EFENairobi

Monica Mwagicuh was the first and for this reason it was hard to accept that her husband wanted a second wife, and then a third.

Monica divorced her husband, yet polygamy has left its mark, and visibly so, as demonstrated by the scars on her lower back from where her husband beat her_ in polygamous marriages, "the women suffer," she said.

A year and half ago this 39-year-old Kenyan woman stopped sharing a bed with her husband and his other wives. She also stopped having to ask permission to stay out after sunset, and she no longer receives lashes when the other wives have failed to properly complete the housework.

Monica was a student at university when she first met her husband. Ironically, she was wearing mini-skirt_ a garment he would later forbid her to wear again.

Things went well at first: he promised that he would not marry another woman, they had four children together and built a farm that provided more than enough to live on.

Monica explained that things started to deteriorate when he caved to family pressure and took on a second wife.

Three years later came the third wife, already pregnant and joining a household with ten children and enormous daily upkeep.

Monica said she was made to treat her husband like a king, greeting him at the door, removing his shoes, washing dishes and, as the first wife, she was responsible for anything that went awry.

"As an African woman you have no rights, you cannot say no. The man is the king," she lamented.

A study conducted in 2013 found that, on average, 28 percent of men in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the west, have multiple wives.

This form of marriage, which has survived the spread of monogamy associated with Kenyan Christians, has been partly blamed on a consistently high child mortality rate.

A representative of the international federation for women lawyers Mbeti Michuki told EFE that "women had 10 children and only three were alive by the age 10," therefore men see polygamy as a way to ensure the greatest number of descendents.

Michuki said that there were rarely any romantic factors to polygamous marriages, but some women could benefit from the arrangement: "obviously, the richer your husband was, the higher your standing was as a woman."

Beyond the question of romance, however, is the fact that many women in polygamous marriages are helpless.

If they are abandoned by their spouse_ which happens often_ they lose ownership of property as well as their livelihood.

Monica wasn't abandoned, but her decision to divorce her ex-husband and break with tradition has prevented her from seeing her children.

"You'll find a woman who'd rather be the second wife because, you know, 'I have a husband and that's my protection, that's my security,' as opposed to living a single lifestyle," said Michuki.

For Monica, who went against the grain, this situation is as fanciful as it is ridiculous.

"Happy? Maybe, two or one in every 10. Things are difficult there, it's something you don't even want to imagine," she said.