Sunday, May 15, 2016

Where are the feminists when you need them the most? {Jakarta, Indonesia}


This article was first published on Huffington Post 

A shy, timid & thin young girl came in with the doorman to our doorstep. With a vocabulary of not more than 50 words of Bahasa Indonesia, we communicated about hours of work and pay. We were new to Jakarta and had just moved into our new place. We literally hired the first person who walked in and within minutes of meeting her, as our maid. 

In a few weeks time & a lot of help from google translate Fitri (name changed!) told me her story. She was 35 years old and had three beautiful daughters aged 16, 9 & 5. Her husband had left her for another woman, as he had got her pregnant. in Indonesia, both the law & religion permit Muslim men to marry up to 4 women, no questions asked.

Many, Many years ago, when tribes were busy attacking & plundering, leaving hundreds of women helpless and children orphaned, this law made perfect sense. When men married these desperate women, it wasn’t just taking some one under their wing, but giving them their name and protection. It is one of the many, centuries old religious rituals & customs that make no sense in the present day scenario.  

But it is exploited nonetheless. 

Fitri had not worked a day in her life until she showed up at our place. She had moved back into her father’s house but still needed the money. Things were good. Until a year later when she started throwing up. Nausea, upset stomach & fatigue. A week or so of this and my husband jokingly asked her:

“Are you pregnant?”. 

“Umm, yes.”

I was pretty shocked would be an understatement. She had three girls already, hadn’t she figured how the reproductive system works? Had she never heard of protection? or the after pill? Nothing made sense. But we’re talking about the uneducated class of the world. People who actually don’t know these things or take them seriously. She carried the baby of course, as abortion laws are very strict in the country. 

Her boyfriend was married already. But this wasn’t an issue at all. He would simply dump his first wife for Fitri, and these two would marry and raise the new baby.


 
Indonesia: The one corner in the world where you can have it all: The entourage of driver+maid+full time nanny!

Wait, let me get this straight. 

Fitri’s first husband left Fitri to marry another woman he got pregnant? Yes. Like literally abandoned her for the sake of his new bride and baby. Without even bothering to file for divorce since it would incur high costs.

Fitri’s new boyfriend also left his first wife and children for the sake of Fitri and their new child? Yes. And I’m guessing she had to get a fake ID for her second marriage since it was cheaper & less complicated than a divorce from the first husband!

Umm..yes, pretty much it. 

Soap opera much? 

Sorta!


This was just one such story. It was *normal* to see women marrying one man after another and men marrying one woman after another. People I met in Indonesia had at least one ex wife or ex husband and a child or two from the previous marriage. Often the ‘second’ or ‘third’ marriage happened owing to an accidental pregnancy that could not be aborted owing to rigid laws.

I didn’t see husbands really taking any big chunk of responsibility of their previous wives or children. The women do it all. Work many jobs or find new husbands in order to sustain. They seemed to have figured a way around it. 

Complicated. 

Yet, life went on.

But what about the heartbreak? Of your husband just leaving you one day and marrying someone else since he got her pregnant? 

What about the responsibility of raising children that you didn’t want in the first place? 

What about those little children? Are they healthy? social? neglected? 

What about the complications from botched illegal abortions in case of women who want to beat the system?

How is every one okay with this?

Some food for thought before you go:


  • In India, abortion is legal and polygamy is an exception made only for Muslims marrying under the Muslim Act.


  • Chile is one of the most rigid Latin American countries in terms of abortion laws. Abortion used to be legal in case of risk to the mother or unviable foetus, but was completely banned by ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1989. This ban has finally been lifted just recently. After 27 years.



  • In the US state of Indiana, the laws are worse. Not only is abortion banned even in cases where the foetus has developmental abnormalities, new ways have been implemented to shame women who even miscarry.

& what happened to Fitri? Well, we left the country in 2013, i.e. only a month or two after she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. We funded the hospital bill of course. But the last we know is that her new husband moved with her into her father’s place, as he couldn’t afford a place of their own.

Until later! Stay in touch!





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39 comments:

  1. I find it fascinating to see how life goes on in other cultures and it just seems so difficult to accept that this is the norm for these poor women out there? I also didn't realise how strict the laws are in other areas of the world and was particularly surprised about the laws in Indiana? Shaming miscarriage is just so shocking!
    Thanks for sharing your post with #fartglitter x

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  2. What an interesting story - shedding a light on the challenges faced by a lot of women in the world...a sad existence for many. Thankfully Fitri still had the support of her father. Very shocked about the shaming of miscarriage in a U.S state!! You can tell these laws were made by men who clearly have no idea about anything. I only hope that in time these archaic and patriarchal laws will be overhauled to help women live an equal, free life. Thanks for sharing on #citytripping

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  3. Wow! Fascinating; what an interesting look at other cultures and lives.

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  4. This is such an interesting post! I really enjoyed reading the "other side" of the story. It is amazing how things/issues are very different in different countries and cultures. It is hard to answer the "what about(s)" because they would have a very different view on these questions. The questions might not even be of real significance. Thanks for sharing with #PasstheSauce

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  5. What an interesting insight into the country - not one I've visited, although I do love discovering more about different cultures as I travel the world. I think I'm more shocked by the laws in Indiana! #citytripping

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  6. Well, you know, this sounds like the life of a lot of people I know. I think it doesn't matter if you live in Indonesia or the United States. In the States, polygamy is not legal but that doesn't stop people from having romantic relationships even when they are married. In my opinion, it is a difficult situation to be in but some people love drama.

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    1. But if you get caught, you pay. That makes a big difference!

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  7. What a mess. I've never heard of this serial marrying and leaving partner scenario before.

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  8. To me, the stand out question (aside monogamy) in all of this is where is the education In safe sex? MAybe if there were some more available there wouldn't be so many unwanted pregnancies?...it's a sad sad way to live, it makes you realise how lucky you are to be born in a first world country.
    Thanks for sharing this fascinating post on life in other far away places...with us at #coolmumclub

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    1. Thank you Mrs G. I know, while abortion is illegal, the morning after pill isn't, and fitri had never heard of that option before.

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  9. Hmm... quite a serious issue you have taken up!
    This exists in Indian society too... my househelp too had a similar story.
    It pains to think about the children because they are the most affected ones.
    Interesting read!

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    1. My indian maid had 6 children and once joking said that she would had at least 2 more if her husband hasn't unexpectedly died! Thanks Indrani :)

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  10. Sometimes it is difficult not to get irritated and just to accept that the culture is so different and woman are ignorant to get pregnant and to raise the child alone. In Africa it's also very common. Even if there is a 'new' man it's likely that he doesn't work and contribute to bring up the children together. Worse, even the mothers abandon their children and leave them with 'grand mom' without supporting them and take their child support from the state for themselves. Totally unacceptable to me. #TPThursday

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    1. Thank goodness for the grandparents! Thanks for stopping by:)

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  11. It's all a matter of perspective. It would be interesting to hear what tells her friends and family about you and your family.

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    1. I hear that on a regular basis! People asking me about my plans to have more children, and when I say I don't they just dismiss it as a whim!

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  12. Sounds to me more like a soap opera. I don't know if I should feel sorry for Fitri. She knew first hand how it feels when your husband leaves you for another woman, yet she had no problem doing the same thing to another women. How is she any better then the woman who took her husband? Or why should we put the blame on men only? After all, it takes two to tango.

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  13. I am not too surprised over Fitri's story frankly. But I was shocked by what happened in Indiana! The cases in the news article you linked up sent shivers down my spine.

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  14. This is so depressing, and so confusing for the child / (Children) then they grow up. #Myfavouritetrip

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    1. Depressing, but not really confusing as the children grew up in many moms+dads scenario!

      Thanks Ethan.

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  15. Such a fascinating story, that you for sharing! I'm confused though, if the law allows men to marry up to 4 women, why would she need a fake ID for her second marriage?

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    1. It's cheaper! Divorce is expensive !

      Thanks for stopping by vlad :)

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  16. An interesting insight into what goes on in the world. I had no idea Indonesia had so many remarriages & this was accepted (by some/most?) into their culture. Thanks for giving the history about how remarriage came about. I guess once it's ingrained into society, it is very hard to remove. Thanks for sharing such an interesting & personal story, it really does get you thinking. Thanks for joining in with #MyFavouriteTrip Polly

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  17. Absolutely fascinating how different cultures view women and their place and how there are no qualms to just leaving your children and wife for another... I'm stunned. You're right, it's a lack of education. If this is the norm then it will be a practice that will continue. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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