Baku, Azerbaijan, March 19
By Elena Kosolapova - Trend:
While currently illegal, there have been numerous proposals in recent years to legalize polygamous marriage in Kazakhstan. A number of politicians, public figures and ordinary people have been promoting such an initiative since Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, at the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The backers of legalizing polygamy say that this tradition is a part of Kazakh culture which exited in the country for centuries. Moreover they note that number of female exceeds the number of men in Kazakhstan and this measure will allow these "surplus"- women to marry and give birth to children and increase the birthrate in the country as a result. At last supporters of legal polygamy say that a lot of Kazakh men already have one legal wife and one or several concubines called tokal in Kazakhstan. And legalization of such relations will just protect the rights of these second and third wives.
These arguments are only partially truthful. Polygamy is allowed by Islam which is practiced by 70 percent of the country's population according to national census in 2009. Other people practice other religions which ban such form of marital relations and these concessions will strongly oppose polygamy.
Concerning families where one man has two or more wives, it is a more common practice only among very rich men who perceive the notion of a second or third wife as a status symbol. Among ordinary people such families are rare.
Moreover, the female population indeed slightly exceeds the male population in Kazakhstan: 51.8 percent and 48.2 percent respectively as of August 1 of 2013, according to Kazakh Statistics Agency. However this difference is mainly due to women's longer average life span (75 years vs. 65). Meanwhile in the under 20 year-olds, the number of boys exceeds the number of girls by tens of thousand. And in the 20-29 year-olds bracket, - the typical age when most Kazakhs marry and give birth to children - the number of women and men is equal. Thus, legalization of polygamy could lead to a situation where young -- but not rich -- men are unable to find women to marry.
Public polls concerning this issue conducted in Kazakhstan in recent years show very different results.
A survey published by Kazakh state news agency Kazinform in 2012 revealed that 41 percent of Kazakh people are for polygamy, 26 percent are against, 22 percent are indifferent to this issue, and 11 percent think that this practice already exists in the country and that is why there is no need to implement any new law.
Polls conducted in 2011 in the information-analytical portal Quorum.kz showed that 41 percent of participants questioned support legalization of polygamy, because this measure "will reduce the number of unmarried women in the country." Eleven percent do not see any use for such a law because this form of marital relations prospers even without such laws. Among the respondents, 26 percent "strongly opposed" legal polygamy and 22 percent "do not care" about the issue.
Meanwhile, about 80 percent of female residents in the southern part of the country oppose polygamy and only 1.3 percent support it, according to a survey conducted by the Central Asian Eurasia Foundation and the Finland Foreign Ministry in 2013.
The majority of votes for polygamy comes from men. But a large number of women support this initiative too and agree to share their men with other women. Some of these women are just looking for a man of means, with good stable jobs who will lavish them with luxury. Since the majority of such men are not young and already married, the only way to be with them is to become tokal.
But other women have different reasons.
"I am in relation with a married man. I don't want them to divorce because he has two children, but I do not want to be in the shade too. Meanwhile I cannot separate with him because I love him and cannot live without him," Saule said.
Saule believes that that only legalization of polygamy can resolve her problem.
Ayzhan whose ex-husband married a young woman thinks legal polygamy would be a blessing for her.
"I still live with my ex-husband and his new wife and these situation suites me. We have common children with my ex-husband. He provides me and them with money and treats us kindly. At last I have no place to move," Ayzhan said.
The only case bothering Ayzhan is her uncertain marital status. Legal polygamy would protect her rights within the family.
Meanwhile the opponents of legal status of polygamy are sure that it will violate women's rights and bring social relation within the country back to the Middle Ages.
To insure sexual equality in Kazakhstan feminist activists propose to consider the issue of polygamy along with polyandry (when one woman has several husbands). In 2008 when Kazakh parliament discussed possible supplement on polygamy to the family code, parliament member Bakhit Syzdykova put forward such an idea. However both initiatives were declined that time.