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Muslim Women in Indonesian Religious Courts

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Reform, Strategies, and Pronouncement of Divorce

image of Islamic Law and Society

The 1974 Marriage Law and the Compilation of Islamic Law in Indonesia stipulate that permission of the religious court (Pengadilan Agama) is required for all divorces regardless of which party initiates the divorce. Thus, a man wishing to divorce is required to obtain permission to pronounce the divorce formula, and a woman wishing to divorce is required to go to court to initiate a khulʿ divorce. However, while both men and women must obtain permission from the court to divorce, women come to the courts to resolve their marital problems more often than men do. In recent years, the percentage of divorces initiated by women has been increasing. In 2001 57.5 percent of all divorces nation-wide were initiated by women while 42.5 percent were initiated by men. By 2009 66.4 percent of divorces were initiated by women and only 33.6 percent by men. Going to court, which entails making private matters public, can be troublesome and costly, but many women decide to do so. This essay investigates the reasons underlying women’s increasing use of the Islamic courts by examining the attitude of Indonesian Muslim women towards divorce and divorce law as reflected in the narratives they present when petitioning for divorce in court. I examine how and why women use the court and analyze strategies used by women to achieve their objectives. By presenting dispute narratives or stories told by litigants in court hearings, I attempt to understand the attitude of Indonesian Muslim women toward divorce and divorce law and their understanding of themselves as legal actors.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Sharia and Law, State Islamic University, Jakarta; Jl. Ir. H. Juanda No. 95 Ciputat, Jakarta


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