Marriage and Divorce Bill: Please hurry slowly (Part I)
Posted Friday, March 22 2013 at 02:00
We wish to share a few thoughts, definately controversial, on the Marriage and Divorce Bill. We propose that the country moves decisively to have the proposed legislation become law - naturally, with appropriate modifications. We suggest however, that the country pauses for deeper and critical reflection, before the final decisions are made. Let us hurry, but slowly.
Our contribution is not original. It is drawn from a revolutionary and openly partisan tradition of political economy, and attempts to give a summary of the views of that tradition on the institution of marriage, in the hope that those views may help provoke a re-think all round on how to proceed. Our basic reference point is Friedrich Engels’ “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” (1884), based on Karl Marx’s notes on “Ancient Society” (1877) the work of the American anthropologist, Lewis Henry Morgan.
Allowances for advances in anthropology and the sciences in general since the end of the 19th Century aside, we are satisfied that the tradition provides an appropriate conceptual framework and methodology for explaining the roots of the oppression of women, and inequalities in the family.
Engels’ work divides history into three broad stages: savagery, barbarism (prehistory), civilisation (development of agriculture and art, along with early forms of industry). Each of these were characterised by different ways of organising subsistence, producing food and other essential requirements. Critical for our discussion today, the stages of development of the family parallel these stages of human history.
“In the earlier stages, there were many different sorts of kinship, family and sexual relationship. Some of these were group marriage, polygamy, polyandry, promiscuous intercourse, etc. In terms of family structures, group marriage was the earliest form of the family. As societies developed, there began to be ‘prohibitions regarding appropriate sexual partners’. ”
The history of the family involves the “progressive narrowing of the circle, originally embracing the whole tribe, within which the two sexes have a common conjugal relation.” In the period of barbarism, men lived in the woman’s household and the sexual division of labour already existed. Women were responsible for subsistence in terms of reproduction and production and preparation of food and other goods - in general the household responsibilities. Such societies were matrilineal and matriarchal, with “female rule”.
Lines of descent passed from mother to children, and women had more social and political power than did men. “The social order was constructed in terms of the biological link of mother and child, and this link comprised the family. Fatherhood was impossible to determine with any certainty.”
Engels notes that “with the patriarchal family, we enter the field of written history” (Engels, p. 122). Males gained power within the family and in society with the development of agriculture. As societies moved from being hunter-gatherer societies to developing animal production, the animals (cattle, goats, etc.) became instruments of labour, which the male could control and take with him.
The domestication of animals, along with the development of farming, meant that more surplus products could be produced. Property soon developed as a result of this. That is, so long as societies were very close to subsistence, survival depended on cooperation of all. But with a social surplus, it became possible for some to control more of the products of society than did others.
Factors such as the pre-existing division of labour, the mobility and strength of men, along with their control of tools and animals, may have allowed this. Men became property owners, and also wished to have a means of passing this property to their children. Given these conditions, the matrilineal form of descent had to end, since men did not have clear heirs. The result of this was that “the matriarchal law of inheritance was thereby overthrown, and the male line of descent and the paternal law of inheritance were substituted for them.” (Engels, p. 120). The result was “the world historical defeat of the female sex”.
With the development of private property and patrilineage, the monogamous family developed, at least monogamy for women. This ensured that the mother of the child is known, and that the father is sure which children are his. The sole purpose of compulsory monogamy objectively, is to “serve as a vehicle for the orderly transfer of a father’s private property to his children.”
Mr Mafabi is the private secretary/political affairs- State House.