The Guinean parliament has pleased many women in the French-speaking West African country by modifying a revised civil code that requires men who wish to marry extra wives to do so only after getting the approval of their first wives.
Passed last week and awaiting promulgation by the president, the revised civil code which prescribes monogamy for all Guineans adds that at the time of marriage, the new husband has to declare with the explicit agreement of his wife that he opts for polygamy.
The new husband is also required to choose, at the time of his first marriage, a limitation of two, three or a maximum of four wives, reports the BBC. This law was only opposed by four of the 111 members of parliament with two abstaining.
In December last year, the parliament ended three months of deliberation and amended the civil code which approved polygamy that was prohibited for civil marriages in Guinea.
This move was opposed by the Guinean president and many women in the country who protested against the amendment saying that it undermines women’s dignity and increases the risks of diseases and poverty.
However, its modification has received some praise from women who told the BBC that it is “a big step forward” for Guineans. “We are doing well now … Thanks to this law, marginalization of women will stop, until now their opinion was not important,” said a Guinean woman.
“If a woman does not think that her husband should take a second wife, the husband should refrain from doing so,” another woman also told the BBC.
Some Guinean men who spoke with the BBC were against the modification of the civil code saying “it gives women more power in the home”. “And if the woman does not agree, wouldn’t it cause problems?” another Guinean man wonders.
An imam of a mosque in Conakry outrightly rejected the new civil code saying it is contrary to Islamic laws of marriage.
“Islam allows men to take up to four wives, it does not say that if the first wife does not agree, we can not get a second one. The first wife can be informed of the decision to get a second,” Imam Cisse of the Kébé mosque is quoted by the BBC.
“Islam does not say that we should not look for a second wife because the first one does not agree, this law does not conform to the Islamic religion,” the imam added.
Before the revised civil code, polygamy is widely practised in religious marriages in Guinea and no one was sanctioned for it.
Polygamy is a centuries-old practice in Africa that has yet to disappear from modern life. It has both cultural and religious origins, and it is generally accepted in 26 out of 54 African countries, particularly Muslim majority countries.
In recent months, a court in Uganda threw out a petition to have polygamy declared unconstitutional.
The group behind the petition, MIFUMI, subsequently announced plans of filing a new challenge on the basis that the practice undermines women’s dignity.
When Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, approved a law in 2014 allowing men to marry more than one wife, many female lawmakers condemned it.
Under the legislation, civil law, where a man was only allowed one wife, was brought in line with the customary law, where some cultures and societies allow multiple partners.
The law sparked negative reactions from the general public, particularly church leaders and feminists. Gathoni Wa Muchomba, a female lawmaker gradually encouraged men to marry more wives, saying that would solve problems of single motherhood, infidelity and divorces.
South Africa has also experienced polygamy for a time now – even its former president, Jacob Zuma was in power married to four women.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli recently also told men to marry “two or more wives” to reduce the number of single women.