Dear Indonesia, rejecting the “condomisation of society” is not the solution

Published: February 13, 2015

Female Indonesian students from a local Islamic boarding school hold up anti-Valentine’s Day placards during a protest in Surabaya. PHOTO: AFP

Indonesian women, some clad in miniskirts, protest remarks made by Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo, who blamed a 2011 gang rape on the victim's choice of clothing. PHOTO: AFP Female Indonesian students from a local Islamic boarding school hold up anti-Valentine’s Day placards during a protest in Surabaya. PHOTO: AFP

“We reject the condomisation of society.”

Nope, that’s not a headline from The Onion or The Oatmeal. And it’s not taken from any satirical website.

I am quoting directly from the Wall Street Journal’s report on Indonesia’s top Islamic authority, Indonesian Council of Ulema. Local news daily Republika reported that there is a ‘crackdown’ on shops to check whether, in effect of Valentine’s Day, shops are selling condoms with chocolates.

Ma’ruf Amein, the man who uttered the golden words quoted above, insisted that if shopkeepers sold condoms to unmarried couples, it would increase the chance of sex out of wedlock.

I hate to break this to you, Mr Amein, but if two hormonal kids/teens/couple want to have sex, chances are they are going to do it anyway – letting them use contraceptive devices is just a way to ensure better sexual health and prevention of spreading sexually transmitted diseases. Prohibiting the sale of contraceptives is just adding to the laundry list of problems that occur when there is already low awareness about sex and sexual health.

Not too irrelevant to note that this is the same Council of Ulema that urged the government to perform invasive and humiliating ‘virginity tests’ for women – a practice that raised a lot of hue and cry and was thankfully scrapped later. A jarring list of other equally discriminatory and abusive laws and practices are found in Indonesian law and society.

For example, the law requires women to wear hijab, barred women from wearing skirts, from straddling motorcycles, pray in order to avoid adultery, and in July 2013, in Gorontalo, the entire female staff was replaced with men so as to avoid ‘extra-marital affairs’. Most of the strength to enforce these laws comes from the Council of Ulema who were wooed by the 2005 elected former President Yudhoyono; he promised to integrate fatwas (declarations) into government policies and pandered to the Council of Ulemas and appointed conservative politicians and clerics as cabinet members.

The result of these discriminatory and unjust laws is in the crimes against women that have seen a rise in Indonesia. Crimes against women went up by almost 30% in the year 2013-2014 and data revealed that an overwhelming amount of discriminative bylaws exist which control women’s bodies, professions, legal certainty and the likes – whereas there were no effective laws on sexual violence. The range of abuse was from infants to the elderly and included major social groups such as disabled, migrant workers and students.

The Council of Ulema seems to be far too focused on trivial issues such as banning Valentine’s Day and stopping people from buying chocolates that have condoms with them, rather than focusing on the real problem – violence against women. Somehow, these clerics feel that by banning people from having sex, the violence against women will stop. They feel that by removing women from the social sphere altogether – by shutting them inside houses – the abuse, the crimes and the violence that women face on a daily basis by their partners, family members or even bystanders on the street, in case they go out of the house at all, will stop.

Instead of focusing on laws that treat human beings equally, laws that help women find opportunities and protection from harassment, instead of teaching men to be better human beings, the Council of Ulema focuses all its energies on creating more restrictive laws for women. Perhaps their logic is that if women completely disappear from society, so will the crimes against women? Or if they manage to treat women like cattle, there is a good chance people will forget that they deserve human rights as well?


Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Moulana

    Why can’t ppl wait to get married to have sex … It’s a big sin otherwise . So teens obliged to raging harmones can only be called animals . It’s not even probably about sex . What if a child comes into this world without a father . What about him ? Recommend

  • Khalid

    As u hav expressed your views so should u respect others views,condomization is not bad but adultery is,the point is not condom,or small or big issue no religeon allows adultery,nobody objects to husband and wife having sex,but if u do agree or endorse sex out of wedlock,do it but kindly dont convince others on what u think is right.
    I think no religeon allows such things,but as the people following religeon have some tender points as do the people not following it and ur blog is atypical example of tender point of writer and like minded people,both sides are equal in their strubborness only mocking each other ideas rather than finding common and logical grounds for discussion and thus create consensus on any problem or issue.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Admin is not posting comments although it was not abusive neither did it caused hatred,rather was just to start a discussion and find a way forward.baharhal khush raho apne kharche pe aur apne idea k sath if u really want someone to change his or her thoughts u hav to convince him.bye bye, i would not like to comment in future on these blogs.Recommend

  • AA

    By quoting extremely westernized naive statement that, “letting them (young unmarried couples) use contraceptive devices is just a way to ensure better sexual health ?????” Are you joining the bandwagon of rhetorical unsubstantiated chant. How many cases of HIV, Genital Herpes, or any other STDs you have seen in countries that prevent the sale of contraceptives to underage unmarried people? These are predominantly Muslim countries in Asia and to your info it kept the rate of pregnancy low too. Look at countries where this mantra was originated, in US nearly one in four female teens at risk for unintended pregnancy, 43 percent of sexually active females aged 15–19 received counseling or testing for STDs or HIV in the last year. Does your rhetoric even stand the facts. Don’t just repeat like parrots please think; not all that culturally and religiously preached in our societies is rubbish.Recommend

  • guest

    Mahwash Badar: The idea is to reject western immoral “values” being thrust upon us…How is it that it the english-speaking riffraff, the westoxicated scum, in Pakistan and India who promote this dirty western “culture”…Be Desi, behave Desi, dress Desi, eat desi…you are not a goree or faariner…behave properly among muslims..and you’ll be respected and considered educated.Recommend

  • Xyz

    And that’s why condoms and contraceptives are so important…. To avoid unwanted pregnancy. As for sex without marriage being a sin…. Well that’s not a universal definition of sin so very much debatable especially when it’s between adults and is consensual.
    Those who are not adults should be taught the risks and consequences of unwanted sex to caution them and deter them…. But not condemn them or judge them as sinners.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “The Council of Ulema seems to be far too focused on trivial issues such as banning Valentine’s Day and stopping people from buying chocolates that have condoms with them, rather than focusing on the real problem – violence against women.”

    The bottomline is the west has immense soft power which the entire world on one hand loves it and on the other hand especially the non Christians envy it, they want to fight it using violence and intimidation rather than developing their own soft power.

    If a Muslim fires a cracker on Diwali, does he become a Hindu, If I eat a christmas cake, would I become a Christian, as we fight the Valentines day, the west is celebrating Diwali and Eid with their Muslim and Hindu friends while not losing its Christian identity.Recommend

  • Rishabh Jain

    A child won’t come in to the world without a father, if they used contraception! BTW what if people do have pre-marital or even marital sex with condoms? Where’s the issue? Imagine a husband buying chocolates and condoms for his wife, is it still a big no?Recommend

  • Rishabh Jain

    Bravo. You took the bull by the horns. You go Girl!Recommend

  • Jagmohan Trivedi

    Blog from an educated lady with Psychology background is interesting and
    meaningful on the subject.Valentine day comes only once a year,it is one’s choice
    to skip it or celebrate it. The main issue raised here is Ulema’s fatwa and administrative support to shut the female folk in the house,keep them away
    from fresh air,from schools and many modern facilities,to avoid dreadful sex
    possibility.And condoms supply could cause more of sex adventures,but its absence
    be counter productive as well in form of disease etc.The basic question is the
    condom supply increases more of undesirable sex or it is weakness of individual?
    To a rational mind it is only individual weakness.The Indonesian data itself
    supports rise in sex abuse not necessarily due to condoms.The subjects needs
    better education and awareness to reduce undesirable sex episodes and not
    irrational restrictions on movement or dress etc.Any way sex is
    human need, unnecessary restrictions are counterproductive.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Great blog that……The Indonesian Council of Ulema like Pakistan’s CII is focused on form rather than substance. People like this are really not interested in promoting religion but rather using it for other reasons like……instilling fear into people’s mind so that their ‘ business’ of religion is safeguarded and of course playing politics, to name just two.Recommend

  • siesmann

    seems like ulema everywhere are fixated on women and sex.Recommend

  • Parvez

    They are ALL men………difference is they are hypocritical and holier-than-thou in their thinking.Recommend

  • Arsha

    Arent you mixing two different things? issues related to teen pregnancies in US are not because of availability of condoms! That’s the impact of social pressures and lack of parental guidance.
    Restricting sale of condoms also would not mean that society would not be westernised or people will not celebrate Valentine’s.Recommend

  • AA

    I am not, but you are missing the argument author is trying to make here that ” use of contraceptive devices is just a way to ensure better sexual health.” This is practically does not stand the test. Unintended pregnancies among teens and prevalence of STD in the US clearly contradict that statement. There is no restriction in the US on teens to access contraceptive devices. Plus there is a huge informal campaign to promote use. It did not curb what practically is prevalent. If you do not know, Genital Herpes was the leading threat before HIV appear on the radar. One out of four college students suffer it. It has no cure, and causes frequent outbreaks that needs to be suppressed. Only responsible lifestyle enforced by social control could curb its prevalence.Recommend