How Does Polygamy Challenge Islamic Feminism? Gender Equality and Group Rights in Mayotte
This paper offers the case of Mayotte—a French department where 95 percent of the population is Muslim—to ask how does polygamy challenge Islamic feminism? Mayotte is an archipelago located in the Indian Ocean. The name comes from the Swahili word for Mahore, Maote, and the Mahore identity is based on Comorian, Malagasy, French, and Creole cultural traits. In a 2009 referendum, the population overwhelmingly approved accession to become the 101st department of France, taking effect in 2011, when new polygamous marriages were banned under French law. According to the Overseas Territories Minister Marie-Luce Penchard: “The ordinance puts a definitive end to inequality between men and women.” This paper draws on interviews with Mahoraise polygynous women, activists, and government officials to problematize this simplistic formula of how to end gender inequality. It considers the complicated role of Islamic feminists in negotiating a position on this cultural practice that continues unofficially under the radar of the French legal system.