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Polygamy: Violation of the Rights and Freedoms of Women

Polygamy is considered a violation of the rights and freedoms of women. Since polygamy is widespread in various traditional and poorly economically developed societies, its existence is explained by the peculiarities of customs that reinforce women’s dependent position in the family and community. These days, the question of whether polygamy should be protected as a cultural or religious right or condemned as a violation of women’s rights remains debatable. However, the most significant point from the international human rights perspective relates polygamy with social injustice and women’s rights infringements.

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Intimate Partner Violence

In societies that provide men considerable control over women’s behavior, violent actions exceed the average. Polygamy is widespread in many countries in West and Central Africa. For instance, in Burkina Faso, it amounts to 36%, Mali is characterized by 34% of polygamous marriages and Nigeria with 28%. One example is the Mali case, where the number of polygamies is significantly higher than in other countries. It is also characterized by low education among women. Data obtained reveals direct connections between the polygamous union and the predominance of intimate partner violence (IPV). Wives are abused in cultures where husbands have economic and decision-making power in the household. Polygamy is identified with physical, sexual, and emotional IPV.

Communications between husband and wives are usually more deficient in polygamous marriages; consequently, spousal relationships are accompanied by lower emotional bonds. As polygamy is widespread in rural areas and accompanied by weak income, it directly affects such households’ stress levels. Concerning IPV, it is described as a consequence of disputes and tensions in relationships. Marital conflict has a significant connection with physical assault on the wife, even considering socioeconomics, husband’s stress level, and other aspects of marriage, such as companionship and stability.


The hierarchy in polygamous marriages is established automatically – several women listen to one man’s will. Even though he respects everyone equally, if wives’ desires are contradictory, they will make the decision. For instance, the situation with polygamous marriages in the Bedouin community is influenced by wife-order. It is characterized by inequality not only between males and females but also among the latter. Furthermore, the first marriages in Bedouin communities are usually arranged by the husband’s family regardless of the intention of the wife’s family members or the woman herself. Consequently, other marriages are related to the husband’s love or freedom, creating favorable circumstances for the junior wife. Thus, women in polygamous marriages tend to suffer from a lack of self-value, feeling that they do not meet a good wife’s standards established by husband and society. Therefore, such relationships have adverse outcomes for wives’ mental health, causing possible suicidal thoughts and depressive psychosis.

Economic Inequality

In countries with weak economic performance, women work in traditional households. They are more occupied with chores and family. In terms of polygamy, it deprives wives of financial resources. Wives in such unions are more economically vulnerable compared to monogamous analogs. For instance, in Gedeo and Sidama Zones, women face severe poverty and unfavorable financial circumstances within polygamous families; females experience economic difficulties due to sharing existing resources. Moreover, senior wives endure more significant financial problems than junior ones. The latter often get preferred treatment by the husband concerning providing economic support and attention. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reports on polygamous marriages in the General recommendation No. 21. It emphasized the importance of rejecting any idea of inequality between women and men; the Committee noted that states should prohibit polygamous marriage. Therefore, it contradicts women’s right to equality with men and can have severe emotional and financial consequences for a woman and her children.

Positive Side

However, despite the many negative consequences, a part of people disagree with these arguments. There is an approach that there should not be a universal model for eliminating polygamy marriages. For example, in traditional societies in Tanzania, polygamy provides economic and social protection for men and women. In the conditions of primitive existence, women have numerous duties, including building housing, household chores, cooking, giving birth and raising children, and livestock care. Therefore, wives often initiate a second or third wife’s appearance to share responsibilities and leisure. Moreover, among those who support polygamy, there are many women believing that this type of family serves their interests likewise men. They do not recognize polygamy as a violation of their rights since polygamy prevents divorce, determining the economic responsibility of a husband for each of his wives. It distributes tasks for the family’s economic activities among all women, defining each person’s autonomy and rights.


To sum up, polygamous marriage leads to a decline in families’ well-being in the regions where it is practiced, health risks for women. The level of IPV is higher in polygamous marriages, distinguishing by hierarchy and economic inequality. This topic remains one of the most provocative issues for both genders. However, if the arguments made in this paper are correct, society should consider ways to handle polygamy in cultures included in a balanced socioeconomic.

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Boulos, Sonia. “National Interests Versus Women’s Rights: The Case of Polygamy Among the Bedouin Community in Israel.” Women & Criminal Justice (2019): 1-24.

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. General Recommendation No. 21. 13th session, 1994

Gayatri Patel, “How ‘Universal’ is the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review Process? An Examination of the Discussions Held on Polygamy,” Human Rights Review 18 no. 4 (2017): 459-483.

Heath, Rachel, Melissa Hidrobo, and Shalini Roy. “Cash Transfers, Polygamy, and Intimate Partner Violence: Experimental Evidence from Mali.” Journal of Development Economics 143 (2020): 1-60.

Kramer, Stephanie. “Polygamy is Rare Around the World and Mostly Confined to a Few Regions.” Pew Research Center. Web.

Sinai, Mirit, and Ora Peleg. “Marital Interactions and Experiences of Women Living in Polygamy: An Exploratory Study.” International Journal of Psychology (2020): 1-17

Tesfay, Gebremeskel Hailu. “Note on: the adverse effects of polygamy on the rights of women: a case study in Gedeo and Sidama Zones.” Haramaya Law Review 6 (2017): 91-110.

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