Mothers reflect on polygamy


Kenitra, Morocco – Fatna Yousfi, 70, dressed in pink pajamas and an unassuming headscarf, gazes down and brings her hand to her chin, collecting her thoughts as she describes her relationship with Khaidja Ibid, 67, the woman with whom she shared a husband. Both women were married to Driss Boulaid for over four decades before his death in 2009. Now, they live together in a small apartment in Kenitra.

“We’ve been living together for so long, we cannot imagine living separately,” said Ibid. “After 46 years, we can’t think of staying apart. We are together forever.”

A whirlwind of religious debate about the legality of polygamy is sweeping Morocco. Two years ago, a call to “completely ban” polygamy came from Driss Lachgar, Secretary General of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), the party in opposition to the current ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD). Lachgar is supporting the national women’s march to be held in Rabat on March 8 — a response to what many women perceive as a government insensitivity to women’s issues.

The 2004 amendments made to Morocco’s Family Code (Moudawana) were, among other things, meant to curtail polygamy, allowing it only for exceptional cases. According to the preamble of the Moudawana, a judge must authorize a husband’s ability to “guarantee equality with the first wife and her children in all areas of life, and [make sure] there is an objective and exceptional motive that justifies polygamy.”

Stephanie Willman Bordat, a founding partner of Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA), an international non-profit women’s rights organization, said, “The laws placed restrictions and tightened up the procedures on men being able to take another wife, but it is hard to assess the impact given that there is still a recognition of verbal marriages.”

The changes to the Moudawana also received criticism, mostly from men.

“The resistance to the increase in control of polygamy was more from a segment of men who felt that the ability to take another right was a divine right,” Bordat added.

As for Yousfi and Ibid, they say their husband took a second wife because his first wife, Yousfi, who was only 13 years old when she married, was infertile. Ten years later, Boulaid married Ibid with Yousfi’s consent.

“During the first year, it was very hard to have a second wife at home,” said Yousfi. “But when the kids were born, things went back to normal. We were not caring about each other anymore; we were caring about the kids.”

The women say they shared household roles, delegating certain responsibilities and working as a team to raise their four children. Still, Badrdine Boulaid, 36 years old and the third of four children, observes that balancing a polygamous relationship was not always easy for his mothers.

“Khadija felt jealous sometimes when he was treating the first one with a specific treatment. But I knew it was for a specific purpose,” Boulaid said. “Khadija, who is my biological mom, had kids. So she had something more precious…something the first one couldn’t have. He was filling this gap.”

Boulaid, who is the Program Coordinator for the SIT Study Abroad journalism program affiliated with this website, admires Yousfi and Ibid for being able to put the family’s interests above their own.

“They are like sisters,” said Boulaid. “Sometimes they were aligned against my dad when it was for the good of the family. There were times when they both slept on the couch, if you know what I mean.”

Despite calls from some people to banish polygamy in Morocco, Yousfi and Ibid agree that there are legitimate justifications for a husband to have two wives.

“There should be a reason,” Ibid said. “For instance, if he doesn’t have kids from the first one.”

Yousfi added that polygamy could be justified “if the first wife is sick or doesn’t provide the necessary things that the husband needs on a daily basis.”

There may not be much agreement among politicians regarding the legality of polygamy in Morocco, but for Yousfi and Ibid, their focus is on the family.

“We are sisters, not a first or second wife,” Yousfi said. “So when it comes to the benefit of the family, we agree. The things that we enjoyed the most were when we saw our kids happy.”