Accepted Paper:

Reimagining sexual morality: promoting the reproductive and sexual rights of Indonesian women  


Linda Bennett (University of Melbourne)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper critiques how Indonesian women’s experiences of, and access to, reproductive health care are overly determined by moral judgments. It asserts that medical education and health services must critically engage with sexual morality in order to address the reproductive rights of patients.

Paper long abstract:

This paper critiques the dilemmas that emerge when dominant sexual moralities are given precedence over women's sexual and reproductive health and rights. It considers sexual morality to be socially constructed, culturally embedded and changeable. It examines how women's experiences of, and access to, reproductive health services are overly determined by the moral judgments of service providers and society more broadly. The paper draws on 20 years of research into reproductive and sexual health among Indonesian women.

To elucidate the "over-moralisation" of reproductive health care in the Indonesian context I present three case studies. Initially, I examine the rejection of married women's right to access contraceptives when their partners are migrant workers. Secondly, I consider the denial of single women's right to safe abortion and post-abortion care. Finally, I investigate the failure to test married couples for STIs (a key cause of infertility) in the context of infertility care. What is common to each scenario is a dominant moral narrative in which: women' sexual activity should be confined to marriage; women's reproductive and sexual autonomy are subjugated to their husbands' authority; and marital infidelity is repudiated.

I assert the need for open critique of how sexual morality is embedded within both medical education discourses and the provision of reproductive and sexual health care in Indonesia. Without critical engagement from within these spheres the core values driving reproductive and sexual health care are unlikely to be reinterpreted in a manner that best serves the priorities, needs and rights of patients.

Panel Hier03
Contestations of gender, sexuality and morality in contemporary Indonesia