Divorce, gender, and state and social power: an investigation of the impact of the 1974 Indonesian marriage law

Kate O'Shaughnessy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] The 1974 Indonesian Marriage Law required all divorces to be ratified by courts and vested household leadership with husbands. This thesis examines the impact of this law upon the negotiation of divorce, and its implications for the constitution of state and social power. I argue that the New Order state used this law to attempt to control gender relations and reinforce political legitimacy, but that women and men resisted this project in a variety of ways. Divorce may entail the contestation of state ideological prescriptions on gender. It also reveals gender relations operating independently of the state. As such, it is a particularly fruitful site for an analysis of the location and constitution of state and social power. In order to analyse the complex relationship between marriage, divorce, and power, I have adopted several original strategies. I expand the definition of property to encompass "social" property such as status, enabling a more nuanced analysis of the significance of divorce for women. My thesis also departs from earlier studies of divorce by drawing out the national implications of local actions. To do this, I undertake a microhistorical, qualitative analysis of divorce in the Special Region of Yogyakarta. I employ legislation, Religious and State Court records of Muslim and non-Muslim divorces, newspaper reports, fiction, and interviews with court officials, NGO workers and divorced women. My study presents the only known detailed analysis of women's divorce court negotiations, employing 151 unpublished and hitherto unexamined court records, from 1965 to 2005. I challenge the view that liberation from authoritarian rule necessarily effects positive changes in women's experience of divorce. Rather, my data suggests that changes in state formations do not always encourage changes in the character of gender relations. I argue that New Order power was partly predicated upon the regulation of marriage and divorce according to an ideology of a subordinate and domesticated female citizen. However, my study demonstrates that state power was not hegemonic; it was both contested and co-opted by its citizens. This contestation and co-optation reveals an ordering of social, religious and cultural power according to gender. Men's actions in and out of court throughout the period of this study demonstrated their superior social position, and indicated a certain degree of autonomy from the state. ... Through my detailed legal history of divorce negotiations after the introduction of the Marriage Law, I attempt to provide a significant reassessment of Indonesian history. I suggest that the national and political histories of Indonesia have been shaped in part by the regulation of gender relations through marriage and divorce. Moreover, I argue that a history focused on the gendered distribution of social power reveals little change in women's subordinate condition. Rather, in the four decades analysed in this thesis, male power in political, social, and religious contexts has generally remained dominant. I conclude that although the Indonesian state has consistently sought to position women as subjects, women's pursuit of their goals in divorce constituted an attempt to redefine the terms by which they could participate in the state, and so to reclaim their citizenship.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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