Precarious Wives: Social Exclusion, ‘Décohabitation,' and the Mobility/Immobility of African Polygamous Women in France

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:42 PM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Melanie HEATH , Sociology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Migrants commonly constitute a vulnerable group due to the fact that they are not citizens of the country in which they live. Moreover, when a migrant enters another country illegally, or enters legally and subsequently loses legal immigration status, her or his susceptibility to exploitation increases. The instability of migrant status is further complicated when immigrants participate in undesirable or illegal practices in the host country.  France has a particularly complicated history of migration that involves immigrants predominantly from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal. During the period following World War II, immigration to France significantly increased due to the shortage of male workers. Under the family reunification immigration policy that took effect in 1974, France permitted the immigration of polygynous families. In 1993, it passed the Loi Pasqua, which altered the immigration law so that only one spouse per immigrant would be issued a visa. The law has had negative consequences for polygamous families, as it requires multiple spouses to divorce and “décohabit” (physically separate their households) or face deportation. Women living in polygamy in France are particularly vulnerable. They may choose to bear numerous children to increase their monthly family allowances and to avoid deportation as guaranteed under the post-1993 legal framework. Yet, many are forced to live in undesirable situations where children and secondary wives inhabit small apartments because a husband can only support the first wife and children in social housing. Drawing from in-depth interviews with women living in polygamy in France, this paper examines the ways that the legal and policy framework shapes the mobility of African polygamous wives. It uncovers the strategies these women employ to manage their precarious immigration status in France.