Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sexist Marriage

Female MPs in Kenya stormed out of parliament when male MPs voted to amend the new marriage bill to allow men to take as many wives as they like without consulting existing spouses. 30 of Kenya's 69 female MPs (many of the other female MPs were at a New York conference) were in the 349-member chamber for the debate and all walked out in disgust over the matter.

MP Samuel Chepkong'a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary. "Any time a man comes home with a woman, that would be assumed to be a second or third wife," said Chepkong'a, who is the chairman of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, said, and adding, "Under customary law, women or wives you have married do not need to be told when you're coming home with a second or third wife. Any lady you bring home is your wife,"

MP Mohammed Junet agreed. "When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa."

  Parliamentary majority leader Aden Duale argued that polygamy is justified for Muslim and Christians alike,“I want my Christian brothers to read the Old Testament -- King David and King Solomon never consulted anybody to marry a second wife,”

But female MPs argued that such a decision would affect the whole family, including the financial position of other spouses.

"It behoves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know,"
Soipan Tuya, the women's representative explained.

They also argued that marriage should be based on love, and not have a financial cost placed upon it. Women are not allowed to marry more than one man in Kenya.

What is the motivation among male MPs to push amendments to the family law and give men the liberty to marry as many wives as they wish? What exactly is the value of taking up extra wives without regard to the feelings of the first spouse? What would the male MPs have to say if their own wives suggested a situation where they would also wish to bring in an extra husband or two? Why adopt such archaic laws in this day and age?

  Plans to ban the payment of bride prices were dropped. Proposals to ensure equal property and inheritance rights were also watered down - a woman will be entitled to 30% of matrimonial property after death or divorce. A proposal to recognise co-habiting couples, known in Kenya as "come-we-stay" relationships, after six months, but this too was dropped. It would have allowed a woman to seek maintenance for herself and any children of the union had the man left. A breach-of-promise clause in which a partner who had promised marriage but then backed out of the wedding could face financial damages was also dropped, as male MPs argued it could have been used to extort cash.

George Nyakundi, a legal officer at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness says that the Bill will have a negative ripple effect on the family set up and is a recipe to domestic squabbles.

 "This Bill allows men to marry any number of women without consent yet they will still receive the same income as they did with one wife so then how will he provide for the whole family?" Wambui questioned. 

Three MPs have termed amendments to the Marriage Bill as a sign that the Legislature is insensitive and ignorant to the plight of women and marginalized groups in the country.

Nominated MP Isaac Mwaura and nominated Senator Godlive Mboke criticised their fellow parliamentarians for failing to understand the impact of the laws they were passing particularly on the life of the people living with disability. Mwaura cited an amendment to Clause 12 of the Bill which MPs voted to take away the freedom of a person with a mental condition to consent to marriage but failed to define how a state of mental condition can be determined. According to Mwaura, who was nominated to the National Assembly to champion the welfare of persons with special interests; MPs failed to comprehend the difference between mental illness (as defined under the Mental Health Act) and mental and psycho-social disability (this includes people who are the users and survivors of psychiatry, people who have bi-polar among others).

He said of his fellow politicians, "There are some people in this Parliament who call themselves gate-keepers that you can't tell them anything, they are know-it-all yet they are the most ignorant people I have ever met."

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