Windmills of polygamy turn counterclockwise

Women are not objects or tools who can be used to cover for the failures of the Islamist government in Sudan.


2017/04/30 Issue: 104 Page: 21


The Arab Weekly
Iman Zayat



As Arab society is facing ambient confusion, it is no surprise that many of its key segments, including women, are tempted by false solutions to real problems. Even archaic formulas are offered as responses to current crises.

The wars in the region have produced many widows, with limited choices in security and financial solutions. With the pursuit of higher education and professional careers, more women are getting married later — if marrying at all.

In the face of this reality, many societies remain unfair to women who find themselves not only in a fight for survival but also in a constant conflict with their communities. These women are often struggling alone in a hostile environment that provides them with little support but with mounting calls to accept polyg­amy.

In March, Jamila al-Obeidi, an Iraqi female member of parlia­ment, put forward a proposal to encourage polygamy in the country.

Under a 1959 law, polygamy in Iraq is legal but Obeidi wants more. She wants the Iraqi government to encourage the practice by providing financial incentives for men who marry more than one bride.

We may presume from such logic that all the problems of Iraq, including a financial crisis, terrorism, sectarianism, proxy wars and corruption have been fixed, with only one problem remaining to address — that of increasing spinsterhood.

Obeidi argues that the reason behind her proposal is the mounting rate of divorce, which puts women in “financially dangerous positions.”

Speaking of “financially dangerous positions,” aren’t there any practical solutions to the problem?

What women in the Arab world need is better education, more opportunities and widespread support. Through creating a suitable environment for women to become active agents in their societies, countries in the region can improve the quality of life for whole families and communities.

In this regard, education constitutes the first step on a long path that requires the establishment of equal opportu­nities and promises to create a long-term solution to the problem of “financially danger­ous positions.” Such an endeav­our should be accompanied by an effort to change outdated mentalities. Single women are not a burden, neither are they witches to be harassed at every turn.

Contrary to misleading claims, polygamy cannot slow the mounting rate of divorce. In a home environment in which poverty prevails, disagreements proliferate, leading to painful breakups that could be much more distressing with the presence of children.

Obeidi’s proposal is chiefly shocking because it comes from a woman who lives in a country that has been fighting jihadists and their outdated thoughts and practices.

The proposed bill is an insult to the dignity of Iraqi women and a form of support for a jihadist-like design for society.

Beyond doubt, the Iraqi MP has missed a key point: If the enlight­ened world is rallying behind Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State, it is, in effect, rallying against a form of obscu­rantism that caters to polygamy, underage marriages, sexual enslavement and all forms of abuse against both women and men.

Regrettably, for all the free-thinking minds in the region, Obeidi was not alone in making such a call. The Sudan Scholars Commission — the state-con­trolled clergy — has issued a similar appeal to support polygamy.

More revolting than the call itself was the twisted reasoning behind it with commission President Mohammad Othman Saleh saying: “The high preva­lence of unemployment among young people may open the door to social problems such as behavioural deviations.”

It appears from this statement that the Muslim scholars were offering a bogus solution to a real problem: A youth unemployment rate that stands at 22%, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said.

In this case, maybe the Sudan Scholars Commission should be reminded that women are not objects or tools who can be used to cover for the failures of the Islamist government in Sudan.

Polygamy is not a solution to the region’s problems and the recent shocking calls for its support are but the tip of the iceberg. The seeping of dogma­tism and sexism into MENA societies has generated favour­able ground for the transforma­tion of a complex reality into an idiotic one.

Some of the real problems that the Arab world is facing include unemployment, poverty, infla­tion, insecurity, instability, bad governance, insufficiency of public services as well as corrup­tion.

It is more than clear that MENA societies are in no need for political juggleries. In these tough times, the Arab region desperately needs and deserves qualified people, practical solutions and wide-ranging reforms.


Iman Zayat is the Managing Editor of The Arab Weekly.


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