Between Tradition and Gender Rights

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While our present social advancement has yielded democratic dividends, amongst them,  freedom, human rights, including gender rights, ironically, the same positive social development has put a strong challenge to the culture. Instead of taking the cultural realities as a binding force, which creates some degree of coherency in the society, literacy has questioned the relevance of certain cultural entities. Yet, some have stubbornly and jealously held and looked up to the culture as an important shining light that can guide them to their destination and future as a group as well as create peace and togetherness amongst them. Thebig question is: should social advancement and democratic gains be accepted as adetriment to the culture – and cultural expectations, for that matter?

That question brings us to the debate going on in Kenya and around the world indeed. Recently, a 27-year-old man married two wives in Nairobi, Kenya, in a ceremony, which attracted attention in the country. The groom, a businessman from Kajiado County, south of the capital, Nairobi, married two young students aged 23 and 25 at a local university.

Narrating the reason behind his decision, the newly married groom explained that he took the decision because “both of them loved me. I don’t want to offend any of them.”

Listening to the groom, one cannot help having an image of a perfect, selfless man who puts the interests of his newly married wives – and women in general, for that matter – first. But not everyone shares this impression. Even though the two newly married wives insisted they chose to do what he wanted and that they were satisfied with the arrangement, some activists have questioned whether such an arrangement does not favour the man more than his wives. Despite that polygamy is common in Kenya, the activists argue that such a relationship makes women not only an appendix to men, but equally presents women as sex objects – especially in relation to the husband’s argument.

“This is a message I’m sending to modern cheating husbands who pretend to love one woman and yet they have others on the side. I’m being sincere to my wives because I will not have any other reason to marry another woman. I believe the two will satisfy me.” the young husband intimated.

Arguably,  the husband insisted he decided to marry both women because they both loved him, the question is, would such an argument be acceptable to him and in his culture, if one of the wives had insisted to marry two men “because both men loved me?” If not, then that clearly makes the relationship imbalanced and creates a negative view of women as inferior to men in such a culture. Furthermore, saying he believed the two wives would satisfy him, one equally wonders what happens in the opposite situation. What happens if the two wives decide that their husband does not satisfy – in whatever sense their husband meant it –  them? Would it be fine to the groom if his new wives complain of his “inability” or “negligence”?

That brings us to the question: What is more important for social advancement – sticking to the culture and tradition or aiming for social freedom and respect for human rights, including gender rights?