I ask the regent to remember his mother,” said Hanifah, 18. Hanifah was among Garut residents in West Java on Tuesday who demanded that their regent, Aceng Fikri, step down.
Aceng apologized late Monday to his ex-wife, a teenager identified as FO, and her family. “If what I did was wrong, even though it was allowed by Islamic law, then I deeply apologize to my family and my ex-wife,” he said. Aceng has denied reports that he had found out that she was no longer a virgin.
The regent divorced the then 17-year-old girl by text message just four days after their marriage in July despite having paid Rp 250 million ( US$26,041 ) to unidentified parties. The family had kept their grief to themselves for months before they finally decided to report to the independent National Commission for Child Protection ( Komnas Anak ).
The rallies on Tuesday took place as Vice President Boediono opened the fourth Conference on the Role of Women in Development of Organization of Islamic Cooperation ( OIC ) member states, attended by the Turkish secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and the former president of Chile secretary general/executive director of UN-Women, Michelle Bachelet.
“Gender equality and the progress of women is not only a human right … [it] has proven to contribute positively to the welfare of families and communities,” Boediono said.
The Garut case is surely a slap in our face as the host of the 57-member nation OIC talks.
Also on Tuesday, Yuni Chuzaifah, the chair of the National Commission for Violence Against Women ( Komnas Perempuan ) remarked that the Garut case reflects the vulnerability of poor and young women to sexual violence. The case also “victimizes the first wife and the victim who became the second wife,” Yuni said.
Under the 1974 Marriage Law a female must be at least 16 years old to marry — which was progress back then when little girls were married off — a child is defined as under 18 years old under the 2002 protection law.
Yet regardless of the laws, Aceng was married in an unregistered Islamic ceremony called siri, a ritual that remains questionable amid different interpretations of Islamic
law. Another problem is that according to FO’s lawyer, the regent had not told her that he was still married to another woman.
The regent’s thoughtless actions reflect what is occurring today in Indonesia’s supposedly advanced, democratic society. Without the numerous examples of other powerful men doing the same, Aceng would not have so easily taken another wife and dumped her like an old towel.
Indonesia is a democracy “without equality”, as researchers from the University of Indonesia suggested last week following their survey — basically meaning that Indonesians understand everything they need to know about elections — but many prefer to have some things stay the same. Like thinking women are available to pick and dismiss at will — with male dominated interpretations of Islam providing convenient justifications.
National laws are supposed to prevent wanton interpretation of religion — but President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his officials have often shown less commitment to law enforcement compared to loud politicians claiming to represent Islam.
Clearly women here must strive harder for recognition as equal — for they have found no guarantee under the current democracy of the world’s most populous nation of Muslims.