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Proposed polygamy ban in Malawi

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Some of the Malawians that we interview are part of a polygamous household. One article suggests that polygamy is present among 12% of households. This week, the government proposed to make polygamy illegal

Christian and Muslim organizations, citing religious and cultural significance, have both come out against the proposed ban.

Not being active within the religious life of Malawians, I cannot comment on the religious significance of polygamy, however, I feel like the social and economic significance of polygamy have received little serious discussion in the debate over polygamy in Malawi.

In some cases, men see it as an expectation or as a conspicuous demonstration of wealth and success. While many women in polygamous households suggest that they accept the custom, I rarely hear from women that are supportive of there husband marrying and additional wife. There are serious cost to breaking up a marriage and divorce is not easy in any country. Even in very poor households decisions must be made about the division of assets and social ties may be threatened. From my observation of the people that we work with and interview, it is possible that polygamy is used as a way to avoid formal and costly matrimonial cessation through divorce. While it may sound crude, adding an additional wife is part of the marriage market in Malawi. Polygamy offers an alternative to divorce as well as an alternative to add to his asset wealth and household productivity.

Let me be clear. Polygamy doesn’t seem to be a good solution to marital discord, nor is acquiring another wife an appropriate demonstration of wealth. And I believe that many women probably do worse in polygamous relationships than they first anticipate.  However, with a high female-male ratio and a shortage of assets diversification options, wives are perceived as an item to expand the productive capacity of a household. As wealth increases among Malawians of options for diversifying assets improve, I propose that we will see a diminishing polygamy rate even in absence of a government imposed ban on the practice.

As for the predicted success of the law, this quote from the secretary general of the Muslim Association of Malawi leds me to believe that the impact of the ban will not be clear:

“I have only one wife, my dear wife… but the moment they proceed with this, I will take a second wife”

Here is Tyler Cowen on polygamy, with some read-worthy links.


Written by Niall

May 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Law, Malawi, politics

Jukebox: American Election Edition

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Internet and Power have been unpredictable as of late, so I’m slow on this post. However, the US election has provoked me to play “The House I Live In” by Paul Robeson. I can think of no song that makes me feel more proud to be an American than this one. I also feel that it is quite apropriate following the victory of Barack Obama.

The House I Live In

Written by Abel Meeropol

What is America to me?
A name, a map, the flag I see;
A certain word, democracy.
What is America to me?

The house I live in,
A plot of earth, a street,
The grocer and the butcher,
And the people that I meet;
The children in the playground,
The faces that I see,
All races, all religions,
That’s America to me.

The place I work in,
The workers at my side,
The little town or city
Where my people lived and died.
The howdy and the handshake,
The air of feeling free,
The right to speak my mind out,
That’s America to me.

The words of old Abe Lincoln,
Of Jefferson and Paine,
Of Washington and Douglas
And the tasks that still remain;
The little bridge at Concord,
Where Freedom’s fight began,
Our Gettysburg and Midway
And the story of Bataan.

The town I live in,
The street, the house, the room,
The pavement of the city,
Or a garden all in bloom;
The church, the school, the clubhouse,
The million lights I see,
But especially the people;
That’s America to me.
But especially the people;
That’s America to me.

Written by Niall

November 7, 2008 at 6:17 am

Posted in music, politics

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