"At MEWSo, we aim to empower the women who feel trapped in polygamous relationships."
MEWSo Founder and Executive Director
Polygamy is a taboo topic, mostly ignored by our society for its inconvenience. However, despite the fact it
is illegal in the UK, thousands of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women find themselves entering polygamous marriages through religious ceremonies called a ‘Nikah’. This usually goes on in Muslim communities and is not registered nor recognised by the state.
While MEWSo does not judge or discriminate against these women, they can suffer harmful consequences as a result. Mainly, that in the event of a marriage break down they have no legal protection.
Those whom we have supported in the past, have said they were unaware that they were entering a polygamous marriage until it was too late. Some felt they simply had no choice in the matter, while others felt pressured by their families to accept the situation rather than face the stigma of divorce within their communities.
MEWSo’s Polygamy Matters project aims to continue to support these forgotten women, to educate them about their legal rights, and help them move towards gaining their independence. In the process, we are also helping them better integrate themselves into society.
Over the past two years, we have given these women counselling, welfare advice and guidance on their legal rights to help empower them. We've also provided weekly workshops to tackle their feelings of isolation and loneliness in a safe and creative environment.
"If we can show these women that life doesn’t have to be this way – that it doesn’t have to be in the service of a man – then we have the power to achieve something monumental."
Polygamy happens among the most hard-to-reach women within isolated communities. Understandably, most of these women living in the UK find it difficult and shameful to talk about. They lead incredibly secret lives making it a practise particularly difficult to detect.
That is why in 2017, in partnership with Greenwich University, MEWSo carried out research to help us better detect the signs of polygamy, the problems it can cause, and practical ways we can help (for more information, see our report here).
Our research showed a vast array of reasons given for and against entering a polygamous marriage. However, ultimately it highlighted that such women are at far greater risk of being abused, isolated, neglected, and in some cases, abandoned.
With our campaign, we hope to improve the lives of women and mothers caught in polygamous relationships. Our research shows our work is already having a lasting impact on those we have been able to help. We also aim to equip women and communities with the knowledge and insight that will help reduce the chances of future generations repeating these same harmful patterns. (Read our case studies here).
However, what is far more vital is that Government, schools and other educational and religious institutions do the same - inform, educate and instil in women, young girls & their communities the knowledge that polygamy is illegal in the UK, that there are very real risks to women and their children if they enter or stay in such relationships, & of their legal rights. So, part of our campaign is to get Government and others to take this on board.
We have to break this pattern in some cultures for polygamous marriages; break the silences (there's a reason it's considered a taboo); and expose the practise for what it is - a way to trap and subjugate women. By doing so we hope to help those already trapped to break free and lead more independent lives & to deter other women going down that same path.
If you would like more information about our campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact us. If you would like to support our cause, please consider donating or look at our vacancy page for volunteering options.