"We aim to empower the women who feel trapped in polygamous relationships."
MEWSo Founder and Executive Director
What is Polygamy?
Why Does It Matter?
Polygamy is the practice of marrying more than one person. It is most common when a man marries several wives (polygyny), and is illegal in the UK.
It matters because we all deserve trust in a marriage and expect our marriage to be legal. However, thousands of women, often Muslim women, find out after going through a religious marriage ceremony, such as a 'Nikah', that they are not the only wife the man has.
Facts About Polygamy
As many as 20,000 women are in polygamous marriages in the UK.
Nikah marriages are not recognised in British law. Any woman going through such a ceremony has none of the rights of a legal wife.
To be legally married in Britain, a civil marriage ceremony must take place between two people who are not already legally married to someone else.
Women in polygamous relationships can suffer harmful consequences if the marriage breaks down or her 'husband' dies. They are left with no legal protection or rights.
Many women are unaware they are entering a polygamous marriage until it is too late. A lot of them are second or third wives who are also migrant women brought into the country with the promise of marriage.
But a Nikah ceremony does not give a woman the legal right to remain in the UK. And because she is afraid of being detained, deported, made destitute, homeless, and of losing her children, she is often unwilling to report being violently abused and/or sexually exploited to the police.
Women who do know they are in a polygamous marriage often feel they had no choice in the matter if they are to marry the man they are promised to. While first wives feel pressured into accepting the situation rather than face the stigma of a divorce. Most are never told or consulted.
The vast majority of women in a polygamous relationship find it difficult and shameful to talk about. For them, polygamy is a taboo subject and not a choice they would have made willingly.
We Can Help
Advise you of your rights
Support you if you want to escape your polygamous relationship
Help you become more independent
If you, or someone you know, is in a polygamous relationship
and need help
Call: 07579 801 366
"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."
MEWSo Founder and Executive Director
We call on Government, schools and religious institutions to educate all women that:
Polygamy is illegal in the UK.
They and their children are at risk if they stay in such a relationship and they are not the legal wife.
They have the right to get out of a polygamous relationship.
Nikah marriages make no difference to one's immigration status.
That way, we reduce the chances of future generations repeating these same mistakes.
In 2017, with Greenwich University, MEWSo conducted a pilot project researching how to better detect polygamy, the problems it causes, and practical ways to help. See our report Polygamy Matters: Creative workshops with women in polygamous relationships.
Our research showed lots of reasons for entering a polygamous marriage and it highlighted that these women are at far greater risk of being abused, isolated, neglected, and in some cases, abandoned. Read about our case studies: Modern Day Tales from Westminster and Islington.
With generous funding from the Big Lottery Community Fund for the next three years, MEWSo and Greenwich University have restarted the Polygamy Matters project to gain deeper insight into the issue, support more women who wish to escape their situation, continue raising awareness, and helping reduce the chances of future generations repeating these harmful practices.