Call to legalize polyandry sparks outrage in South Africa

South African conservatives are firing back at gender equality advocates who say the cultural practice of keeping multiple spouses should be extended to women as well as men.

A proposal to legalize polyandry — in which a woman keeps multiple husbands — is on the table at South Africa’s parliament. Despite the fact that South Africa’s government has already sanctioned the practice of keeping multiple wives, as well same-sex marriages, the idea that women would enjoy the same nuptial freedom as men would be “unheard of,” said one critic, according to a BBC report.

“This will destroy African culture. What about the children of those people? How will they know their identity?” asked South African entrepreneur Musa Mseleku, star of a South African reality TV show that chronicles his life as head of a household with his three wives.

“The woman cannot now take the role of the man. It’s unheard of,” Mseleku continued. “Will the woman now pay lobola [bride price] for the man. Will the man be expected to take her surname?”

Bride with multiple grooms
A proposal allowing for women to have multiple husbands is drawing fire.
Alamy Stock Photo

According to Collis Machoko, a pre-eminent researcher on the subject, the backlash to proposed legislation is “about control,” he told the BBC.

‘The woman cannot now take the role of the man. It’s unheard of.’

“African societies are not ready for true equality. We don’t know what to do with women we cannot control,” said Machoko, who explained that those marriages do occur but are usually kept secret for fear of persecution.

“Polyandry, because it is shunned by parts of society, has been forced underground. The secrecy is similar to the one found in freemasons,” he said.

Polyandrist marriages operate similar to polygamist unions, with women instead of men leading the home and having full agency over who is invited into the union. Despite holding a majority power in the marriage, they are also frequently entitled to a dowry by their chosen mates, or the promise that their brother-husband will put forth his earnings to support her and their shared home.

There are a few reasons why men have said they entered polyandrist unions, including fertility, low libido and sexual dysfunction.

Charlene May, a spokesperson for women’s rights law firm Women’s Legal Centre, told the BBC that the legislation is a critical step for the sovereignty of women in South Africa.

“It’s important to remember that this [proposal] sets to uphold human rights and we cannot lose sight of that,” said May. “We cannot reject law reform because it challenges certain patriarchal views in our society.”

Living | New York Post

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