While many Indonesians supported Grace Natalie, the chairperson and founder of the young and progressive Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), when she said in a speech last month that her party would "never support regulations based on the Gospel or sharia," the politician also faced fierce backlash from conservative Muslims, some of whom accused her of Islamophobia and even reported her to the police for alleged blasphemy.
Even after being questioned by the police over that report, Natalie seems unafraid to continue publicly pushing PSI's progressive policies, even those that are sure to rankle religious conservatives. A new example of that came on Tuesday night, when Natalie said in a speech at a PSI event in Surabaya that her party would not tolerate polygamy and would try to get the law that gave the practice legal recognition in Indonesia revised.
"PSI will never support polygamy. There will be no cadres, administrators or legislators from this party who can practice polygamy," Natalie said during her speech at the party's Festival 11 event on Tuesday.
In the speech, Natalie cited research by the Association of Indonesian Women for Justice (LBH Apik) that concluded that, in general, the practice of polygamy in Indonesia was unjust and led to various forms of violence against women and children (including economic and emotional violence).
Natalie said that PSI believes that fighting for justice and eliminating discrimination must begin with family and home, which is why they are focusing on polygamy as an issue. In addition to banning PSI members from engaging in the practice, she said PSI would fight for the imposition of a ban on polygamy for public officials in all branches of government as well as civil servants since they serve as an example to the public.
The PSI founder said that her party would also work to revise the 1974 Marriage Law that legally protects the practice of polygamy as well as sets the legal age of marriage for women in Indonesia at 16.
Natalie said in a statement released yesterday that PSI wants the age of marriage for women to be raised to 18 (it currently set at 19 for men), one reason being that women who get married younger are likely to be lacking in education and thus likelier to remain in poverty (many studies of child marriage in Indonesia, which still remains rife in many areas, have demonstrated the detrimental economic, social and health effects on women who marry too young).
Opposing polygamy and increasing the legal age of marriage are just a few of the women's empowerment initiatives included in PSI's platform. Yesterday's release also noted that the party is pushing for the passage of the Draft Law on the Elimination of Sexual Violence (which has been languishing in parliament for several years), budget allocations for the establishment of more child care centers, flexible working hours for women, and greater access to prenatal healthcare and nutrition services for expecting mothers.
As expected, PSI's anti-polygamy stance has already been criticized by some religious leaders and politicians (no one's reported Natalie to police over it, yet).
It also resulted in one of the party's members, Nadir Amir, who had been running as PSI's candidate for the Regional Representatives Council of Bone Regency in South Sulawesi, leaving the party in protest.
"The statement made by the chairperson at the 11th Festival yesterday in Surabaya was very controversial to me and, frankly, I reject it. The first reason is that polygamy has existed since the Prophet's era. The second reason is that my own father had four wives, which is obviously polygamy. I mean, if you don't want it or don't like it, you don't have to forbid your cadres to reject polygamy as well," Nadir said yesterday as quoted by Tribun.
Although polygamy is legal in Indonesia, the practice does not have widespread public support, although there is a growing movement to have it mainstreamed (for an excellent look into the subject check out this documentary about a prominent polygamy activist from Vice Indonesia).
But, similarly to religion-based regulations, PSI seems to be the only party in Indonesia willing to take a strong stand on the issue since larger, more established parties fear losing the support of conservatives or being subjected to attacks by increasingly influential Islamic hardliners.
There have been some concerns that Grace Natalie could become "the next Ahok", meaning she could be accused of blasphemy by hardliners, as happened to former Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, and become the focus of politically motivated protests that could not only endanger her and PSI's political future but also that of President Joko Widodo, as PSI is a supporting member of his coalition.
Clearly, Natalie is not overly concerned with that possibility. Much respect to her and PSI for providing Indonesians with a politically progressive alternative to the country's rising conservatism. Let's hope it's a viable alternative.