Photo: Ivorian women's rights groups have denounced a bill legalising polygamy for men. Source: France24 - Photo: 2022

Ivorian Parliament to Review Polygamy in a Blow for Women’s Equality

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — A bill before parliament in the Ivory Coast would upend monogamy and restore polygamy—a marriage that includes one husband and at least two wives. Outraged women’s groups call it a return to inequality.

The move mirrors setbacks worldwide, including the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs Wade. The bill, proposed by Yacouba Sangare of the ruling Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace, would acknowledge a widespread practice across the country and, therefore, he says, one that should be legally permitted.

“Men have multiple wives, and communities accept that. Exclusive monogamy doesn’t fit with our realities, our customs.

“We can’t just copy-paste legislation that was put in place in Western countries. We have to give people the option,” he maintains.

While polygamy has declined in recent years, it is still widely accepted in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria, with a 10th of the population living in polygamous households, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center.

In Ivory Coast, 12 per cent of all households are polygamous, according to the same study.

In Kenya, almost 1.5 million Kenyans—or 10 per cent of the married population—are in a polygamous marriage, according to the Kenya Population and Housing Census. But women’s rights groups call this a gross underestimate as most marriages are customary and not registered.

The prospect of returning to outdated traditions has women’s rights advocates seeing a step back in the fight for equality.

“We can’t legalise polygamy to satisfy a man’s libido,” legal expert Désirée Okobé told the French news service France24.

“A man chooses to have more than one wife for personal, egotistical reasons. Legalising polygamy would be a setback for Ivorian women who still face systemic inequalities and discrimination,” she said in an interview.

“It’s an excuse to justify the unjustifiable. This is not for women. This is all about men getting their way,” she says.

Most polygamous marriages across Africa fuel poverty, activists say, with husbands neglecting one family over another—leaving thousands of women and children impoverished and easy prey for exploitation.

Women’s rights organisations in Ivory Coast say they will fight the bill and do everything they can to prevent it from becoming part of the law. Former solidarity and women’s rights minister Constance Yai has been one of the most vocal critics of Sangare’s plan.

“All the noise you are hearing is being made by people who are using this law as a pretext to express once again their resentment of women,” she said. “This is nothing new. The (equality) law merely formalises what we all knew already – gender equality in marriage. Protesting against this law should stop.”

The UN Commission on Human Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women consider polygamous marriages discriminate against women and have recommended their prohibition. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 July 2022]

Photo: Demonstrators at an International Women’s Day rally in Abidjan on May 8, 2022. Ivorian women’s rights groups have denounced a bill legalising polygamy for men. Source: France24

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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