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Why is the reaction of men so brutal in the face of polyandry? Polyandry is deeply threatening because it poses a challenge that strikes at the heart of patriarchy. It decreases male dominance and control over female sexuality, which is an integral part of patriarchy.
Dr Lize Mills is Senior Lecturer at Stellenbosch University Law School. Professor Amanda Gouws is the SARChI Chair in Gender Policy at the University of Stellenbosch.
In South Africa there are men who have up to 10 wives, according to the practice of polygynous marriage which is legal in South Africa. But when women desire more than one husband, also called polyandry, all hell breaks loose.
Or this is what the reaction shows to the mere mention in the Green Paper, published by the Home Office in May 2020, that “activists have submitted that equality requires that polyandry be legally recognized as a form of marriage “. Most of the men are armed. Some have claimed that polyandry “will destroy family values”, “never existed” and lead to a demand for additional DNA testing to determine who is the father of a child.
Therefore, a woman should never be allowed to have more than one husband, let alone 10. Same sex partners should not be able to have more than one partner either. What is good for the gander cannot be good for the goose. This means that South Africa must ignore Article 9 of the Constitution; the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unjust Discrimination Act, 4 of 2000; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa 2003; and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979 (Cedaw), all confirming the equality of women, as the social ills that will ensue will be too heavy to bear.
However, a study published in 2012 by Katherine Starkweather and Raymond Hames of 53 societies outside the classical Himalayan and Marquesan zone that allow polyandrous unions, have discovered that polyandry may have existed throughout the history of human evolution. Polyandry, which is also practiced in parts of Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya, becomes more likely where the operational sex ratio is biased by men (there are more men than women in society), environmental resources are scarce (believed to limit population growth and improve child survival) or men are forced into prolonged absences from home. In these societies, men undertake to get involved in the education of children, because children belong to everyone (no man can be sure of his paternity), and in the case of fraternal polyandry (brothers who marry the same woman), a condominium remains intact from generation to generation.
The advantages of polyandry show that because there is no single (male) authority in polyandrous households, power is dispersed throughout the union. Property is generally owned collectively, which means that no one is excluded from the property, even after one of the husbands has died. These unions are also economically more prosperous because women are not economically dependent on a single man. Paternity is not in the father of the child, but in knowing that any of the men can be the father and therefore fatherhood is a social and collective issue and men are more engaged. to get involved in the education of children. Children and property belong to families and not to individuals. For women, this gives them more agency (decision-making ability) and control over their sexuality and body.
In May 2021, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women again expressed concern over the âalarmingâ levels of domestic violence and femicide in South Africa. In several of his reports, he called for the abolition of polygamy because it has âserious ramificationsâ for the human rights of women. Their 2021 report was released following information submitted by several NGOs working with abused women, pointing out that the extraordinary levels of gender-based violence in this country are also exacerbated by polygamy.
In fact, in a joint general recommendation in 2014, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child discussed the relationship between polygynous relationships and violence against women. towards women and children, criticizing “constitutional and other provisions that protect the right to culture and religion … used to justify laws and practices that allow polygamous unions”.
The South African Customary Marriage Recognition Act 1998 allows polygynous unions. By allowing only polygamy, the government is violating Article 5 (a) of the Cedaw, an international legal instrument that the country ratified in 1995, and thus refuses to take appropriate measures “to change social models and cultural conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and other practices which are based on the idea of ââinferiority or superiority of one or the other of the sexes or on stereotypical roles for men and women â.
So why is men’s reaction so brutal to polyandry? We argue that polyandry is deeply threatening because it poses a challenge that strikes at the heart of patriarchy. In most heterosexual relationships, a man enjoys a monopoly on his wife’s sexuality, domestic work and care and her property and can claim a right over the children born of this union. A father can therefore know with great certainty who his children are.
Polyandry decreases male dominance and control over female sexuality, which is an integral part of patriarchy. In his flagship article âTrafficking in Women: Notes and the “Political Economy” of Sexâ(1975), cultural anthropologist Gayle Rubin argues that we need to understand kinship relationships and how women fit intoâ gift transactions â. Women are the object of exchange in monogamous or polygamous marriages. As she says, women are given in marriage (the father gives his daughter), taken into battle, traded for favors, traded, bought and sold, or forced into arranged marriages. In this gift exchange, men dispose of women, but women cannot dispose of men, giving men power over women.
But more than the simple exchange of women, kinship systems also exchange sexual access, genealogical status, lineage names and ancestors in concrete systems of social relations. It spells out the rights of men over women – this is rooted in the power and control over women’s sexuality that determines how families are built and governed. Polyandry undermines these power relations, prevents control over women’s sexuality and strengthens their free will, while requiring men to care for their children.
Polygamy and polyandry are therefore not symmetrical systems, because polygamy gives men access to more than one woman to satisfy her sexual needs, with the advantage of having several wives raising their children, very often with little income. help from him. Research shows that polyandry, on the other hand, is more egalitarian, ensures greater equality of care and more harmonious relationships between all parties involved.
By legalizing polyandry, no one will be forced into such marriages. It will be a matter of personal decision, just as same-sex marriage is a personal decision. It is time for South Africans who still oppose same-sex marriages and now polyandrous marriages to reflect on their deeply sexist, homophobic, unconstitutional and offensive attitudes. DM