Desperate Co‐wives. The illegality of polygamy in the new Mozambi‐can Family Law
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In 2004 Mozambique approved a new Family Law. The new law substituted a law instituted still during the Portuguese colonial rule. The new law is said to be more in line with the Mozambican Constitution, several international legal instruments (particularly those regarding women's rights), while at the same time reflecting Mozambican culture and identity. Yet polygamy, which is a wide spread and generally accepted marriage practice, particularly in the rural areas, remained illegal. The present research aims to analyse the reasons that lead law makers to exclude this particular practice from the law, despite their commitment to respect cultural practices and national identity, and the implications of this decision for people currently involved in polygamous relationships.The principal reason said to be behind the outlawing of the practice is the idea that polygamy is a practice that is humiliating and diminishing to women. The main argument I intend to pursue is that the illegality of polygamy may actually play against those same women whose dignity the law is aiming at protecting; particularly since the law does not eliminate per se the mechanisms of the patriarchal system that may drive women to accept, cope with and/or be trapped in polygamous relationships. In fact the opposite may happen, with formerly legal co-wives ceasing to have social recognition, thus pushing them further down the ladder of vulnerability.To address these questions the research will focus on the relationship between the Mozambican State and its citizens involved in polygamous relationships, particularly in regards to the competing discourses between a global human rights agenda and the protection of culture.Bearing in mind all the unfolding logics, meanings and discourses surrounding polygamy within the debates on gendered culture and rights, one cannot but wonder how people who are affected by the law actually perceive it. With contradictory accounts - exacerbated by contradictory research findings showing that no woman defends polygamy on one hand, and that many of the women in the South of Mozambique have no complaints about polygamy, on the other - it seems safe to conclude that the debate is far from settled. A great deal of road is still to be walked, and new and more diversified voices should be added to the discussion. These include both mainstream and silent voices, but above all the voices of those in name of whom the State, the feminist lobbyists, the Muslim community and even the anthropologist are trying to speak for.
PublisherThe University of Bergen
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