I am a victim of domestic violence and I am in the process of getting a divorce. I am only the second woman ever in Sumba to file for divorce. I married a Sumbanese man who had a big ego. Sometimes I didn’t agree with his decisions and it was a problem, especially when I knew they were wrong. I also made more money than he did.
Men have 100 percent power over women here. Even educated women in Sumba cannot make any decisions because the man makes all of them. Ninety percent of Sumbanese women I know are beaten by their husbands.
One time I helped a woman in a village who was beaten with a big wooden stick and suffered a broken hip and legs. I brought her to the police to report it but the dowry system makes it hard because the husband’s family already paid (her dowry) and her parents can’t afford to pay the money back. So she went back and pulled the report from the police and went back to her husband. We cannot do much here about the violence.
My divorce is still in process. It’s hard to get all the legal papers together. It’s been almost a year now. The other divorce case in Sumba took two years. My husband and I are separated. He stayed in town and sometimes I fear he will come after me. Even when I am mad, I need to stay calm, so I can see my kids.
I tell women in the villages they can talk to me because I have been through the same thing as them. It doesn’t matter how educated you are, when it comes to the family, the man is always in charge. My plan is to set up a woman’s group so we can at least talk and share the pain in order to release some of it. Women here don’t have a choice because of the marriage system and divorce is a taboo subject here in Sumba.
Another big problem women face is family planning because their husbands wont let them get birth control. They come to me and say they are tired and pregnant but they can’t do anything because if they refuse to get pregnant, their husbands will beat them, so they will be faced with another problem.
The Indonesian government provides birth control but a man in Sumba wants to have a lot of children to help him with farming or if they have a girl, they will get a big dowry of buffalo and horses. Many people have big families. We are helping a lot of kids who are the ninth or tenth kid to be born into one family. They are not fed well and many face malnutrition.
Women with a monthly income can survive without a man but a village woman doesn’t have a choice. They are stuck forever. I had a choice because I have a monthly income. I want to show [other women] we have an option. Even if it just means reporting [domestic violence] to the police. We are also teaching young children that even if they slap a kid at school, it’s not good to beat a girl.