Kenya: The place of a woman in the family was weakened on Thursday when the Kenyan Parliament passed a law opening the floodgates of polygamy.
Men will be free to marry as many women as they please, and they will not have to consult their wives before doing it.
In amendments that appeared more designed to serve the marital needs and assuage the financial fears of male MPs, the House watered down the Marriage Bill, which had given wives the right to be consulted before their husbands brought home a second wife.
But the Bill still has some good points: All marriages must be registered and the minimum age of marriage is set in law. This will protect children, especially girls, from early marriages.
On Thursday, male MPs, who are the majority, united in support of a proposal to delete a clause in the Marriage Bill requiring consultation before another wife is married.
Women MPs stormed out of the House in disgust, condemning the amendment as unfair to women.
OPEN TO POLYGAMY
Moving the amendment, Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman Samuel Chepkong’a said when a woman marries under customary law, she understands that the marriage is open to polygamy.
In a rather unusual view of marriage, Mr Chepkong’a said: “Any time a man comes home with a woman, that would be assumed to be a second or third wife. 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.”
But Ms Regina Nthambi (Kilome, Wiper) said the change would disadvantage women who cannot afford a church ceremony.
“Not all women are able to organise marriages in church. The law is not for us only. It is for all women in Kenya. We’re not going to favour you men. This Bill is for women,” she said.
She was supported by Nyokabi Gathecha (Kiambu County, TNA) and Ayub Savula (Lugari, UDF). Mr Savula said: “If a man wants to marry, he must inform the first wife.”
But there was no beating back the male MPs.
The provision eventually passed and Ms Nthambi and Shukran Gure (Garissa County, Wiper) led women representatives in walking out of the chambers in protest.
Earlier, the religious differences that started on Wednesday evening returned to the fore as the debate entered the last stages.
They started when Majority Leader Aden Duale initiated the first of his raft of amendments intended to shield Muslims from provisions of the Bill.
He first proposed that Muslim marriages be exempted from registration, one of the key planks of the Bill that seeks to collapse the seven existing Acts into one.
“A marriage in Islam is independent of registration. In the far-flung constituency where I live, two people can decide to get married in a mosque and they would be considered married. Failure to register doesn’t invalidate a marriage,” he said.
But he was opposed by members of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, who said all marriages ought to be registered.
Mr Chepkong’a argued that precedents in court agree with the position the Justice Committee and Legal Affairs Committee had taken.
He said the committee had agreed to introduce a clause in the law that would make Muslims exempt from any provisions that were inconsistent with Islamic Law. (READ: Religion holds up marriage law debate)
The Majority Leader later ran into more opposition when he sought to introduce a another provision stating: “The minimum age for the parties to an Islamic marriage shall be in accordance with Islamic Law.”
This too was defeated, with MPs James Nyikal (Seme, ODM), Samuel Gichigi (Kipipiri, APK) and Nyokabi Gathecha (Kiambu County, TNA) saying it would be contrary to the Constitution as it suggests children could be married.