For several years now, polygamous marriages have been on the rise in Tajikistan, possibly due to the growing influence of religion and the mass migration of young men abroad.
High poverty rates and a difficult job market contribute to nearly 1 million of the country’s approximately 9 million citizens looking for work outside of Tajikistan.
Their remittances are a key source of income for many families and make up roughly 20-30% of the country’s GDP, according to data from the World Bank and World Economic Forum.
This is one reason why many divorced Tajik women show support for men’s right to marry more than once: polygamous marriage is often sought by upper- and middle-income men and many women. who see it as their only way to ensure financial security for themselves and their children.
Although the state does not recognize plural marriages, Sharia law allows Muslim men to have multiple wives. These unions are consecrated by a mullah without the marriage being officially registered by the state.
‘The only way to survive financially’
According to activist and psychologist Firuza Mirzoyeva from the Tajik organization Public Health and Human Rights, there are many reasons that polygamy has become more prevalent. Women are willing to become a second, third or fourth wife to make their private life socially acceptable, he said.
“It also has a material aspect. For many rural women who have not received a higher education – and some do not even have a high school diploma – to belong, say, to a man, is the only way to survive financially. .”
Activist Mirzoyeva pointed to Khatlon and Sughd regions as examples. There, girls are prepared for marriage from an early age, while education is considered “excessive.”
Multiple marriages give women “security” and give them a certain status, he said: “Society has a negative attitude towards unmarried and divorced women and considers them ‘old maidens.’ Even if a woman is successful and independent, society will not approve.”
Unhappy marriage in a successful business
Amina is from Isfara, in the northern region of Sughd, but moved to the capital, Dushanbe, with her parents a long time ago. After he finished the ninth grade, his parents got him married.
“They chose a husband for me. I don’t know what he looks like, but I know he’s two years older than me,” Amina said. He lived with her in his parents’ house, but after only a few months he left to work in Russia.
“At first he came once a year and stayed for a month. Then he stopped coming. Finally, I found out that he married a second time and lived with his new family. Then I decided to leave him because he didn’t want me and our children anymore,” said Amina.
His parents refused to let him take custody of their three children because he lacked financial income. He still visits them often.
Not wanting to be alone and in poverty, Amina agreed to become the third wife of a 46-year-old man who would “lovingly take care” of her and help her get back on her feet.
He bought her an apartment and a car, and also helped her start her own business. Now Amina owns a beauty salon and a clothing store. The support of her second husband made her very happy, she said.
‘It’s okay to be a second wife’
Manizha is from the western region of Hisor. He got married at the age of 19 and divorced after just four months due to constant conflict with his mother-in-law.
“Those are the traditions: If you are divorced, you deserve to be a second wife. Fate has no other choice. Family and society unfortunately cannot accept me anymore,” he said.
Immediately after the divorce, Manizha received offers to become a second or third wife through Nikah, a traditional Islamic marriage ceremony, with the promise of providing for her financially.
“At first I refused, because I had not yet processed the traumatic separation from my first husband. But because of my financial situation, and because I don’t have an apartment, I had to consider the offers,” added Manizha.
She soon became the second wife of a local official. “Fortunately, he is still very young, only 27 years old,” he said.
Her new husband spends three days a week with Manizha and the rest of the time at home with his first wife and two children. According to Manizha, the first wife knew about the second marriage and did not care.
“Being a second wife is my decision, I was not forced. Right now, I am very happy that there is someone in my life who takes care of me,” he said. “You can’t go against traditions and culture, I have to take life as it is and thank Allah for everything he has given me.”
‘nowhere to go’
Sitora, who is from the Khatlon region, works in the capital Dushanbe where she rents a room. The 29-year-old was in a relationship, but it didn’t work out. Now he believes that his age will not allow him to be a first wife – so he is thinking of becoming a second wife.
“My parents won’t accept me because they have been waiting for me to get married for a long time, I have nowhere to go. My small salary will not allow me to rent this room for long, especially considering. that prices are rising and wages remain low.”
He has long dreamed of a better quality of life and starting a family: “I am ready to be a second, third or fourth wife. If it helps me avoid loneliness and provides financial stability for future children, then why not?”
Limited rights and social stigma
However, being a second or third wife has limited rights and the accompanying social stigma. Without the official registration of a marriage, women in these types of relationships have no legal protection or property rights.
“If children are born in such a marriage and they are registered in the father’s name, they alone can expect any financial support or inheritance,” activist Mirzoyeva told DW.
Polygamous marriage poses great risks for women, especially if the husband leaves or dies, because there is no one left to take care of the wife or her children. “An entire generation of children born in such marriages is tainted by social prejudices,” Mirzoyeva said.
First wives often view second marriages negatively, even though they are forced to endure them because of their financial dependence on their husbands.
Tajik authorities are also turning a blind eye to many marriages because they fear that countermeasures could mean a path to an economic abyss for many women, according to Mirzoyeva.
“If serious attempts are made to change the situation, many women will fall below the poverty line, leading some to be forced into prostitution,” he said.
“Even if some of them earn enough money for an independent life in this way, they are not accepted by society.”
This article was originally written in Russian.