Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Rights activist calls for revision of marriage law

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A noted woman activist and legislator called on Wednesday for a specific revisions to Marriage Law No. 1/1974 in order to promote more equal relations between husband and wife.

Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, secretary-general of the Coalition of Indonesian Women and a member of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) representing the Functional Group faction, said that several articles of the law ignored women's rights and legalized the domination of men over women.

"The law separates and rigidly defines gender roles in marriage. Men are heads of the family, while women are caretakers of the family," she said in a discussion here.

She was referring to Articles 31 and 34 of the Marriage Law. Article 31 (1) states that husband and wife are on equal footing and thus have equal rights and positions.

Article 31 (3), however, stipulates that the husband is the head of the family, while the wife's role is limited to being a housewife.

"In marriages today, many wives become the head of the family and even earn a living for the family together with their husbands," said Nursyahbani.

She demanded that the articles be revised and that the new version should state that both husband and wife were equal and should take care of the family together.

Meanwhile, Article 34 on family finances suggests that the husband is responsible for supporting the family financially, while the wife is a mere caretaker.

"The article inhibits women's access to economics and politics, making women financially dependent on men," she said.

Article 34 (2) declares that caring for the family is an obligation that rests fully with the wife.

Nursyahbani also called for the scrapping of articles legalizing polygamy, as it was unfair to women.

The law states that a man is allowed take a second wife if his first wife is unable to carry out her wifely duties, suffers from an incurable disease, or is unable to have a child.

"The article clearly shows that a wife serves as a reproductive machine and her husband's servant. When she is not able to fulfill these duties, then the husband can simply dump her.

"Although there is the added condition that to take another wife, a husband should ask for permission from his first wife, many husbands do not do so.

Article 11 on divorce also favors men over women. A woman who has just gotten divorced must wait for a certain period of time before entering into another marriage, while a man can enter his next marriage immediately.

This "grace" period imposed on women is considered a reconciliatory stage.

"The article should be revised so men also receive the same period of time for reconciliation," she said.

Finally, the article on minimum marriageable age for men and women must be changed as it contradicts another law. The minimum marriageable age for men is set at 19 years, while it is 16 for women.

"According to the Child Protection Law, those below the age of 18 are considered children (minors). Both men and women should reach a minimum age of 18 before they can marry legally," Nursyahbani said.

The discussion on revising the Marriage Law started about three years ago, but there are no signs that a draft revision would be drawn up soon.

"Many controversies are still ongoing, mostly from religious groups, as the marriage issue also crosses over into religious issues," she said.