While digging out the image library on my hard drive, I found some pictures taken of an Indonesian ‘edutainment tabloid’ called Poligami. I found the line, Hak dan Kebutuhan Perempuan (the rights and needs of women) across the cover of the magazine interesting – mainly because here polygamy is pitched as pro-women rather than the more conventional male supremacist’s right to multiple wives.
Since the days of Raden Adjeng Kartini, polygamy has long remained a bone of contention for Muslim feminists and the conservative religious leaders in Indonesia. Currently, polygamy is sanctioned by Indonesian law in cases where the wife is ill, infertile, or absent though these restrictions are rarely enforced.
While many women’s organisations in Indonesia are far from monolithic and don’t unanimously wish to ban the practice, many call for a critical examination of the detrimental effects of polygamy citing cases of psychological damage, poverty, and unharmonious households.
The arguments for and against polygamy are based on the same verse of Surat An-Nisa’ 4:3 that allows men to marry up to four women while at the same time admonishing them to restrict the number to one, if they fear they cannot be equitable to all wives:
Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. (Surat An-Nisa’ 4:3)
Defenders of the practice often take a more literal approach to the verse above to justify their God-given rights while those who are more critical (like myself) emphasise the second half of the verse and read it within the underlying framework of the Quran that promotes the rights and justice for all woman and mankind.
Of course, there are many ways to frame polygamy as positive and female-centric as possible. I am convinced that the concept of ‘women’s rights’ is articulated differently in this magazine and in pro-polygamy rhetoric, but I do wonder: What rights do women in polygamous marriages have that women in monogamous ones don’t?