21 March 2014

Kenya: Marriage Bill Labelled Gender Insensitive

Photo: Michael Kaloki/RNW
Anger over Kenya's new Marriage Bill (file photo).

Nairobi — The controversial Amendments to the Marriage Bill have sparked mixed reactions from gender groups, with some terming them as insensitive and biased.

George Nyakundi, a legal officer at the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness says that the Bill will have a negative ripple effect on the family set up and is a recipe to domestic squabbles.

"When it comes to properties after the death of a husband, if the Bill is passed then it will be shared equally amongst all irrespective of who contributed more."

"Unfortunately in most cases the first wife is the one who has toiled the hardest compared to the other wives yet her opinion is not sought in this regard," explained Nyakundi.

Grace Wambui another officer at the centre cautioned that the Bill will not only affect women, but also the man who would face a bigger financial burden in order to provide for the family if he marries more than one woman.

"The cases of unpaid child support are on the increase and it is a shame that some of these Members of Parliament are listed as defaulters."

"This Bill allows men to marry any number of women without consent yet they will still receive the same income as they did with one wife so then how will he provide for the whole family?" Wambui questioned.

There were mixed reactions from women interviewed by Capital FM News on the streets of Nairobi.

Mumbi Wanjau a mother of five argued that the bible allows for one man for one woman adding that the Bill was defying the Bible something she termed 'sinful'.

"You cannot claim to love more than one woman or man, you cannot share the love, it is impossible even the Bible has refused it so why are we agreeing to it?"

"When they say without the woman's consent, how can a woman give consent allowing her man to marry another woman anyway?" the mother of five asked.

Beryl Omondi a college student turned the debate around saying that if the Bill allows the man to marry more than one woman without consulting then the same should be applicable to the woman.

"I would also want the woman to have that kind of fairness stipulated for them in the law, meaning if the man is allowed to marry another woman without the wife's consent then the woman should be allowed the same," she recommended.

Members of the National Assembly extended Thursday's sitting to pass controversial amendments to the Marriage Bill despite spirited opposition from female MPs.

Male MPs ganged up to delete the clause that had required a husband in a customary marriage to seek consent from his wife before marrying a second wife.

MPs also deleted a clause that required a partner who had promised marriage to pay damages.

Emotions ran high during the debate, with male MPs supporting the clause saying it could be used to extort money from men in the country.

MPs Aden Duale, Jakoyo Midiwo and Junet Mohammed said it was against tradition to seek consent to marry a second wife and claimed their female colleagues had an ulterior motive in trying to push for the clause.

"I want my Christian brothers to read the Old Testament, King David and King Solomon never consulted anybody to marry a second wife," said Duale.

"When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife... this is Africa," added Suna East MP Junet.

Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali told the House: "I am a son of the second wife of my father, if this Bill was in place, I would not be in this world."

"The reason why men are jittery is because these people want to take our wealth," Jakoyo stated.

However, female MPs passionately opposed the deletion of the clause saying many families could be affected financially as a second wife might claim all the wealth after the demise of the husband.

"We know that men are afraid of women's tongues more than anything else, but at the end of the day if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party (and they may be two or three) I think it behoves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know," Narok County Woman Representative Sopian Tuya said.

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