Marriage BIll: what about Men?
By Sylvia Wakhisi | July 27th 2013
By Sylvia Wakhisi
The Marriage Bill 2013 tabled in Parliament recently has sparked off mixed reactions from Kenyans.
While the women have lauded the Bill because of the gains it portends for them, the men are up in arms saying they have been sidelined, again.
Maendeleo ya Wanaume Organisation Chairman Nderitu Njoka who claims to speak on behalf of seven million men says they have rejected the Bill in totality because it favours women.
“This is a woman’s Bill with very few gains for men. There is nothing good for men in the proposed marriage law. It is more of a property Bill,” says Njoka.
Taking issue with the proposal that a man who marries a second wife must seek consent from the first wife, he says: “A man has the right to marry the number of women he wants, as long he is able to cater for them. Hence it is not logical for a man to seek consent first form his wife or wives if he wants to marry another woman. In the past, our forefathers married the number of women they wanted and cases of divorce, separation or unplanned pregnancies were not as ramptant as they are today. Marriages lasted for years and couples were happy yet there was nothing like a marriage Bill. Married couples lived good and fulfilled lives,” he says.
Njoka says the Bill, if passed, will fuel gender-based violence to unprecedented levels hence it needs to be amended.
“We want the Bill to be brought back for discussion among Christian and Muslim leaders, Maendeleo Ya Wanaume and other concerned leaders so that it is drafted again,” he says.
So what are the highlights of the Bill?
Among a raft of provisions, the proposed law seeks to ensure that a married man, who has the intentions of marrying another wife, seeks consent from his wife or wives and whether she or they approve of the intended marriage.
It further states that any man or woman who spells out his or her intentions to marry his or her lover or partner but fails to honour their statement commits an offence and on conviction shall be liable to imprisonment and the jilted partner will be entitled to compensation.
All that one has to do is to prove that there was a promising marriage proposal, and that they have suffered as a result of a broken promise.
The court may also order a person to pay maintenance to a spouse or a former spouse — if the person has refused or neglected to provide for the spouse or former spouse as required by the proposed law.
The Bill also proposes 50/50 sharing of property between a couple incase of dissolution of the marriage. It states parties to a marriage have equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage and at the dissolution of the marriage.
Where matrimonial property is acquired during marriage in the name of one spouse, the Bill states that there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the property is held in trust for the other partner.
It adds that if property is acquired in the names of spouses jointly, it will be assumed that their beneficial interests in the matrimonial property are equal.
These are just some of the provisions provided in the Marriage Bill that are so pro-women, making the men feel left out or rather ‘targeted’.
Here are their concerns:
“I have read that Bill. It is oppressive and one-sided. Women, especially those from some areas, will have a field day. To me it is more of a comedy,” laments Benard Wangai, married with two children.
However, Tumaini Akilimali, who is a senior bachelor says: “I have no problem with the Bill since I do not plan to marry another woman. I know she is mine till death do us part and vice versa. The men who have issue swith the proposed law are those who are not sure of their marriages. If it passed or not, I will have no problem with it but I feel it needs to be passed so as to restore order and discipline in marriages,” says Tumaini.
Paul Airo who has been married for almost seven years says the Bill is bound to be misused.
“I think it is important that we factor in aspects of our traditions and religions so that the Bill can have an African touch. Most of the aspects like pre and post-nuptial agreements are western ideals and they cannot work in a society like ours. That is why the West has high divorce rates,” he says.
But what’s in for the men?
Faith Waigwa, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Partner at Nungo, Oduor and Waigwa Advocates says it is a mistaken belief that women have been given more protection in the Bill and men have been forgotten.
“Save for the fact that a wife or wives in a customary marriage need to consent to their husband conducting a subsequent marriage, there is nothing else that attributes to women having more protection in this marriage Bill.
Section 3(2) of the Bill stipulates that parties to a marriage have equal rights at the time of the marriage, during the marriage and at the dissolution of marriage. This section favours both husband and wife without discriminating any of the spouses,” says Faith.
Protects First Wife
She adds; “When it comes to property, the Marriage Bill is silent on division of matrimonial property. Section 83 of the Bill only talks of the court intervening where a spouse disposes of a matrimonial property with a view of defeating or reducing maintenance which such a spouse has been ordered to pay.
However, by invoking section 3(2) of the Bill, a spouse can seek for division of matrimonial property stating that both spouses have equal rights in a marriage.”
She says the good aspect of the Bill is that it envisages that all kind of marriages will be registered. This will give an opportunity for customary marriages to be issued with certificates.
Pastor Linda Ochola-Adolwa of Mavuno Church says the Bill is progressive because it protects the first wife who is likely to lose out in a polygamous arrangement.
“Men could be up in arms over the section that requires them to compensate a woman if they promise to marry her and later change their mind. In my view, it underscores the seriousness of such a promise and will make the promise givers to be much more cautious before making any commitments. I feel however that the men are a little vulnerable because some women may claim to have been promised yet the man did not commit himself,” she opines.
“However, I don’t think the goal of the Bill is to make marriages work, but to protect women’s access to property that they have worked for within the marriage set up. That is a different intention. Women contribute to the property acquired by a family during a marriage, but are often unprotected with regard to access to that property. That decision-making power now becomes available to them. This is a good thing especially because when women are left destitute it also affects their children.”
Bill or no Bill, however, living together and enjoying a happy marriage life takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice.
“Essentially, marriage is a partnership. There is recognition that each partner adds value to the other’s life. In addition, each partner complicates the other’s life to a certain extent hence couples have to be willing to take what is good with what is not as good to build something greater than their individual selves. Commitment is key because if people bail out at the first sign of trouble, they don’t stay the course in order to reap the fruits of investing in the relationship,” pastor Linda concludes.
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