Opinion | Is monogamy inherently sexist?

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The proposal to permit polyandry in the Green Paper on Marriages has sparked a lot of debate.
The proposal to permit polyandry in the Green Paper on Marriages has sparked a lot of debate.

The policy proposal in the green paper on marriages is not just about polyandry.

In the broader scheme of things, the review of the marriage policy has nothing to do with the age-old saying about “two bulls being unable to share the same kraal”.

There are about 10 key policy proposals in the green paper, including polyandry — the marriage of a woman to more than one man. The proposals are the result of extensive consultations that the Department of Home Affairs conducted with diverse stakeholders.

In the recent ministerial dialogues, interest groups shed light on a range of issues relating to types of marriages and the way these impact family life in South Africa.

They offered a platform to assess how the country fares in promoting, projecting and protecting the rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

The ground-breaking green paper, published last month, is not an official policy position of government on this vexed issue of marriage. It simply articulates possible policy proposals that are based on stakeholders’ inputs.

The proposals will be subject to public scrutiny until June 30, by which date submissions should have been submitted to the Home Affairs Department.

There is also a policy proposal on monogamous marriages for opposite-sex couples. These are currently regulated by the Marriage Act of 1961, but exclude Hindu, Muslim and Jewish marriages, which are monogamous.

In this regard, it is proposed that the legal framework for regulating monogamous marriages should include all marriages, irrespective of race or religion.

The proposed changes, including consent to a marriage where minors are involved, have the potential to give effect to section 9(3) of the Constitution, which provides that the state may not unfairly discriminate, directly or indirectly, against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

Culture is dynamic. It is on that dynamism, and on the ethos of democracy, that a transformative and empowering kraal can and should be built, with all acting together to roll back the scourge of gender-based violence, which persistently rears its ugly head on our shores.

Perhaps the question to ask is, who is the “bull” in this instance? We should also ask ourselves: what discourses of marginalisation are imbedded in this notion of a man always being the only bull in the kraal and the woman being interpolated as a submissive, lowly cow?

In fact, this sexual objectification and fascination with children and pregnancy evoke images of the maiden Leda being “mastered” by the male deity Zeus (who has assumed the form of a swan) in William Butler Yeats’ poem, Leda, and the Swan (based on the Greek myth in which the Aetolian princess Leda is raped by Zeus on the same night that she sleeps with her husband).

Many men jokingly ask which of a woman’s two or more husbands in a polyandrous marriage would be considered the rightful father if “their” wife fell pregnant. Really?

Is it not time to deconstruct the notion of “woman” as a sex object whose raison d’être is to procreate and thus provide society with children whose fathers are easily identifiable? Whatever that means.

It is about time society began to view every opportunity to develop new policy as an impetus for deepening the constitutional principles of equality, non-sexism, human dignity and non-discrimination, to build a vibrant, steadfast democracy.

• Tommy Makhode is the director-general of the Department of Home Affairs.

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