Ivory Coast parliament considers bill to legalise polygyny

Muslim-majority Ivory Coast is considering a bill to legalise polygyny – a practise which is widespread across the country but which is technically illegal. 

Ivorian MP Yacouba Sangaré introduced the bill to legalise polygamy on June 30, describing current legislation as “a generalised hypocrisy,” Al Jazeera reports.

He wants to change the 2019 law that stipulates that “no one may contract a new marriage before the first one is dissolved,” and that only state officials have the authority to legalise a marriage union.

Sangaré has repeatedly stated that polygyny has been part of the fabric of sub-Saharan societies for centuries.

“There are women who are in de facto polygamous relationships but can’t claim anything [when] the relationship is dissolved,” he said. “They have no security, they find themselves alone, sometimes with children to raise by themselves. This is why we want to put an end to this hypocrisy. Polygamous couples can be found everywhere in the country, across regions, ethnic groups, religions, and social strata. So why not take them into account and protect them?”

Since 1964 a monogamous system has been the proscribed form of marriage, even though polygamous marriages contracted before that date are still deemed legal. Nevertheless, a recent study found that 12 percent of all households in the country are polygamous.

The proposal has since sparked outrage among women’s rights organisations and feminist groups. Former Women Affairs Minister Constance Yaï described the bill as a provocation.

“Polygamy is not an appropriate response to male infidelity or an absence of communication in couples,” she said at a recent news conference. “But if they want to legalise it, let’s make sure that women can also have multiple partners. Let’s see if the house will pass a bill that creates equality between the sexes on the marriage front.”

The polygamy bill still has to undergo a series of steps before it can be submitted to a vote. The process could take “anywhere between five months to five years,” said Sangare. “We are in no rush. These things always take time” added the MP.

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