Friday, August 7, 2020

Kadyrov and His Officials, Not Chechen Society, Chief Proponents of Polygamy, Activists Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 4 – Despite the fact that he supported the amendment to the Russian Constitution specifying that a marriage is between one man and one woman, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has actively promoted polygamy in his republic, a policy supported by his officials but rejected by most Chechens, activists say.

            Because of widespread poverty, even those Chechen men who might like to have a second, third or fourth wife lack the resources to do so. But Chechen officials are another matter, and they have even erected a special building in Grozny for their additional wives, known in the population as “the house of second wives” (

            The exact number of cases of polygamy in Chechnya is unknown. Many first marriages are not registered with the authorities and additional ones never are. But rights activists say their number has increased in recent years as Kadyrov has promoted his version of Islamic law and “alpha dog” behavior of Chechen men.

            Such attitudes and behaviors are rejected both by many traditional Chechens who do not see polygamy as part of their national tradition and/or do not believe they have the resources needed to support it according to Islam and by Chechens in the modern sector who view polygamy as a denigration of women’s rights and favor adoption if they want more children.

            Having more children, especially after the devastations of the two post-Soviet wars in Chechnya, helps to explain Kadyrov’s position and the support it has among his officials. According to Chechen traditions, a second wife is permitted only if the first cannot have sons or children in general.

            But now many Chechen men want to have as many as 20 children, something beyond the ability of a single wife and, encouraged by Kadyrov, are choosing to have second and third wives to reach that number, extend their families into the future and enlarge the Chechen nation in the process.

            Rights activists say Chechen women, who are increasingly restricted in ways characteristic more of the most traditional societies in the Middle East than the Chechen past, are overwhelmingly opposed to the practice and are quite willing to speak against it, albeit on conditions of anonymity lest the authorities come after them.

            But curiously, there is one likely small group of Chechen women who see polygamy as giving them advantage: women who want to have children but do not want to get married. North Caucasus peoples do not treat such women well. Declaring oneself a second wife is a way for such women to get around that, especially if the woman doesn’t live in the man’s home.

            Were it not for Kadyrov’s push, polygamy almost certainly would die out in Chechnya, yet another reason for viewing Putin’s man in Grozny as a threat to the rights of women and men too in that region. 

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