Two First Ladies at presidential palace in a Senegal first

DAKAR  -   In the closing moments of the electoral campaign, Senegal’s president- elect Bassirou Diomaye Faye stepped onto the stage holding the hands of both his wives Marie and Absa. It was an unprecedented sight in the national politics of the West African country and a clear choice by the first-round winner who promises radical change. Polygamy is a traditional and religious practice firmly anchored in the culture of Senegal where the overwhelming majority is Muslim. Marie Khone, who until now had never been in the spotlight, comes from the same village as 44-year-old Faye. They married 15 years ago and have four children. He married his second wife Absa just over a year ago. “It’s the ultimate recognition of the tradition of polygamy at the top of the state, with a situation that will reflect Senegalese reality,” sociologist Djiby Diakhate said. Many men praise the practice while women tend to remain “mistrustful”, he added. Polygamy has long stirred controversy and the public appearance by BDF, as he is known, with his two wives at his side cheered on by thousands of his supporters has made it a top talking point in the media, online and at home, sparking diverse reaction. “Being a second wife suits me better than being a first,” well-known singer Mia Guisse said proudly in a video that recently went viral. Reputed sociologist Fatou Sow Sarr said on X, formerly Twitter, that “polygamy, monogamy, polyandry are matrimonial models determined by the history of every nation”. “I really think that the West has no legitimacy to judge our cultures,” Sarr added in a follow-up message on X. Nevertheless, many Senegalese women say they find polygamy hypocritical and unfair, while the UN Human Rights Committee said in a 2022 report that it amounted to discrimination against women and should be ended. In her 1979 novel “So Long a Letter”, Senegalese author Mariama Ba was fiercely critical of polygamy, depicting the pain and loneliness of a woman after her husband took a second, younger wife. Many popular TV series in recent years, like “Mistress of a Married Man” or “Polygamy”, have explored the ups and downs of family life in polygamous households. Former culture minister and history professor Penda Mbow said the matrimonial situation at the presidential palace now is “totally new”.

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