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On Kenya’s New Polygamy Bill

Broken Heart

Oh look, while I was busy plotting to take over the world¬†another corner of the internet, Kenyan politicians have come up with another one of their gems that force me to come out of my self-imposed purdah. This time, it’s a doozy: polygamy without consultation!

First, I note that polyandry seems to be missing from the bill. If women are equal citizens, why are women not allowed to have multiple husbands? That smacks of a double standard. If men are allowed a harem, women ought to be allowed a troupe of taut, oiled dancing boys – or something similar – to amuse them when hubby is too tired from work or dealing with his other wives. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, after all.

And while I haven’t read the bill in detail, it appears to make a distinction between civil marriage and customary (read: tribal) marriage. That is a problem. Say a man has taken on a number of wives, but only one of them is registered as “legit”. Are household assets and income split equally or is one favoured over the others? When the wives are in dispute over the treatment of themselves or their children, to whom do they have recourse?

What I can predict with a degree of certainty is that this legislation will lead to the death of romance and the rise of cold calculation where marriage is concerned. A thinking woman, when considering a “come we stay” or marriage proposal, will demand the following as a show of good faith:

  • A formal written proposal outlining the arrangement she is entering into
  • A guarantee as to her status in the relationship going forward
  • Assurances as to the status and support of any progeny arising from the relationship
  • Provisos for restitution should the relationship sour

Congratulations, Kenyan lawyers! I do believe that our legislators have just made pre-nups, post-nups and new-wife-appearing-nups a thing! All it needs is the right test case and the floodgates will open for an entirely new cohort of people seeking legal advice about their relationships. Think of the fees! And when the relationships break down? Just think of all the billable hours that could be charged! Without any pre-existing arrangements, divorce cases are about to get awfully complicated. And just imagine what happens when the father of such a brood dies without leaving a comprehensive will. It is going to be a bonanza out there. Start advertising now!

If Kenyan legislators had thought about this in any depth before voting for the bill, they would have laughed it out of the chamber, because unintended consequences can be serious and detrimental to everyone. But they didn’t, because the majority are men, and so are convinced that having more than one wife is what their Sky Daddy wants for them (your flavour of Sky Daddy may vary; mine is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, preferably with carbonara sauce). So while some Kenya men celebrate the idea of unlimited spouses, women quietly see the deckchairs being moved on the Titanic, and wonder whether marriage is worth the bother at all. Those with money plot silently to fly to foreign sperm banks with sane legislation should they wish to have children. Good Kenyan men of quality have effectively seen their lawmakers make them redundant.

Kenyans: a nation of lions led by donkeys. Only this time, some of the lions are happy to follow.

(Image by Free Grunge Textures)

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Single Ladies (Don’t Put a Ring on It)

Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’re female and are waiting for your significant other to pop the question, I’m here to give you a couple of things to think about before you start planning your wedding.

I’m not against marriage as an institution; hell, I imagine that I’ll be tripping up the aisle of a registry office myself at some point in the future. But ladies, marriage can seriously damage your wealth, even if your beau is the stereotypical Prince Charming.

First things first: the idea of marrying for love is relatively new. Previously, marriage was about strengthening political or commercial ties, with unions being forged to ensure the transfer of property and other assets as advantageously as possible. Generally, only the very poorest could marry for love; the rest of society had to keep one eye on the family fortune. Whether the bride and groom actually loved each other was a moot point. Today, while the majority of us are free to marry whomever we choose, there are still a number of issues to think about.

No matter how much lip service either party pays to equality between the sexes, studies have shown that women will still do the bulk of the housework amongst co-habitating heterosexual couples. Not only that, but where health and earnings are concerned,¬† marriage will actually be of greater benefit to a husband than to a wife. Should a woman have the temerity to breed, she will be the parent expected to manage the bulk of the childcare too. Even if they return to work after maternity leave, they will find themselves on the “Mummy Track,” possibly demoted, but definitely sidelined from greater career progression. Some unfortunate women even find themselves dismissed, and consequently find it difficult to find an employer willing to take on a woman with responsibilities outside the office.

And if true love doesn’t last, don’t imagine that ladies can take a hefty divorce settlement and spend the rest of their lives eating bonbons while they bleed their ex-husbands dry. Indeed, even if they have to pay child support and alimony, over a number of years, men’s earnings not only recover but can actually improve after divorce or separation. By contrast, women actually find themselves worse off after the end of a relationship, especially if there are children involved. In most cases, their earnings never recover and they will continue to struggle for the remainder of their professional lives.

Today is supposed to be a day for romance, and I understand that people may feel that I’m raining on their loved-up parade. But behind the roses, chocolates and cosy meals for two is the lurking sceptre of relationship breakdown. How many pairings last forever these days? So before making the leap, take a good hard look at your finances and decide whether you will be able to cope if “I do” turns into “I don’t want to do this any more.”

[Image by Felipe Beiza]