Why is the proposed polyandry law government’s attempt at ‘equalising society’ and creating a unified and diverse nation, when we have so many other issues that must be addressed first?
I have always been someone who struggles with traditions, rules and restrictions, from the ideas of traditional gender norms and structures to things like following a certain career path because “that is what everyone in the family does”.
This tendency to deviate from the norm has been something that has played to my detriment at times, and in my favour at others. One of these areas is relationships, particularly romantic ones.
The idea of putting one’s all into someone and depending solely on them emotionally was a particular point of struggle for me. It made me uncomfortable, mainly because I felt I was too much for someone in some ways. Because I feel emotions very strongly and I would expect my partner to express them in a way equal to, or greater than, how I felt. On the other side of the coin, however, I felt I was not enough, because these intense emotions felt so dear to me I could not justify, to myself, giving them all to just one person, overwhelming them to the point they could feel suffocated and may want to leave. So I did not give any.
That was what initially drew me to the idea of polyamory: The ‘‘communal intimacy’’ if I can call it that, where there would be enough support and open communication to allow for everyone’s needs to be met.
My primary way of explaining the main idea of polyamory to peers is always, “Love is an infinite, unlimited resource. If you can have friends filling in different friendship roles for you and be fine, why can’t you have the same thing with romantic partners?”
On Saturday, May 8, I stumbled upon an article published the day before about how the government is working on making it legal for women to have multiple husbands. Surprisingly, my initial response was unease.
As someone who identifies as a feminist, a polyamorous and non-traditional female, I did not understand why the bill didn’t sit well with me, considering that it raised several valuable points, and potentially solves a problem many polyamorous South African women could be stuck with.
A section of the bill reads: “The envisaged marriage statute will enable South Africans and residents of all sexual orientations, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages that will accord with the principles of equality, non-discrimination, human dignity and unity in diversity, as encapsulated in the Constitution.”
After giving it some thought, I realised this bill might end up causing a lot more problems than it would solve.
To start off with, South Africa has a prominent gender–based violence (GBV) and femicide problem. Police Minister Bheki Cele has admitted on multiple occasions that many police officers are not fully equipped to handle cases of GBV, and as it stands the stats are bleak, with little progress being made. Thinking about this in relation to the proposed law, I cannot help but imagine how much of a mess it would be to have to report a case against one or both of one’s husbands. It would likely result in a case of secondary trauma.
Another issue that would stand in the way, is the toll marriage takes on a person. From what I have seen, when done right marriage is a mutual interaction, or exchange of support, understanding and motivation for growth. When done wrong, it can be draining and exhausting.
I have also observed that most South African men lack the sense of emotional vulnerability and communication skills required for a successful, healthy polyandrous marriage.
On a lighter note, the prospect of the law brought up a few light-hearted points. For example, birthdays and anniversary celebrations bring with them the potential to receive twice as many gifts as you normally would, and there would be an extra pair of hands to help out around the house.
I understand the main motivation for the proposal of the law, but perhaps the country has much bigger societal issues to face in terms of equalising and unifying the nation.
For example, high unemployment and poverty rates intensified by the covid-19 pandemic is perhaps a place to start. The country is also experiencing an onslaught of homophobic hate crimes, with eight reported LGBT+ individuals murdered since the middle of February this year, according to an article published on May 13 by Business Day. The Public Servants’ Association of South Africa released a statement on March 8, 2021, stating that women in the workplace are still facing several issues that ought to be addressed.
In terms of promoting equality and unifying the country, these seem, at least to me, like important matters to discuss and address first.
In an ideal world, this bill would sound amazing, and indicative of a truly progressive, accepting society. South Africa currently is not liberal enough, nor supportive enough of things that deviate too much from the norm.
While South Africa currently accepts polygamy in the form of polygyny (where a man can have multiple wives) because “that is how it is done traditionally”, the bill that proposes polyandry cannot be passed until there is enough support socially for people who would benefit from it.
In the meantime, I am sure there are multiple instances where polyandrous couples have found a way to live together in South Africa even without the official law.
FEATURED IMAGE: Rebecca Kgabo. Photo: File
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