South Africa To Allow Women To Marry More Than One Husband – Full Details
In the near future women in South Africa will soon be allowed to marry more than one husband, in the same way that polygamous men are allowed to marry more than one wife.
This is according to the country’s Department of Home Affairs, which is looking at creating a new marriage act.
The new Marriage Act will recognise a range of types of marriages that are not legally recognised at the moment. According to the Green Paper on Marriages, a policy document published this week, the current marriage act does not promote equality.
The policy document highlighted that the current marriage legislation is discriminatory as it does not recognise Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Rastafarian marriages.
The policy document also called for polyandry to be legally recognised as a form of marriage.
“Moreover, activists submitted that equality demands that polyandry be legally recognised as a form of marriage,” said the document.
Polyandry is a form of polygamy in which a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is contrasted with polygyny, which involves one man taking two or more wives.
The Green Paper proposed three new marriage regimes to bring equality in marriage laws. One of these options is a gender-neutral marriage regime.
“This would accommodate both polygyny and polyandry
“…Therefore all marriages, whether monogamous or polygamous, could be concluded regardless of the sex or sexual orientation of the person, said the document.
South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs appears to favour the option for a gender-neutral marriage regime that allows both polyandry and polygyny. The Ministry wrote,
“The political appetite of the country to confront the challenges of the current marriage statute will be tested through these options. However, if Section 9 of the Constitution was to be implemented in its entirety, option 3 will tick all the boxes.”
However, the option for polyandry seems to have ruffled feathers and South Africa’s traditional leaders have vociferously opposed the proposal. According to the traditional leaders, a woman being married to more than one husband is an “unacceptable practise because it is not of African origin.”
To which the Ministry commented saying,
“Ironically, stakeholders who believed in the practice of polygamy … were opposed to the practice of polyandry.”
The ministry said that though the new proposals may seem radical and will not be welcomed by everyone, it is necessary for the country to make the changes.
“This is the beginning of a crucial public discourse that will re-define the concept of marriage in South Africa,” it said.
“The process will unearth issues that may make some of us uncomfortable, but will encourage dialogue within the South African and international communities.”
South Africans have until the end of June to comment on the department’s proposals.
While polyandry may seem like a rare phenomenon some communities used to (and some still do) practise it in Africa. The Maasai people of Kenya are traditionally polygynous although today this practice is usually abandoned.
A woman marries not just her husband but the entire age group. Men are expected to give up their bed to a visiting age-mate guest; however, today this practise is usually abandoned. The woman decides strictly on her own if she will join the visiting male. Any child which may result is the husband’s child and his descendant in the patrilineal order of Maasai society.
Among the Irigwe of Northern Nigeria, women have traditionally acquired numerous spouses called “co-husbands”.
In August 2013, two Kenyan men made headlines across the world when they entered into an agreement to marry a woman with whom they had both been having an affair. A Kenyan family lawyer said that Kenyan law does not explicitly forbid polyandry.
“The laws we have do not talk about it but for such a union to be recognised in Kenya, it has to be either under the statutory law or as customary marriage. The question we should ask now is whether these people come from communities that have been practising polyandry,”
Outside Africa, fraternal polyandry is practised among Tibetans in Nepal and parts of China, in which two or more brothers are married to the same wife, with the wife having equal “sexual access” to them. Since 1981, the government no longer permits new polyandric marriages under family law. Even though it is currently illegal, polyandry in Tibet is de facto the norm in rural areas. Polyandry in India still exists among some minorities.
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