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||A TALE OF THREE WOMEN
As a single woman, I often have people asking me
about my marital status and reason for lack thereof.
When I was younger, there were queries from “brave
and open” friends who tried to probe on my
sexuality or suggest meeting up with ABC guy. These
various suggestions occasionally amused me. Mostly,
I am quite at ease about my single-hood because
that was what I chose to be and to do. I thus have
a full life with meaningful relationships sans the
sex life. My family accepted it many years ago.
I have revisited this decision last year during
a personal development course and know that it was
my choice and happy with it. I am sharing instead
the true stories (details have been altered for
reasons of confidentiality) of three women who never
reflect on their choices and allow the pressures
of society which make them lesser than what they
are. They are Siew Mei, Surianna and Devi (not their
Last year I accompanied Siew Mei for a HIV test.
She was relieved that the result was negative. Six
months later, I took her for the repeat HIV antibody
test at a private laboratory. Her result was again
Siew Mei is 42 years old. She is a civil servant
who never married and is educated to tertiary level.
One day, she realized that her Korean boyfriend
was two-timing her and she decided to call off the
relationship. While she was angrily blaming the
“other woman”, I asked her whether her
relationship was sexually intimate. That was how
we looked at the risks of unprotected sex.
I met Siew Mei a few months ago, playing tourist
guide to an Australian man. Later I learnt that
she met him through internet dating services. They
stayed together at a resort before he went home.
The long-distance relationship did not work out
and she needed a pregnancy test but she decided
not to do a HIV test. I have not seen Siew Mei since
though I remain in telephone contact. She is dating
a Japanese man. The reason: she wants to be married
and it’s never too late. Marriage begins with
a (sexual) relationship and she had been too old
fashioned in the past. It was time to take risks
and foreigners were more accepting of her age.
I first met Surianna, then 32 years old, three years
ago, when she was referred for placement in a centre
by her own family as she had tried to commit suicide.
Though depressed, she looked stunning. A mother
of a five-year-old girl, she and her ex-husband
had just divorced.
Her ex-husband looked after his family’s extensive
business interests and neglected her. Her little
girl was looked after by Indonesian maids.
When her husband was overseas, Surianna would call
up men friends and go out with them. The divorce
happened because one of her male partners disclosed
the relationship to the ex-husband.
After two months at the centre, she went back to
her family and looked for a job. Surianna re-married
after the death of her father. Her new husband,
Hilmi, does not know about her past. She stopped
visiting her little girl. She married Hilmi because
she was tired of working for a living and looking
after herself. She felt she was a burden and a shame
to her family. She said she re- married while she
still has the looks. Surianna spent a lot of time
and money on looking good. Her mother-in-law wasn’t
happy because she dieted to be slim, so Surianna
persuaded Hilmi to move out and hire a maid to do
Yesterday, Surianna discovered Hilmi having sex
with the maid when she returned home early from
a Kuala Lumpur shopping trip. “What shall
I do? He refused to send the maid back. I called
my mother-in-law and she said this would never have
happened if I had not moved out and learnt to cook.
She won’t take my side. I called my mother
who told me I have to grow up.”
What can Surianna do? Move out of the marital home
and go back to her family home again? Bear with
the situation? Kill the maid, her husband and herself
(this was on her mind). Actually she went into hospital
after consulting her private psychiatrist, and told
her husband that she needed time away for “a
Devi, a Masters’ graduate, married John two
years ago. Devi has had two abortions before they
were married. She was over the moon when he proposed.
Recently, Devi called crying from a public telephone,
“John never looks after me and our son. I
pay all the house bills, the rent and buy the food.
I cook, wash and clean after coming back from work
and fetching our son from the babysitter. He just
goes out with his mates and come back drunk. He
got fired recently and now he’s very bad-tempered.
I am afraid of him …”
For Siew Mei, Surianna and Devi, three well-educated
women, marriage was the important event in their
life. Marriage made life worth living, nothing else.
They thus took all the risks necessary so that they
would achieve that status. Once it was achieved,
they thought they would be happy but the irresponsibility
of their men made their lives unbearable…
There are policies about equality for men and women.
Women have access to university education and high-powered
jobs. There are more women graduates than men graduates.
Yet, from the heart-rending stories above, the disparity
in women’s and men’s worth continues
to be internalised by young women. There are gender
sensitisation activities but how many young women
believe that they can live their lives free from
stigma if they are not married? How can women be
empowered to be really free of expectations imposed
by society? I do not know the answer but I live
it because of my circumstances and environment.
Penang Family Planning Association