x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Women in Oman whose husbands marry again refuse to be second-best

Although only one in 20 Omani men go in for polygamous marriages, their first wives, if they have incomes of their own, are deciding they went a divorce when their husband comes home with a younger model.

MUSCAT// After tolerating a polygamous marriage for five years, Shamsa al Faisal's patience snapped when her British-educated husband moved his third wife into their home last year.

Ms al Faisal, 42,a banker, rented a house for herself and her five children, and six months later bought her own home, ending 21 years of marriage.

Polygamy is not common in Oman, and only one in 20 married men has more than one wife, according to the ministry of religious affairs.

However, in what some people see as a sign of the growing independence of women in the sultanate, there is growing anecdotal evidence that more first wives are rebelling against the custom. Omani men are permitted by law, as they are by Islamic tradition, to marry as many as four women.

Ms al Faisal, sitting in a cafe with her arms folded across her chest and her eyes moistening, said: "When we were struggling in our early years, I supported the family here in Muscat while he went off to UK for seven years to do his master's and then PhD."

She said her husband secured a higher-paying job when he returned to Oman and used the extra money to marry two more women in the next five years. He rented a three-bedroom villa for the second wife, but could not afford a separate home for his third wife.

"Why should I share my home with another woman? I have a good job as a department head, Ms al Faisal said. "I just bought my own house, moved out and got on with my life. I don't need another man.

"We respect the Islamic law, but men must think of the hurt they cause to the first wife and the confusion to the children. Often it means that years of building up a meaningful marriage goes down the drain. It may also mean, when both couples are working, the efforts will be enjoyed by another woman if the man owns everything."

Jameela al Saleh, 41, who owns a flower shop, said she divorced her husband after he took another wife. Overseeing three employees arranging a two-metre bouquet, she said: "I asked him to leave when he wanted to move in with his second wife in our family home. When he refused, I got the court injunction and he cleared off for good," she said. "I forced the divorce through the same court proceeding when he refused to divorce me.

Ms al Saleh said she was fortunate to have had ownership of half the family home so she could afford to pay off her husband's half.

In Oman, as in other Gulf states, women are not entitled to any assets if everything is in the husband's name.

Dr Habsia al Naabi, a marriage counsellor at the Omani Women's Association, said Omani men of all backgrounds practice polygamy.

"It has got nothing to do with how much money they earn or have degrees or not. It is just a middle age-crisis phenomenon, because most of them are in their forties or fifties. They miss their youthful days, and now go for younger women," she said.

Dr al Naabi said that women of all backgrounds and education levels accept becoming a second or third wife.

She added that, in her experience, professional women leave polygamous marriages more often than women who chose to stay at home, partly because they have their own incomes.

"Working women often move out of these marriages because they can afford to. The rest just put up with polygamy," she said.

Maryam al Kasbi is one such woman. Her husband, who is in his fifties, took a new wife 20 years his junior two years ago.

"Living with another woman is hard and hurtful, especially when she is much younger and prettier. I cannot ask for a divorce because I would not know where to go. I am just a housewife with no income to support me. I just put up a brave face and tolerate it," said Mrs al Kasbi, who is in her early fifties.

salshaibany@thenational.ae