The controversial law has incited responses from feminist and women's rights groups who feel strongly about how this bill infringes on women's rights in the Ivory Coast.
The current law in Ivory Coast dictates that "no one may contract a new marriage before the first one is dissolved," Since 1964, the country has subscribed to a strict system of monogamy. However, polygamous marriages still exist despite the practice being punishable by a fine of CFA 50,000 to CFA 500,000 (US$80 to US$800) or six months to three years imprisonment. Although there has been a decline since the 'abolishment' legally, 12% of households are polygamous according to a 2019 study by Pew Research Centre.
Yacouba Sangaré, an Ivorian MP, proposed a new bill legalising polygamy in the country. On June 30, Sangaré introduced the bill claiming that polygamy exists nationwide and should be recognised by the law. He believes that the civil law that criminalised polygamy is "ineffective." "There are women who are in de facto polygamous relationships but can't claim anything [when] the relationship is dissolved," he stated. "They have no security, they find themselves alone, sometimes with children to raise by themselves. This is why we want to put an end to this hypocrisy." He added, "Polygamous couples can be found everywhere in the country, across regions, ethnic groups, religions, and social strata. So why not take them into account and protect them?"
The controversial law has incited responses from feminist and women's rights groups who feel strongly about how this bill infringes on women's rights in the Ivory Coast. The Ivorian League of Women's Rights held a press conference on Monday, July 11. In attendance was former Ivorian minister of solidarity and promotion of women and current head of the Association for the Defense of Women's Rights (AIDF) advocacy group, Constance Yaï, who did not hold back on expressing her stance on the prevalence of polygamous relationships. She said, "There is no polygamy in Côte d'Ivoire. There are only men who have several mistresses. Let's tell it like it is, this is about people who feel upset by having to be faithful at home!" Furthermore, Yaï believes that Sangaré's intentions with this bill are to alienate women.
The bill would legalise polygamy for men only, prompting more reactions from Ivorian women who are adamant in their opinion that this decision is selfish and driven by the male urge to satisfy their sexual needs. Legal expert Désirée Okobée indelicately pointed out, "We can't legalize polygamy to satisfy a man's libido." Adding that allowing the passing of this bill will "eventually lead to an imbalance in our society."
Sangaré maintains that this bill will be in the interest of women stating that legislation is required to protect women in such events where their partner dies, they remain in this legal vacuum. While Okobée agrees with Sangaré's claim that women need more legal protection, she dismisses the notion that he is concerned about women's interests. "It is an excuse to justify the unjustified," she said. "This is not for women. It's about getting men their way."
It is still quite long before the bill is submitted to a vote in House, and the steps required to pass it successfully could take five months to five years. However, Sangaré stated that he is in no rush as he understands these processes "always take time."