Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Meanwhile, in Kenya, Polygyny Politics

This story about the Kenyan government is a few weeks old.  When I read it I realized that I was grinding my fangs into bonemeal, which is a relatively rare thing for me, given the sort of topics I write about.  One gets a hard shell.

But there's something about this particular example which made me fume.  Was it the apparent plot to pass the polygyny laws when half of the female members of the parliament were absent?  Or was that absence just a fluke?  Or did the women absent themselves so that they didn't have to address this issue?

I have no idea.

Here's the gist of the story:

Female MPs in Kenya have stormed out of a late-night parliamentary session in a row over the legalisation of polygamy.
The law is intended to bring civil law, where a man is only allowed one wife, into line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners.
But male MPs voted to amend the new marriage bill to allow men to take as many wives as they like without consulting existing spouses.
Traditionally, first wives are supposed to give prior approval.

MP Samuel Chepkong'a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reports.
Mohammed Junet, an MP representing a constituency from the western Nyanza province, agreed.
"When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa," Kenya's Capital News website quotes him as saying.
Proposals to ensure equal property and inheritance rights were also watered down - a woman will be entitled to 30% of matrimonial property after death or divorce.
Under current Kenyan law, a woman must prove her contribution to the couple's wealth.
There was also a proposal to recognise co-habiting couples, known in Kenya as "come-we-stay" relationships, after six months, but this too was dropped.
It would have allowed a woman to seek maintenance for herself and any children of the union had the man left.
The amendment to the law removing the need to ask for the first wife's permission in customary law marriages seems to have been a sudden one.  As far as I understand what this means (and I may not have this right), a man under the customary law is entitled to as many wives as he wishes, and any already existing wife has no say in whether yet another wife joins the family.  Under the same customary law, no woman can ever be guaranteed anything but a fractional husband, and how large a fraction she might get depends on what that husband decides to do.

And of course polyandry is not legally recognized in Kenya.

This is one of the many examples I have written about where religion and tradition directly clash with gender equality.