Published on 30 Apr 2014 Sections ,

Kenyan law allowing men to marry several women attacked

Activists are launching a campaign against a polygamy law passed in the country that allows men to marry more than one woman without their existing wife’s consent.

The law, signed by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday, does not give women the right to marry more than one man.

It formalises an amalgamation of official and unofficial marriage processes in the country, which have traditionally included polygamy.

The bill originally sought to provide more rights to women, but a passage was inserted during its journey through the Kenyan parliament making it clear that men have no obligation to seek the permission of their existing spouse, contrary to tradition. The vote in favour of the amendment prompted a walkout by female MPs.

And a group of lawyers and other campaigners say they will mount a legal challenge. The National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK), which groups more than 40 churches and Christian organisations from across the east African nation, has also spoken out against the bill, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

We know that men are afraid of women’s tongues more than anything else. Kenyan MP Soipan Tuya

According to Kenya’s Standard newspaper, Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki of the NCCK said: “The tone of that bill, if it becomes law, would be demeaning to women since it does not respect the principle of equality of spouses in the institution of marriage.”

The national Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya) has also said it would challenge the law.

According to AFP, female legislator Soipan Tuya told fellow MPs when the bill was passed: “We know that men are afraid of women’s tongues more than anything else.

“But at the end of the day, if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party — and they may be two or three — I think it behoves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know.”

‘Tradition’

Announcing that he had signed the bill into law, Kenya’s president said that it “consolidates various laws relating to marriage”.

“Marriage is the voluntary union of a man and a woman, whether in a monogamous or polygamous union,” a presidential statement said.

Kenya is, among traditional Kenyan communities, quite common; as well as in the country’s Muslim community, which accounts for up to a fifth of the population.

According to the agency, many have said the legislation merely acknowledges something that is already widespread. “When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way, and a third wife… this is Africa,” MP Junet Mohammed told the house during debate on the bill.