Thursday, June 26, 2014

The problem with Kenya's polygamy law

Rights and freedoms of women are rarely taken into consideration in many societies across Africa. Many cultures and laws are designed to put men on a pedestal by blatantly discriminating against women and portraying them as unequal to men. Kenya's polygamy law reflects inequality and discrimination against women in many parts of the African continent.

In April 2014 president Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya signed into law a marriage bill legalizing polygamy, and allowing men to marry as many wives as possible without consulting their existing wives. Traditionally, according to the BBC, first wives were supposed to give consent before men could take more wives but the new polygamy law allows men to take more wives without consulting existing spouses.

Male MPs in Kenya supported the amendment. Female MPs on the other hand, together with Christian leaders, opposed the bill and understandably so.

In my view, the polygamy law is repugnant to equity and good conscience. It is blatantly discriminatory against women and promotes male privilege -- since it allows men to take up multiple wives without consulting existing wives but does not give women the same liberty to marry multiple men without consulting their husbands. In addition, the law demeans women by treating them like persons incapable of giving informed consent on matters that affect them.

Tremendous African male support for the controversial amendment is, in my opinion, shameful -- but not surprising. The disturbing truth is that many African men erroneously believe that women -- like children -- should be seen not heard, which is a twisted belief.

Personally, I advocate monogamy, and believe women, like men, should have a say in all matters that affect them. Polygamy laws and customs are mostly discriminatory against women and promote inequality.

Imagine a world where women were allowed to marry multiple men without consulting existing husbands. All hell would break loose.

I'm positive that men would not tolerate a culture or law that subjugates them and benefits women. Men should therefore equally oppose the subjugation of women. That's what good conscience requires. The world will be a better place if everyone respected the Golden Rule: "What thou avoidest suffering theyself seek not to impose on others." [Epictetus]

Kenya is a state party to the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by virtue of the country's accession to the treaty on 9 March 1984. Kenya's polygamy law promotes discrimination against women, and is a clear violation of the country's obligation under CEDAW. The controversial law should be amended or scrapped completely -- if the country is not ready to give women the same liberties ceded to men by the polygamy law. After all "polygamy" includes both polyandry and polygyny.

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