JAKARTA – The House of Representatives Speaker Marzuki Alie said on Thursday that every man would like to have more than one wife if they could, just like outgoing deputy House speaker Anis Matta.
“As a man, I have to be honest,” Marzuki said. “All men want it, the desire to practice polygamy exists, but [men] don’t have the courage to do it. Probably because [they are] afraid of their wife, children and impact on their work.”
Marzuki was laughing when he made the comment as part of his farewell remarks to Anis, who resigned from his position as deputy House speaker on economic affairs, after he was appointed as the new chairman of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
“We were a solid team except we haven’t agreed on polygamy,” Anis told the other deputy chairman, prompting others to laugh.
After congratulating Anis on his new position, Marzuki said that he would miss him.
“All this time we have had the same chemistry in leading the House of Representatives, we believe each other and we understand each other,” Marzuki said. “We haven’t agreed on polygamy, but there has been understandings towards it.”
Anis was appointed as the new PKS chairman after the former president, Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, resigned after he was detained by the Corruption Eradication Commission for his alleged involvement in a beef import graft case.
The reasons behind these calls are economic, religious, and traditional, but the idea enjoys far from universal acceptance.
An old joke says that if an Uzbek man gets rich, he builds a new house, but when a Kazakh man comes into money, he gets another wife. Rakhmatjon Qoldoshev, an independent journalist in Uzbekistan, puts the joke into historical context: “Traditionally, to have several wives was a symbol of prosperity and was something to be proud of. Still, I often hear people saying with obvious pride that their fathers had up to six wives, and they treated their wives equally well. Even today, when men get luck and money, as a symbol of well-being, they get two or three wives.”
Worsening economic conditions in the region are regarded as one of the main reasons behind the surge in polygamy, an accepted part of the Islamic faith as long as husbands adequately provide for their wives. Because the practice is still officially illegal, there are no reliable statistics on the number of polygamous marriages in the region, most of which are performed in secret. Women and young girls from impoverished families become the second or third wives of relatively prosperous men.
Qoldoshev explains: “You know, that there are not so many rich men among Uzbeks [or other Central Asians]. There is an old fear about how miserable your life would be if you are married to a poor man. That’s why some women prefer to be the second or third wife of a rich man rather than to be only wife of a poor one, because they believe to be well-dressed and well-fed is much better than a daily fight with poverty. This issue is directly connected to the economic situation. Poverty is not a new phenomenon in the region, and that’s why it has suppressed many other values.”
A young Uzbek woman, who is the second wife of her husband, says she accepted this status in order to get help and support from a man: “When I became divorced with a child from my first husband, I agreed to become the second wife of my current husband. He promised to take care of us. If women in my condition [divorced] have to face such a destiny, others should try to understand her. But at the same time, if the first and legal wife of your husband is against a polygamous family, there are will be a lot of difficulties. I can tell it because of my own bitter experience.”
The issue is particularly acute in Tajikistan. Tens of thousands of men were killed during Tajikistan’s brutal 1992-97 civil war. Many others have left for Russia or other countries in search of jobs. A group of Tajik women — mostly the wives of polygamous husbands — recently wrote a letter to the country’s parliament, asking for their status to be legitimized.
Nargiz Zakirova, a local journalist in Tajikistan, has investigated the issue of polygamy in the country. She says there is an increasing need to legalize the practice to protect the rights of women and children in polygamous families: “In these second [or third] marriages, there are of course, children. These children, like their mothers, are deprived of any rights. This is a big source of the problem. In order to identify legal fatherhood, there are many documents that should be collected. Some men deny their paternity, and not all men give their names to children from second or third wives.” – International Christian Polygamy Society