last updated June 2010

Polygamy is the practice of marrying more than one person. In nearly all instances, this takes the form of polygyny, in which a man may marry multiple wives but a woman may only marry one husband. Researchers have found a strong link between polygamy and violence against women. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, researchers have found a high rate of violence against women by husbands and among co-wives. There is evidence that first wives and their children are often neglected, and that when these women refuse sex they are often beaten. The practice of polygyny is inherently discriminatory and violates a woman’s right to equality. 

In cultures where polygyny is forbidden by law but continues to be practiced, there is also a risk to subsequent wives since only the first wife is recognized and protected by the law. Second or third wives may be subject to loss of legal protections and status without notice, as they have no ability to enforce marital rights.





Jalal, I. (2009). "Harmful practices against women in Pacific Island Countries: Customary and conventional laws." Expert paper written for the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.

United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. (2009). Good practices in legislation on harmful practices against women.