he is not doing well and lost 7 kgs the last 3 months because he is going through divorce. Oh my God. Not another one. Even though I myself is a divorcee, I don’t really like hearing people getting divorce because I know how painful it is

Parvita writes more about the stigma associated with divorced women in Indonesia:

I have no problem being divorced, it was the right thing to do at the time and I never regret it. When people ask me where my husband is, I tell them I’m divorced. Usually, they are the one that feel uncomfortable.

The sad thing that I would like to address here is, that after 3 years, the person I hoped and wished to be able to accept me for what I am, still cannot accept it and look at me as I am incomplete. I am sure there are lots of women here in my country that experience that, especially from the older generation or the conservatives. Despite of their bravery to live alone, they just stick with an unhappy marriage because afraid of what other people think, or simply because they are not independent, financially or mentally.

In Indonesia, women are considered successful not from what they have achieved, but from their husbands, how many kids they can deliver and how fat their kids are and where their kids go to school.

nin's journey was inspired by the post written by Umm Faroug about being a radical Muslim feminist:

As a radical Muslim feminist I know my rights as a wife, which are to be fed, sheltered, clothed, and cared for in a way befitting to me. I have the right to a marriage contract which safeguards me in case of a divorce.

On a lighter note, Indosingleparent Community posts pictures of divorce cakes. Indonesian restaurateur Puspo Wardoyo offers “polygamy juice”, a mixture of four tropical fruits, and “polygamy vegetables”, a four-vegetable combo, in his restaurants.

Thumbnail image used is from the Flickr page of Daquella Manera


  • Polygamy should be the choice of both participating adults. Not to suggest that I agree with the idea.

    However the Children are my concern

    Kids Need Equal doses of Mum, Dad, and all 4 Grands
    They need their **Whole Natural Biological FAMILY**
    Support the **Equal Parenting** Petition
    GO –

    Onward – Jim

  • […] and found that he had written a posts on February 14th about Indonesia. It is called Indonesia: Divorce and polygamy. This story is about women in Indonesia who are divorcing their husbands because of polygamy. More […]

  • yaroo

    I am a man, and am writing straight as I feel about polygamy. I am not a polygamous , but as a man I have very closely observed the reasons for this acceptable act in my religion, that is Islam.

    The issue of a second(third ,fourth) marriage is a contention and has been ever since man was created and shall remain till the last day.

    Islam speaks in favour of it with its very straight and to the point about its conditions under which it could be allowed.
    Christainity totally discards ploygamy.Nevertheless Islam permits it as it is HALAL (allowed)and not HARAM(not allowed),for those who are muslims and can afford to do it financially with the conditions imposed. Now this discussion is for the muslim readers however others may read this account aswell for the sake of reading.
    We all are guided and directed by our religions respectively, those who are believers.
    Let us look at it as to why have polygamy in the first place , what are the reasons. This whole world revolves around the relationship between a man and a woman.This is undenyable.Now if the relation is smooth , coherrent systematic, respectful, tolerant ,compatibible then it survives a healthy inning. And the same world gives examples of that perfect couple.Thats and ideal situation. But normally this is not the case.There are dominating partners on both sides. Emotional and physical domination in addition to the attributes mantioned above.

    The blame should not only go to the man for polygamy.Women too play a very strong role in alluring men into polygamy.So the responsibility should not only be on to the shoulders of the man,since the other person getting married is a WOMAN.
    Primarily if it was such an abhoring act then it would not have been allowed in Islam and that is not questionabale at all.God knows that man is weak!

    Adultry is sin in every religion if I am not wrong.The hidden illicit relations , fornication , extra marital affairs , you name it , is not accepted . But the world is full of it ..not one in the west talks about that. One may have many extra hidden affairs , but when it comes to a legal second marriage it is punishable???????On the other hand second marriage gives a man and a woman a respectable position in the society as compared to the two un married partners living together having a ball of a time. By getting into the wedlock they do not commit a sin in the eyes of God. I am not talking about the eyes of the world which sees many things happening but stays shut.
    Ploygamy reduces the adultry at the same time directs the man to shoulder the responsibilty of the woman in a respectable manner and should not consider her a down trodden trash like many women today have made of them selves all over the world, I am not going into reasons.

    A man who can financially honour to support a woman with all the equal rights can get in to another matrimony. On the other hand it is a mutual consent of a man and a woman to abide by the religious instructions and get into a wedlock for their happiness and contentment and flourishment.

    Personal experiences and emotional feelings are a part of every act that we make.

    Why dont we get some comments from the ladies who have been the second wives.How and why did they allow this to happen in the first place?

    Kindest regards

  • Polygamy is an abuse of power of the rich and powerful against the weak and powerless. To justify it on religious or economic terms is evil.

    This discussion is for all readers, not just muslim readers. You post on GVO so you must know that.

    Polygamy is also abuse of women. Note that in islam Polygamy is a right for the man and consent of an existing wife is not required. That is a direct quote from Islamic cholars and Imams.

    So, nobody is the west talks about adultery? Obviously you don’t watch TV or read magazines.

    Also, in case you don’t know, adultery is permitted in the Quran (Unless ‘married women are forbidden unto you EXCEPT captives” means something other than both rape and adultery). Also, all the caliphs had many wives and concubines (where do they fit in?).

    Also you might want to look up Nikah al-Mut‘ah and Nikah Misyar marriages and explain how they fit into that “sin in the eyes of God” statement . Also why cant we question anything in Islam? (or any other religion for that matter).

    PS: yep, I agree that man is weak!

    • J –

      Polygamy disgusts me too; that said, a Muslim friend once explained to me his belief (interpretation) that Islam does not actually permit it. Why? Because it states that the man must treat all of his wives equally (both in terms of finances and personal treatment). My friend said that it’s obviously an admonition, as it’s not actually possible to love two people equally.

      Take that for what it is. I don’t believe any “holy book” is divinely imparted, but I do find the various interpretations of them fascinating.


  • Ronaldo

    When people talk about polygamy and affording more than one wife or husband it is amazing the amount of JEALOUS and RESENTFUL AND BITTER comments will come from those who WISH THEY COULD DO IT BUT JUST CANNOT COPE WITH IT LIKE YOU CAN. Poor JEALOUS UNBELIEVERS.

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