Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Is polygamy a feminist issue?

Since the Stone Age has long gone, we certainly need a fresh look at the impact polygamy has on societies today. As to whether it poses a problem for the strides made by feminists worldwide, I would certainly agree that it’s an issue requiring careful consideration.

Traditionally, polygamy (or polygyny to be more specific) was practiced commonly amongst African and Eastern cultures either as a means of increasing population, caring for women after wars and/or as a reflection of wealth and status. In some cases, I’d imagine with noble intentions, it probably worked well for many families as resources may be abundant and all concerned needs adequately met. As tradition demanded (in most cases), polygamy carried strict terms and conditions such as consent from the primary wife and the husband’s ability to equally provide for all wives and families. So what exactly is the status of polygamous marriages today?

I present a little true life case study if you will. Fatima (not her real name) is a stay-at-home mom with three young boys aged 9, 7 and 2. After ten years of marriage, hubby politely announces that he’ll be taking a second wife. Second wife so happens to the fling he fell in love with whilst working out of town. Hardly able to adequately provide for his three boys and first wife, he returns after yet another weekend away only to announce that he is now married to wife no. 2. Approximately 5 months later, Fatima is still torn between what to do… does she divorce him or stay and pray hard that he comes to his senses. By the way, wife no. 2 has a little daughter of her own aged about 5 I think.

So the result of this whole little scenario? Fatima appears to be extremely stressed and confused, crying uncontrollably one day and next day smiling as if its all just a bad dream. The boys, more importantly, have picked up on Fatima’s mixed emotions and thus too seem to be rather confused. All three boys have seen their school (and nursery) performance drop to an all time low with teachers calling concerned about the change in the boys’ behaviour. Eldest son (aged 9) consistently stares out the window and does all he can to not be home.

Hubby believes all is well, his boys are fine and everyone just needs to adapt a bit to the new situation. I’m rather interested in the effect on all concerned say 5-10 years down the line??

This is one little example of the impact of polygamous marriages today. I have not even begun to consider the countless women who are forced into these marriages at a young age, against their will. This I feel is where the real problem lies. If you’re a second or fifth wife and you’re happy in your marriage, by all means go ahead. If its working for you, you’re happy and fulfilled, that is absolutely great!

So what’s the issue? I’m in agreement with feminist Canadian blogger, Jael, where she states “The issue is with girls and women being raised in a tightly-controlled patriarchal environment, and offered no choice in the matter. The issue is with marrying girls off at such a young age that it's perilously close to child abuse. The issue is with the control, the power. It's not the marriages per se”. (http://whileaway-north.blogspot.com/2007/07/)

It appears to me polygamy, as practiced today, has simply become a convenient tool for some men to make a socially unacceptable scenario… acceptable. It’s great for covering up affairs and even better for those who haven’t matured enough to control their desires and thus are happy for their desires to control them. This is sad.

Even worse are the numerous women and confused children entangled in these scenarios unintentionally. So yes, polygamy certainly has become a feminist issue.
It seems polygamy today is not serving the noble (?) intentions it traditionally started with. More importantly to note, what can we expect from our future generations?

In my concocted Utopia, there’s a Polygamous Marriage Act (or something of the sort) that regulates and controls such unions. It ensures a woman’s freedom to enter such union at her exclusive will. It furthermore ensures all children of these unions have the benefit of both paternal and maternal guidance and are adequately cared for.

Confucius says “To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life”. We need families (however constructed) that are loving and functional, contributing to healthy communities and nations.


  1. I think, too, that the old ideas surrounding polygamy - especially as protected by religious and cultural (read patriarchal) norms. But! The modern world is vastly different; men mostly only seek polygamous setups to legitimise their lack of self-control..
    February 11 at 11:42am

    ..personally, i think Fatima's husband's actions are disgusting. What would happen if black women started taking multiple husbands? I'd love to hear our dear president's thoughts on the issue..
    February 11 at 11:45am

  2. I would have to agree to the posted comment. I think in the old days, this may have been a noble notion as women were not allowed to work etc. As seen in the Bible, this was a regular occurrance. HOWEVER, in today's society, I do not feel this is acceptable and is only an excuse to make affairs seem ok. Women are now independant, and should act as such. Don't allow yourself to be subject to mens problems in life.

  3. Well written Muneera. I like how you personalised the story.