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In a remarkable moment in Senegal’s political history, Basserou Diomaye Faye, minutes before the end of the country’s presidential election campaign, made a bold gesture on stage, holding hands with his two wives, Marie and Absa. After receiving thunderous applause from thousands of supporters, Faye publicly declared his polygamy, an ancient cultural and religious practice deeply ingrained in Senegalese society.

Faye’s announcement sparked widespread debate on polygamy in Senegal, which is over 90% Muslim. His first wife, Mary Khun, whom he married fifteen years ago and with whom he has four children, comes from his village. He married his second wife, Absa, just a year ago. Despite its prevalence in rural areas where it is seen as a way to expand families, polygamy remains a controversial topic in Senegal.

While many men see polygamy as a sign of their wealth and status, many women criticize it for its discriminatory nature towards women. A report by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2022 found that polygamy violates women’s rights and should be abolished. Similarly, renowned Senegalese writer Mariama Ba highlighted the suffering of women in such marriages in her novel “A Very Long Letter.”

However, some argue that Faye’s public display of polygamy could pave the way for other men to be more transparent about their relationships. Faye has acknowledged his actions and thanked his wives for their support while emphasizing the beauty of their family structure. As Senegal grapples with this complex issue surrounding cultural norms and gender equality, questions remain about how multiple wives will be accommodated in the presidential palace going forward.

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