The ‘I’ column - Rubiyanti Kholifah
... on how sexual rights affect one personally, and how they are affirmed and/or violated in one's local cultural setting.
I have never had a problem getting a boy friend in my life. However, my love story has not ended yet with marriage. That makes my mother worry when I am now in my thirties and not yet married.
Moreover when my youngest sister got married and had a baby recently, my mother requested me to marry soon. Many relatives and neighbors also ask the same question about why I have not decided to marry despite having a boy friend and a good job. I also sometimes feel threatened by their eyes looking pitifully at me because of my single status. A married woman in my village has higher status than one who is single.
Sexuality of single young women is often overlooked or even neglected in many societies. Sex is framed only for heterosexual married couples; therefore any questions about the sexuality of single young women are not addressed and must be suppressed till the wedding day. Any desire-inspired actions which destroy premarital ‘chastity’ are considered sinful. This is especially so in Muslim society where sexual ethics is socialized strongly in daily life. Sex is lawful only within marriage; therefore to legalise a sexual relationship, a woman and a man must marry.
I was born in quite a moderate family in which my parents gave equal attention to all their children regardless of gender and age differences. To my parents, being a woman or a man is only a matter of biological determination; and therefore the social and political roles should not be differentiated or moreover discriminated. My mother always taught us to be independent women, who should not totally rely on their husbands, particularly in terms of economic support.
Though I have dedicated my life to my family; sending money home every month, paying for my sisters’ school, taking care of poor relatives and neighbours, etc, these acts are always overlooked. It is not enough. These are not the real roles that society expects me to play. The woman’s real roles are being a wife and producing children for the husband. It is difficult to get people to think that to marry or not marry is a matter of choice. Women have the right over their own body, and especially their uterus to produce a baby or keep it free of sperm.
I am enjoying my life now – I am a single woman with a successful career, I have a good boy friend with whom I can enjoy my ‘sexual life’ (sexuality is not only inserting a penis into a vagina), I have a good income, many chances for traveling, and am able to take care of my family better than others. I do not understand, why women must marry, if it is only to enjoy sexual life and get children. This question is always haunting me and never gets an answer. The fact is that society has constructed a notion of status for women that is attached with biological capacity; a woman must ‘naturally’ be a wife and a mother. Accordingly any other choices which are not in this frame are denied to ‘good women’.
I realise that to choose being single is almost impossible when my body does not totally belong to myself and socially represents my family and society. However, when the time comes, and I decide to marry, I hope, it is not to gain social status by marrying someone to please my society. But, that I choose to marry because I want and I need it for my wellbeing.
Rubiyanti Kholifah is currently working as the Program Coordinator of the Research Fellowship Program at the Asian Muslim Action Network (AMAN) in Bangkok, Thailand. She grew up in Indonesia. She has a Masters degree in Health and Social Science from the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, Mahidol University in Thailand. She has been involved with activities of women’s empowerment for the past ten years.