Is one wife enough? Polygamy's increasingly threatened role in the modern world

Asiaweek. 1993 Dec 8;28-30, 35.


PIP: Muslim law sanctions polygamy, but government family law and women's rights law restricts the practice. In Malaysia recorded polygamous marriages actually increased from 525 in 1984 to 1704 in 1991. In Bangladesh multiple marriages doubled in the last decade. The limit is usually four wives, but money is the key determinant. Islamic law allows for 4 wives, consultation with existing spouses, and equal treatment. In practice spousal support may not be evenly or fairly distributed. An Islamic judge hears evidence in the case of a wheelchair bound wife and rules in favor of polygamy. In Indonesia there is pressure not to take a second wife. Civil servants may risk the loss of a job for disobeying the norm. The pressure for compliance however is not very strong at the village level. Polygamy is practiced for prestige, economic and social advantage, and adherence to a traditional custom. Psychiatrist Yongyud Wongpiromsarm reports that men's first experience may be with commercial sex, which makes it difficult for these men to adjust to one wife. Maladjustment leads to going to other women. In Pakistan a women's civil rights activist reports that even though law stipulates that a first wife must give permission for a second marriage, divorce is easy for a man and the outcome may be no support for the first wife. In nine out of thirteen states in Malaysia, a judge's permission is required. Men circumvent restrictions in one state by getting permission in less restrictive states. A new computerized national registry will prevent this maneuver in the future. Contentiousness may be blamed on the woman. For example, one religious officer says that women, who do not allow husbands to remarry, allow adultery and are a source of social problems. Monogamous societies do not always restrict a husband's waywardness. The labeling of mistress brings with it Western morality and value judgments. Misery is caused in either case. Some women have good reasons to favor polygamy. Others such as Pakistani beauty Nita Ayb suggested in 1989 that women should take four husbands. She was forthwith banned from the pageant.

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Bangladesh
  • Culture*
  • Developing Countries
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic*
  • Islam*
  • Malaysia
  • Marriage*
  • Politics*
  • Religion
  • Social Change*